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StarTimes UPL 2020/21: is it the time for Ssimbwa and URA to break the jinx?


Wise men say it is not enough to be good if you have the ability to be better. And again, when the best is not good enough, mankind oughta step out of their shell (and straight into the auric field surrounding them) to achieve the much-needed grades.

This exactly defines the entanglement Sam Ssimbwa and his URA Football Club project is facing. The KCCA FC legend is arguably one of the finest footballers this land has seen and without a shade of doubt, up there with the greatest coaches to ever emerge out of this banana republic.

Unfortunately, all that is in retrospect because his last title is the 2012 league championship he so wonderfully delivered for Express FC.

Does anyone remember the amazing Bonny Baingana run at Namboole against the Red Eagles’ arch-nemesis SC Villa? Or the sheepish look on the face of vanquished Jogoos caretaker manager Joseph Kanaaba in the dugout? Need I also mention the Mourinho-Esque celebratory run by the maverick one? Enough of this.

Ssimbwa’s side URA FC was 5th on the log when COVID-19 inspired the close of last season. The tax collectors had 40 points from 25 games, the highest number of drawn games (10), and were joint 2nd with KCCA FC and SC Villa on losses in the season (5) as compared to Vipers’ three.

Their 29 goals scored was joint 6th with Mbarara City, one behind Busoga United, Onduparaka, Police and Express’ 30 while BUL (31), Villa (33), champions Vipers (38), and runners up KCCA (42) followed in ascending order.

URA FC finished in the fifth position with 40 points from the 25 games played last season. URA FC beat the big guns at the Arena of Visions including KCCA FC, Vipers, and SC Villa | Courtesy Photo

Their tally of goals against was 22, joint 3rd alongside Busoga United while Villa and KCCA let in a goal less as compared to Vipers’ 15 goals.

The pandemic aside, 5th position is the joint third-worst finish for the team since they stormed the Uganda Premier League in 2002 as Lyantonde/ URA. The architect of this controversial promotion was ironically Ssimbwa’s not so rosy colleague Jackson Mayanja, but that is a story for another day!

I mean the promotion and the civil beef between the two KCC and Cranes legends.

In 2005, URA lost to Express FC at the quarter-final stage of a specially arranged league whose participants were grouped in 3 and the top two ranked sides in each group advanced to that stage along with two 3rd placed teams with the most number of points. URA (11pts) and KCCA (14pts) being the lucky two at the expense of Group C’s Kampala United (10pts).

The other seasons that produced “poor” finishes were 2015/’16 when they finished fifth and 2017/’18 when they finished 9th which actually warranted the signing of Ssimbwa and his support staff of George Lutalo, Augustine Nsumba, Robert Mukasa, and keepers coach Stephen Billy Kiggundu.

In all the other seasons since 2002, the yellow and sky blues have not finished outside the top 4, winning the title 4 times (in 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2011). If that is not good, then I don’t know what good is!

However, like the intro aptly suggests, all this is painfully not enough for a side with arguably one of the best-paid squads in Ugandan football and surely the best coached sides as well. Their corporate approach may limit their ability to make abnormal transfer business but by any standard, URA is not very far in the destinations of preference by many a Ugandan player.

There could be tongue-in-cheek sentiments about their dealings with agents and, or intermediaries but again, the impasse between Sam Ssimbwa and former CEO Ivan Kakembo unearthed a little more than met the proverbial eye or ear of several purist followers.

When Kakembo’s contract was not renewed, and Bridget Nakayenga installed in an interim capacity, there was a lot of chest-thumping and sourgraping from the different camps, declarations that don’t sound so positive for football and obviously that we won’t delve much into because they remained more tabloidish than mainstream news.

Fast forward to the upcoming pre-season, if the rumored 17th October football resumption is taken in consideration, a new day has definitely come at Nakawa and, or their Ndejje Arena of visions home ground for last season.

Midway into the club longest contract, he has ever endured as a coach (he actually promised the media on the day of his unveiling that he will honor this one to its end), Ssimbwa is expected to deliver some sort of silverware (another aspect that featured prominently as he was unveiled). The pandemic denied him a chance last season because I strongly think he had a shout in the Uganda Cup but that is in the past now.

Ssimbwa is expected to not only compete and whip the big boys but also deliver some sort of silverware | Courtesy Photo

URA is thirsty for the champagne of a champion or cup winner. Their last podium celebration was the Uganda Cup victory six years ago in Mbale after edging KCCA 4-2 on penalties (following a 2-all draw in normal time) to make it 3 Uganda Cups in total (with 2012 and 2005)

The announcement of a new CEO Henry Mayeku is a great statement of intent by the board that has among others, Chairman James Kizza, Finance Director Ceasor Labejja, and Marketing Director Rumanyika. Mayeku is no stranger to URA club management because he was General Secretary between 2011 and 2016 until a failed attempt at the top job left him at crossroads, hence staying away doing private business.

The business has been football-related though, he has been operating a management and scouting agency across East Africa and has brokered several deals in Kenya and Tanzania.

This field experience will come in handy if at all they forge a harmonious way out with both sides of his portfolio i.e. the technical and the board. We all know how fragile such a job can get especially in the heat of the moment at Nakawa.

The club surely needs a seamless approach to the business if they can dream of breaking both theirs and their coaches’ silverware jinx. So much for RAISING your own bar too high!

After getting former KCCA FC genius Jackson Nunda, they have also acquired the services of Hannington Ssebwalunyo and are apparently in talks with ex-Vipers players Brian Nkuubi, and Joseph Janjali, as well as returning professionals Hassan Wasswa, Patrick Kaddu, and Murishid Jjuuko.

URA FC captured Hannington Ssebwalunyo from relegated side Maroons FC as another addition to last season’s squad | Courtesy Photo

The other series of talks include trying to hold on to want-away stars Saidi Kyeyune and Captain Shafiq Kagimu. The two internationals had overseas plans after CHAN 2020 in Cameroon but the pandemic-influenced change in dates has affected their plans.

It is now a double-edged situation for the players, club, and agents involved but hopefully, URA will prevail.

If this happens, Ssimbwa will have a good enough arsenal to have another bite at the cherry with goalkeeper Alionzi Nafian enjoying the gap offered by the departure of James Alitho to Zambia. His understudies Samuel Mwaka and Michael Kagiri are still being fine-tuned for the future by Kiggundu, one of those few experienced in making immaculate custodians.

The defense is still strong enough except for the left-back where Brian Majwega might miss the push offered by Yeseri Waibi who is rumored to have relocated to the UK. The right side meanwhile is top class with Ashraf Mandela and Ronald Kigongo while the center half is equally strong.

Hudu Mulikyi is incredible in the sweepers’ role and stoppers Benjamin Nyakoojo and Paul Patrick Mbowa are international material. Rookie Ivan Sserubiri and Julius Mutyaba can provide cover the same way they do for Ivan Ntege ‘kojja’ and Hassan Kalega “Gaata” in holding midfield.

If joint club MVP’s Kyeyune and Kagimu stay put, there is little to worry about especially for the 3 goal getters Cromwell Rwothomio, Anwaru Ntege, and Daniel Isiagi.

Kuchi, as Kagimu is known, was alone involved in 14 of their 29 goals (scoring 3 of them) and sets the bar for other creators like Joackim Ojera, Michael Birungi, Moses Sseruyidde, and Mikidad Ssenyonga who is expected to flourish after his post- Masaza debut last season where he scored a pitch of a goal against Express FC.

They also have full back Najib Fessali and forwards John Ssemazzi, Victor Kilama, and Ibrahim Dada in their ranks, therefore, they are a few adjustments away from nirvana.

With the grapevine talking of a plan for a modern stadium and a campaign similar to that of Tanzania’s Azam or Germany’s RB Leipzig to tap into social media fans more in the not so immediate future, Fans’ Director John Pulle will relish a closed-door start to the league because they boast of arguably the most vocal single fan in Ugandan football currently.

The team bus driver Mashood Olwor turns into a one-man army fan with his vuvuzela and high decibel voice in a style that significantly dwarfs the Kamodo and Uncle Money machines.

#IfYouKnowYouKnow Over to you Omulangira Bamweyana and Henry Mayeku.

Tendo Musoke

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