July 5, 2022

Uganda Cranes: A player’s bitter, frustrating privilege

By Allan Damba
Uganda Cranes players sing the national anthem before they face Rwanda in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in Kigali / FUFA Images

A national team call-up triggers delight, pride and fulfillment universally. It’s a clear manifestation that one’s work has been noticed but more to it, appreciated and cherished.

It’s however, not entirely the case with the Uganda national football team, the Cranes. It’s rather a case of embittered souls dying in pain, yet glued with determination to fulfill their dreams.

Despite the fact that players crave to don the shirt, represent the flag and leave a mark, it comes at a huge cost for a number of them.

Whereas their spirits and hearts ooze Uganda through and through – a clear show of the highest level of patriotism, there are no roses to it.

If getting to the national team is already a grueling task, maintaining one’s stay there is even harder, nevermind how good, or great a footballer you are.

The Cranes pose for team photo before kick off against Rwanda in matchday four of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers at Kitende / FUFA Images

Staying in the top boss’ books, a must

The biggest trick to earning a Cranes call hinges around avoiding trouble with FUFA’s head honchos. You have to be ready to bow, affirm with no questions, be immune to mistakes or risk being dubbed “shitty.”

“I am really tired of making money for those FUFA guys,” said former Cranes captain Dennis Onyango in the leaked audio that made rounds over a year ago.

It’s a clear show of how much players have to sacrifice whilst they play in the colours. Players can not afford to be at the wrong side of the people that run the top football positions.

“They did not summon one of the best players in Uganda Premier League (Yunus Sentamu) because of very simple personal reasons,” one player who preferred anonymity (but we will term Jesse in this piece for reference), said in an interview with Football256.

The same has been true with the likes of Brian Majwega, who was reported to have a rift with the bigwigs at FUFA in the recent years, hence missing out on team summons, in spite of his deserving on-the pitch displays.

Cranes players and their counterparts from Rwanda during the singing of the national anthems before both teams faced off on Matchday four of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers at St Mary’s Stadium Kitende on Sunday

It is a public secret that former Cranes goalkeeper Salim Jamal was time and again condemned and eventually banished for speaking out about empty promises and arrears in allowances.

In a casual interaction between this reporter and a Player who preferred anonymity, the latter expressed grief about the fact that, being in the Mister big’s good books is close to being a requirement.

“You only have to be in His good books and you will not have to worry about a call up. All you need is to avoid injuries.”

Also, it is now clear, there’s a crop that will not miss a national team summon because of their affiliations to the a certain Player Agency (name withheld), which is also close to the Federation kingpins.

The player does not necessarily have to be great or competing at the highest level or even having good days at their respective clubs. To belong to a certain agency is enough for merit.

Months back, the Cranes’ head coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic justified Emmanuel Okwi’s call (had been club-less) for World Cup qualifiers to the fact that he was exposing him to possible suitors.

“We respect Okwi as one of the legends of Ugandan football that’s why we gave him the minutes against both Kenya and Mali. That was to help him find a club.”

Happy faces, wailing spirits – the coach

Cranes head coach Micho distributes bibs before a Cranes training session at Kabira in Kampala / FUFA Images

For the fact that wearing the Cranes shirt is coveted, the players will always don it with gratification, play their souls out, albeit, unhappy – the coach.

In silence, they complain! A number of players complain about the coach’s training methods and approaches.

To them, it’s always cagey, scrappy, unnecessarily defensive and you can be assured, it will barely play to one’s strengths.

“I loved wearing the Cranes jersey, there is no doubts. But, I was not entirely been happy with the coach’s too defensive approach,” Jesse revealed.

“Most players are not played to their best attributes and some are not happy. Of course they will not out come out to speak.”

“Others who are in good form or technically good will seldom play because that’s not his style. So, he will select those he feels will match the defensive approach,” he added.

It is clear earning the right to receive consistent summons, or to actively be involved goes way beyond excellence and eminence.

It’s a case of playing the dirty cards right, shut your mouth, develop thick skin and smile.

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