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StarTimes UPL 2020/21: anticipating the most venomous Viper ever

Vipers SC were crowned champions of the 2019/20 StarTimes UPL season after the Federation ended all football competitions on Wednesday due to the Coronavirus crisis.

If ‘twenie twenie‘ is a year to forget the world over, it is definitely a year to remember for a Vipers SC fan.

Don’t be fooled, we are not talking the COVID-assisted 4th league title here, we are talking about arguably the best they have ever been on all fronts before the start of a new soccer season since they were promoted to the top flight in 2006 as Bunamwaya.

I know your mind is now racing left, right, and center. Yes, feel the heat! that is exactly how hard it is to do a preview story of a season you are not yet sure when it will commence let alone analyze a team whose official website acknowledged that the squad is only beginning to take shape.

Call it an occupational hazard, but we will have to go about this together, it’s me and you.

If as speculated, the 2020/21 season is cleared to kick off on 17th October 2020, the defending champions will definitely be the most prepared team on and off the pitch.

They are the team with the most quality in their squad, obviously the stiffest competition among the players and of course, the club with the highest level of demand for results from the board.

For starters, they are the most compliant in terms of club licensing because their facilities and structures meet the expectations of the regulatory body 100%.

The St. Mary's Stadium , home of Vipers SC - StarTimes UPL 2020/21

A section of the The St. Mary’s stadium, home to Vipers SC. The Stadium was certified by the CAF and will continue undergoing development as per the club Director Dr. Lawrence Mulindwa | Courtesy photo

The St. Mary’s Stadium is CAF certified and their financial status is as unquestionable as Dr. Lawrence Mulindwa’s passion for football and the competency of their technical staff as well can match any of the purportedly most potent in the Startimes UPL.

To start where the football matters most however, the players they have are bound to begin the season (bar the possibility of extra late additions) more focused than ever seen at Kitende.

The grapevine is spinning news of a potential agreement between the big man and former venom Yunus Ssentamu for a return after sojourns in DRC, Tunisia, Finland, and Albania.

Buoyed by the amazing success of Fahad Bayo who was recently sold to Israel for serious money just a season after joining Vipers from Zambia, both Yunus and Vipers can believe in lightning striking twice in the same place.

The rest of the confirmed squad is aware of the task at hand, they have to make a history of their own next season, either by retaining the league which will be a 1st for them or by going an extra step and taking a double.

Only Prisons (currently Maroons FC), URA FC, Express FC, KCCA FC, and of course, SC Villa have done the former before and only the VEK sides have achieved the latter.

Anything short of the above will only be exonerated by making a step further than they have ever gone in the CAF Champions League. It is not easy to try and match their compatriots’ feats but this assembled squad will be adjudged to have failed if they don’t surpass the level ever reached by Vipers.

Our main topic is the league though, and it is here that Fred Kajoba has his work cut out for him. They must retain the league, at least for him to exorcise the ghosts of his predecessor Edward Golola. The reason is so obvious. Kajoba’s only league trophy ever was not only COVID-assisted but also had 75% of his clanmate’s input.

A clean slate trophy should be the utmost target for the much-maligned former goalkeeper and the Cranes goalkeepers’ trainer whose support staff was bolstered by the pre-season arrival of his trusted ‘lieutenant’ Kiwanuka Paul and experienced youth development coach Francis Mugerwa to complete a strong set of the backroom staff.

Paul-Kiwanuka-Francis Mugerwa and Fred Kajoba - StarTimes UPL

Finally complete! Vipers SC coach Fred Kajoba poses for a photo with his long term partner Paul Kiwanuka and Francis Mugerwa ahead of the StarTimes UPL 2020/21 season | Courtesy photo

Furthermore, Vipers got a maiden Sporting Director, in retired FIFA referee, and once-upon-a-time Express coach Charles Masembe. The club CEO Simon Peter Njuba, who was made permanent from the interim role he held after replacing Peter Lwanga is a SMASK OB and current IT teacher who is well trained in football administration and management and the FIFA Domestic Transfer Matching System (DTMS).

This not only guarantees the venoms’ continuity but also a healthier relationship between the CEO, management, and the predominantly SMASK fanbase. Add that to the fact that Njuba knows all the squad players formerly attached to or still studying at the school – in that, you have a killer connection.

To round it off, they have also created a General Manager position, taken by Stephen Mulindwa to be the direct link between the top brass and the technical department.

With all these Bayern Munich-esque positions, every football purist awaits to see how seamlessly each department works without overstepping the other’s authority and most importantly, without requiring the ‘much talked about overbearing big brother’s hand’. We all know, big brother can only be kept at bay by decent results and dominant football.

With the squad available, it will be a shame if ‘the football’ doesn’t satisfy everyone let alone, the results not coming as expected.

For starters, amongst the over a dozen released players (after contract expiry and mutual consent), there is last season league top scorer Steven Mukwala, Tito Okello, Dan Birikwalira, Duncan Sseninde, Frank “Zaga” Tumwesigye, Baden Mujahid, Fred Atuhwera, Brian Nkuubi, Joseph Janjali, Tom Masiko, Ibrahim Kiyemba, Dickens Okwir, and Farouk Musisi among others.

These departures are extremely emotional to many Vipers faithful but also statements of intent to the technical and remaining players. If the axe can be wielded upon some of the above players, there is no complacency or mediocrity expected of those that remain next season.

Again, the confirmed new signings including former Express captain Disan Galiwango, former Busoga United star David “Tong-po” Bagoole, former Bright Stars starlet Jamil Kaliisa and former Mbarara City winger Ibrahim Orit are expected to push for starting slots just as equally as the long term injury returnees (striking livewire Shaban Mohammed, gangly defender Rashid Toha and tough-as-nails Livingstone Mulondo alias C4.

David Bagoole signs for Vipers ahead of the StarTimes UPL 2020/21 season

David Bagoole after signing for Vipers from Busoga United FC ahead of the StarTimes UPL 2020/21 season | Courtesy photo

Only Burundian goalkeeper Fabien Mutombora appears safely assured of the starting slot because his understudy Derrick Ochan is among the released players. His move to apparently seek more frequent playing time leaves youngster Magulofa and possible returnee Bashir Ssekagya more likely to keep waiting.

Tactically, the team will be more venomous upfront with Shaban or Yunus (if he signs), while Dan “Mzee” Sserunkuma or youngsters Umar Kyebatala and Basangwa wait for their moments.

Creativity will be greater on both flanks with Orit, Paul Mucurezi, Allan Kayiwa, Milton Karisa, and Innocent Wafula vying for playing time. In case Disan is opted to play on the left-wing to let Aziz Kayondo continue his decent start to his career, many expect him to reproduce his goalscoring form.

Across the middle is where the real dilemma is though. Abraham Nduggwa was supposed to carry the playmaking button but the emergency of Bobos Byaruhanga and Abdulkarim Watambala pushed him further upfront.

The young duo will also have to endure the test of the challenge with the additions of Bagoole and Kaliisa while the defensive shield will have Siraje Ssentamu, Rahmat, and all-rounders Ibrahim Thembo and vice-captain Geofrey Wasswa.

The central defense is also going to present some sort of selection headache. Captain Halid Lwaliwa is surest when injury-free and his partner will have to come from Wasswa, Toha, Mulondo, Bashir Asiku, Jacob Okao, and Ahmed Amayo.

Halid Lwalilwa - will be key for Vipers ahead of the StarTimes 2020/21 season

If his fitness can be guaranteed, Halid Lwalilwa is expected to take up the first spot in defense alongside any other defenders at the club when the StarTimes 2020/21 season gets underway | Courtesy photo

Analyzing the overall strength-in-depth and, or the probable starting XI, one will realize that, Kajoba will have a decently balanced Vipers team capable of fighting on all fronts.

But the key components of his arsenal will be Fabien in goal, a stable center-back partnership, and the ingenuity of Siraje Ssentamu in the holding role.
It is upon this foundation that the full/wing-backs will “fly” and hence liberate the wingers and creative midfielders into a free-flowing game the students and “WhatsApp” fans are known to joyously react to on match days.
Of course, this will depend on the post-COVID situation – a few games minus fans (if the worst comes to the worst) will suffice for building pressure-free telepathy.

Other factors notwithstanding, the venoms really have good enough odds to retain the championship.

What do you think? – What are you expecting from the champions, Vipers SC for the StarTimes UPL 2020/21?

We would love to read your thoughts and opinion on this. Share with us your views in the comment section below.

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