Simply to win, or to win beautifully? Football’s internal debate. One never more relevant than when KCCA lit-up the 2017/2018 edition of the CAF Champions league. The team in yellow danced to a different beat and set new ethnic standards.
They played with artistry, irreverence, joy, and no little skill. And once the history books confirmed that KCCA didn’t make the knockout stages, those men in yellow will forever be remembered as the team that enthralled the entire generation.
The country went crazy for that team. There was simply just a romantic atmosphere for them. Everyone, KCCA FC fan or not, were fascinated to witness the beautiful game being played the way it should.
When KCCA’s finest team in the post-Brian Umony era succumbed to eventual champions Esperance in both their group stage encounters. It was indeed the day that pragmatism eventually overcame fantasy.
The country wept for KCCA FC’s fallen heroes and the end of a style that was just simply at its commencement towards the dominance of Ugandan football.
The genesis of events
It all started with an audacious vote that meant Lugogo would play host to two tremendously huge giants as far as African club football goes. Tunisia and Egypt’s Esperance and Al Ahly respectively who have 11 CAF Champions League honors between them.
There was a rather small matter of Botswana’s Township Rollers to complete the group. A team under looked by many and not regarded as a serious force to reckon with but certainly not to the Lugogo faithful as a familiar face harbored within their ranks, Ivan Ntege.
This was, by all means, the group of death and Mike himself being the smartest person he knew sought to unravel the mysteries that lay at the heart of his opponents.
With a positive mindset, he preferred to look at this as a worthy challenge than a condemnation.
“We have been drawn against good teams but are to approach all games with the right mindset. We have a good team and we can compete favorably,” he said back in 2018.
The gaffer seemed confident in the abilities of his team and who wouldn’t with the likes of Muzamiru Mutyaba, Sadam Juma, Jackson Nunda, and Allan Okello. It was those four stellar names in midfield that combined to form the heartbeat of Mike Mutebi’s side.
A forward line led by Muhammad Shaban provided a massive threat with marauding fullbacks, Julius Poloto and Mustafa Kizza on the right and left sides of the flank respectively augmented the dynamic offensive nature of Mike’s side.
When granted an opportunity, Patrick Kaddu was operated on his own at the front. A muscular target man often criticized for his lack of fenence but nonetheless the leading scorer in the Ugandan Cup tournament.
The defense was regarded as a possible weakness but perhaps only because of its attacking tendencies.
The manager was far more concerned with how his team played than the game itself. It was this quest for perfection that got his team wanting more and therefore saw results coming in rather easily enough as so did the style & swagger.
Slayers of Al Ahly
Their first outing was a goalless draw in Botswana against Township Rollers. A game described by many as a dull affair and only remembered for the defensive master-class from Filbert Obenchan, a player who many believe has never played a better game henceforth.
With this disappointment, Mike had to conjure all the adrenaline pumping deep in his players and direct it towards yet an impossible task (at least on paper). A result, preferably a win against the most successful club in African football.
For anyone that thought the odds were against the Kasasiro boys, things were to even get worse as the then Philip Omondi Stadium in Lugogo was rendered unsuitable to host a match of such magnitude. Namboole Stadium was to take the mantle instead.
This presented a lot of unrest among the fans but certainly not the manager who was prepared despite journalists and football pundits rubbing the imminent defeat in his face. How did he keep his composure and cool? I don’t know.
Many would however wager that Mike is the kind of character. A manager whose belief in the strength of his directing hand has never wavered. There he was all set and ready for the game.
The nerves were too strong and persistent to be hidden at the start of the game with KCCA having only their most reliable custodian to thank for numerous saves made to maintain the virginity of the score-line and ultimately grant his team a chance in the game.
Charles Lukwago handed the game to his team by saving Ebeid’s penalty during the 24th minute, a class act that saw KCCA continue to believe with a lot of fans chanting for them in the stands at Namboole stadium.
KCCA would have a penalty of their own converted by their skipper Timothy Awany before Ibrahim Sadam Juma provided the most memorable scene of the evening. A powerful shot past Mohamed El Shenawy to make it 2-0.
With this result, KCCA had conquered the Egyptians and given life to their pursuit of knockout round football. The quest for supremacy was on and no one was to stop them.
Their drastic plummet
With this rejuvenated hope, Mike led his army north of the continent to take on Esperance, a side who along with Al Ahly were tipped for progress to the finals.
KCCA had beefed up their squad with signings of Gift Ali and Bernard Muwanga to give them a competitive advantage as both players were highly sought by the gaffer.
Still not fully playing to their best as per their standards, Esperance were vulnerable and KCCA knew better to exploit this. The start of the game suggested so as KCCA scored quickfire goals through Jackson Nunda and Muhammad Shaban respectively giving them the lead.
Their defensive vulnerabilities would however see them concede three goals and ultimately coming short to lose the game with a 3-2 score-line. This left many fans questioning why a defensive midfielder in the mold of Isaac Kilabira was left out.
Mutebi has however always been notable for his hostility to midfield buffers that do more water-carrying than playing fluidity. This dislike partly explains why Ivan Ntege was deemed surplus to requirements at Lugogo despite working just as hard, just as attentively as orthodox anchormen do.
The Tunisians would complete the double at Namboole thanks to that lone goal from Haythem Jouini who came on as a substitute in the first half following an injury to their target man.
The two defeats almost had their belief vanish before the 1-0 win against Township Rollers in their 5th game of the competition. They would however play out an entertaining goal thriller against Al Ahly in Alexandria Egypt in their final game.
They lost 4-3 in a fixture many highly anticipated following the outcome of the first leg. For the Al Ahly side, this presented a chance for revenge following their unacceptable defeat in Kampala that saw their then head coach resign.
This however simply meant a prestigious outing for the Lugogo boys since the group had been decided.
It was simply more of a case where Mike’s side was to fight for pride. Boy they did just that, offering a game compared to none, so offensive, involving and entertaining on the eye.
The team eventually finished third in the group missing out on knockout football. Many however seemed rather satisfied given not much was expected for the simple fact, it was the group of death and the two teams that progressed are far better in preparations and structures.
That isn’t an exaggerated analogy since these are indeed the same two teams that made the finals with Esperance finally breaking the jinx and beating the Egyptians to win their third CAF Champions League trophy.
KCCA 2018, they may not have progressed to the knockout round of the tournament, but they changed the phenotypic makeup of Ugandan football. Many that see a Ugandan club play on the continent just can’t help but remember the dynamic team.