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Mr Safe hands, defensive rock, maestro and goal machines; The top five 256 footballer of the year award nominees

By Shafic Kiyaga

On November 17th, 2018 the first story on this website was published and over the months, Football-256 has since grown in leaps and bounds, at least from where we stand as the team behind the project.

And as we celebrate our first birthday, we have decided to celebrate it with the best who always give us reason to sit back and scribble home about with their performances on the pitch, with an award dubbed ‘256 Footballer of the Year’.

This year has already provided us with the highs and lows of this year’s African Cup of Nations. And readers all over the globe will be able to vote for their favourite Ugandan Footballer of the Year, as the award launches on October 1st.

The nominees for the award were drawn from a list of 20 footballers who have been carefully selected by a team of journalists. The top five players from the initial 20 will compete for the prize.

The top five nominees for the award are;

Timothy Awany

The former KCCA captain, currently playing for Israeli side FC Ashdod has developed into one of the country’s most reliable defenders in recent years.

After enjoying another title-winning season for KCCA, helping the Kasasiro boys win their third Uganda Premier League title in four years, on top of being voted the club’s player of the season plus the fans’ player of the year.

A robust, composed, brilliant game reader, and superb aerial prowess, Awany played in all but one of KCCA’s game in the league last season, scoring four goals throughout the season.  

He also featured for the Uganda Cranes in this year’s AFCON tournament in Egypt, helping them reach the knock out round for the first time since 1978 before they were knocked out by Senegal at the round of 16 phase.

“Awany is the best player locally at the moment,” KCCA head coach Mike Mutebi said of Awany in January.

Juma Balinya

Balinya’s career so far is one that best describes football and the more so struggles of footballers in Uganda.

A talent to behold in his youth, Balinya started life in Uganda’s top league at Bunnamwaya with lots of promise. But a ‘career mistake’ move to Djibouti seemed to have flagged him as one of the wasted talents in Ugandan football.

Fast forward to 2018, after two peripheral seasons at Police FC, Balinya seemed to be destined to make another mistake, as Djibouti came calling again. Only for Police coach Abdallah Mubiru’s insistence that his potential and talent cannot play in such a country, and rather he should focus on a bigger transfer.

Already 26, and not much to show for his immense talent, he put in the hard work on the training ground. Despite missing the opening four games of the season, the forward recovered well to bag nine goals and five assists in the opening round of the season.

Balinya was not done, as he bagged another 10 goals in the final 15 games to top the scoring charts with 19 goals for the season. Being dropped from the AFCON team seemed a bit unfair, but nonetheless, he put up a good performance during the COSAFA tournament.

He has since moved to Tanzanian giants Yanga FC, still to set the nation on fire, but his goal against Botswana’s Township Rollers FC ensured progress to the first-round qualifiers of the CAF Champions League.

“Balinya is a very good player, I believe, he is now the best striker in the league.” – Abdallah Mubiru on Balinya in February 2018.

Allan Okello

The wonder boy! Its been a while since a prodigy emerged and set the Uganda Premier league ablaze with scintillating performances.

But Allan Okello has continuously proved his doubters wrong with exceptional performances after the other for KCCA FC.

Introduced by Mike Mutebi three years ago, Okello quickly set himself as one for the future, despite many questioning if he can really stand the test of time.

Over the three seasons, he has been at KCCA, the playmaker has had a bit of security with a more established player around him. This has helped his growth as he has been accorded the right environment to develop.

But with the departure of some of those players, Okello was faced with the reality of carrying the team forward. And just like a knight in shining armour, he stepped up to the fore and guided the Kasasiro back to the summit of the league.

He was not yet done, as he was phenomenal as KCCA conquered the CECAFA region, emerging winners of the CECAFA Kagame Cup with Okello undoubtedly being the outstanding player of the tournament held in Rwanda.

A trial stint at Swish side FC Zurich meant that he missed out on representing the country at the 2019 AFCON in Egypt.

“I’ve always said, Okello is a special player. Young, skilful but most importantly intelligent.” Mike Mutebi on Allan Okello.

Denis Onyango

The Captain, Mr Safe hands, Denis Onyango epitomizes the saying ‘goalkeepers are the last line of defence’.  At least that is according to his performances for the Uganda Cranes and his club side Mamelodi Sundowns.

Onyango had quite a rollercoaster season in 2018/2019. suffering a knee injury before horrendous error almost cost Sundown the South African Premier Soccer League trophy. All that in a space of just three months.

In his 30s, it is easy for any player to be written off, or mark the end for some. But not Onyango. He put those troubles aside to help his side claim their ninth PSL crown in history, as well as reach the CAF Champions League semi-finals.

On the national front, he was on the verge of history by becoming the first goalkeeper not to concede throughout a qualifying campaign but conceded three goals against Tanzania. Nevertheless, the Cranes had sealed their spot to the Nations Cup.

Onto Egypt, Onyango was the leader of men as the Cranes made history, qualifying for the knockout rounds of the AFCON for the first time since 1978, keeping one clean sheet and shutting out Liverpool’s Sadio Mane.

‘No 1 in Africa, there’s no argument. You’ve got to do it at home, for your club, and internationally with your country,’ Sundowns Coach Pitso Mosimane on Onyango.

Patrick Henry Kaddu

Patrick Kaddu’s story has been one of hard work, best described as ‘Me against the world’ now at Moroccan side RS Berkane, Kaddu has had another story worthy 2018/2019 season.

Never has the striker been approved to hold the potential he harbours. When he was brought to KCCA by Mike Mutebi in 2017, he had to play third fiddle to Derrick Nsibambi and Shaban Muhamad. Though less fancied, Kaddu was topscorer when KCCA won the Uganda cup that year.

At the start of the 2018/2019, question marks were raised against him if he was really ready to lead KCCA’s charges in the league and on the continent. His answer though, 14 league goals and the league crown in May.

On the national front, Kaddu was thrown in at the deep end for the Cranes by former head coach Sebastien Desabre. Though already capped twice against Lesotho and Tanzania, his biggest calling came at the most critical time.

With the Cranes facing a possibility of sealing qualification against Cape Verde, Kaddu was handed his first start for the Cranes. And for 70 minutes, he laboured so much to put a mark on the game, in vain.

But his moment was to come in the 72nd minute, as he headed home the goal that sealed qualification to the AFCON for the Cranes. In an instant, his status had risen from a local boy to a national hero.

In Egypt, he further etched his name into the football folklores of Uganda as he scored his second international goal, opening the scoring for the Cranes against DR Congo in their first game of the tournament.

Click here to vote for your 256 Footballer of the Year

3 Responses

  1. Okello Allan has been my best player last seasion and so far this seasion his stl representing the team very well therefor accodding to me he deserves the 256 football of the yr award……!! The boy his good and uganda cranes coachs should watch him coz he can make it….

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