Via his online website portal, Uganda Cranes coach Johnathan McKinstry described his side’s show at the 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN) as a ‘considerable disappointment’.
McKinstry put it that the team returned to Kampala ‘disappointed and frustrated following their earlier than hoped exit from the CAF Nations Championship’.
That statement, a subtle but quite sane analysis of another Cranes exit at the group stages of the CHAN tournament, the 5-2 defeat to eventual champions Morocco adding to the sour feeling.
As McKinstry and his technical team boarded the plane from Yaoundé to Entebbe, they knew at the back of their mind that they were to receive a frosty reception.
Perhaps the internet blackout and political environment in Uganda at the time took a bit of spotlight away from the Cranes, but nevertheless, many had started calling for his head.
The situation resurrected the silenced murmurs and outright disappointment that followed Uganda’s shocking defeat to South Sudan in the African Cup of Nations qualifiers in November.
Some tried to use logic and call for patience given that it was the Irishman’s first loss as Cranes coach. But even the staunch pro-McKinstry fans failed to sustainably argue for his case after the CHAN disappointment.
His bosses at the FUFA House in Mengo, though, have locked the growing calls for McKinstry’s sacking in a dark room where the keys were tossed into the Kabaka lake or somewhere in the wilderness of Budiope.
But the need to find answers and seek a way forward still lingers at large. Appearing on NBS’s Sunday Sports show ‘The Score’, FUFA President Moses Magogo spoke brightly of what lies in the future for Ugandan football.
But there was time for one final question from show host Web Daniel Ssebakigye; what does the future hold for McKinstry with the Cranes?
The world paused, as Magogo delivered what was expected to be a verdict but he was coy.
Even at one time suggesting that he was not involved in hiring the coach, he delivered a statement that added to the whirlwind of confusion.
“There is an evaluation which is going on,” Magogo said before adding; “I always listen to my technical people, even during the appointments, my job is to say yes or no.”
“I am not saying we are going to fire him or not, but the fact is that there is an evaluation. I have my personal view as a Cranes fan but I believe that the technical people are better in analysing.”
“At the moment, we are taking stock of what he has done since he arrived here and whatever the technical report that will come to us in the next few days, we will come out with a final decision.”
“And as FUFA, we are not shy with our decisions. We will come out and say that we have discontinued our engagement or we are giving him an approval,” the FUFA president continued.
The fact that Magogo mentioned ‘fire and evaluation’ perhaps satisfied the naysayers and it seemed that Magogo suggested that the jury was out regarded McKinstry’s future, but he dropped the biggest hint of his answer.
“When the technical people have done their evaluation, I have also come out and advised otherwise,” Magogo explained.
“For example, when they wanted to fire Micho, I came out and said that he should be given more time and I was later justified.”
“I said the same during Desabre’s early days when results were not coming, and I am proud of my decision,” he said.
While the situation remains peculiar, McKinstry’s contract remains as intact and strongly bound and not only because of the financial implications in terminating the contract, but other key clauses.
True results remain the lifeline of whether a coach remains in a job or not, but current standards do not consider results as much and rather performances and other significant indicators.
That is the route FUFA is taking, also explaining why there is a technical review instead of a board room decision.
Performance-wise, McKinstry and his technical team have the crucial performance indexes to back them, especially at CHAN.
Wyscout Analytics on Uganda’s performance shows that the Cranes flourished in many of the areas to do with what the technical team can influence.
For example, Uganda averaged 388 passes per game, the second-highest of the 16 teams. They also averaged 54% possession and had an average of 57 passes into the final third.
While there has also been criticism for defenders using the ball more than the forwards, analytics show that Uganda averaged 132 forward passes and 78 progressive passes per game which is 34% of their average passes played per game.
Uganda also had the highest match tempo of all the 16 teams that played in the group stages and lost the ball far less than most of the other teams.
Prudent to note that one of McKinstry’s key objectives was to try and build an identity for Uganda, and with such returns in a tournament where they had three weeks to prepare and with the pandemic at play, it is a pretty good performance.
Secondly, CHAN was never a tournament earmarked for Uganda to show their Uganda’s football might but more to test how far the local players have come compared to the higher-level leagues in Africa like Morocco.
That also explains why McKinstry settled for younger players – obviously with a mix of experience – to go and gauge where they might be compared to their counterparts.
And why Magogo hinted on backing Desabre and Micho, gives another strong indicator of their stand on McKinstry.
Micho specifically led Uganda to two CHAN tournaments and won just one game, while Desabre was at the 2018 and failed to win a game there.
However, both coaches led Uganda to the AFCON finals, with Desabre going one better than his predecessor to guide the Cranes to the last 16 and that is where the benchmark may be for McKinstry.
The Cranes still have two AFCON qualifiers (against Burkina Faso and Malawi) to navigate and they stand in a strong position for their third qualification – they need only four points to seal a third consecutive AFCON qualification.
To sack McKinstry now would be as mean, but should the Irishman fail to at least oversee another AFCON qualification, the chicken may come home to roost and rightly so.