The countdown to return.

The January 2020 transfer window had two main stories that captured the attention of Ugandans.

Allan Okello was signed by Algerian club Paradou AC for $200,000 from Kcca FC then Mbwana Samatta joined Aston Villa from Genk to become the first Tanzanian player in the English Premier League (EPL).

98% of Ugandan footballers that join professional football return to Uganda within two years.

I always get asked why our players fail in professional football. I usually answer that our environment doesn’t have what it takes to prepare a player for professional football.

We don’t yet have competed coaches that are capable of preparing players for professional football.

We don’t have many credible competitions that enable players to go through a thorough player development pathway.

Our society is yet to embrace football as a profession, we still treat football as a leisure activity.

Imagine that you want to be a lawyer/engineer/pilot/doctor/architect/teacher, your education pathway will be career-specific midway through secondary school and, become clearer the closer you get to university.

By the time you start practicing your profession, the education pathway has prepared you to have a good foundation.

Let’s imagine again that you want to be a lawyer/engineer/pilot/doctor/architect/teacher, you study anything open then decide to go and work in any of those professions.

You will have skipped the stage of studying the specific subjects for that particular profession.

The lack of basics in that particular field will make you incompetent. If you are being interviewed for the job then you would be exposed.

Does that sound familiar with the majority of Ugandan footballers failing trials?

Footballers in Uganda don’t have a development pathway from 6 to 21 years of age. It’s all about kicking a ball, join a club, play for the national team then an agent convinces a club in North Africa or South Africa to sign the player.

Usually, they start well but with every other match and training session, they get exposed.

Another question that I usually get asked is how a player like Mbwana Samatta managed to make it yet he comes from a country that lacks all the football education that I highlighted earlier.

When you look at Samatta’s pathway, he’s managed to be patient, work hard and prove himself at every level that he’d played from Simba in 2010 through TP Mazembe for five years then Genk for four years.

How many Ugandan footballers have proven themselves at Uganda Premier League (UPL) level?

How many Ugandan footballers exercise patience and hard work when they are transferred?

The agents of most Ugandan footballers want to earn quick money in sign-on fees, they ensure that players move to another club within two years.

How many Ugandan footballers would be key players at a club competing in the quarter-finals of the CAF Confederations cup or CAF Champions’ league?

We need to have players that can prove themselves in Uganda and on the continent before progressing to compete in Europe.

It’s not the only route but it’s the best pathway for a country that lacks football academies.

Denis Onyango, Ibrahim Sekagya and Micheal Azira have managed to make it through hard work, patience and proving themselves at each level.

How many years did it take for each of those three players to make it to the top? How much patience was involved in the process?

Now you know why whenever most Ugandan footballers get transferred to a professional league, the countdown for their return is on tik tok.

You lack experience!

You lack experience is a very common phrase or response in Uganda. The same phrase is regularly used in Football.

It’s a bitter truth to accept when you are on the receiving end of that phrase. Most times it’s a genuine assessment but when it comes from someone responsible for helping you gain experience then it loses meaning.

As Uganda Cranes prepares for AFCON 2019. Allan Okello’s omission from the squad made headlines, and registered a high search count on google.

His omission from the squad was a debate topic on social media, most football shows on television and radio because this’ a player that played well in the 2018-19 season.

Allan Okello didn’t do himself any favors by having the distraction of trials.

I don’t know any football coach that would want to have a distracted player in camp. He was moved to the other Cranes squad preparing for COSAFA and missed that tournament because of his trials in Switzerland.

As I write this blog, Uganda Cranes coach Sebastian Desabre has named the final 23 players to represent Uganda at AFCON 2019.

The squad has three left backs; Joseph Ochaya, Godfrey Walusimbi, and Isaac Muleme.

I am not writing to suggest who should have been in the squad or not but I believe the squad selection has exposed our lack of planning player development in football. That lack of planning is one of the reasons most Ugandan football players lack experience.

Experience challenges in Ugandan Football.

Experience comes from doing. Unfortunately, in Ugandan football, we think experience comes from age. It’s possible to find a 30-year-old player that lacks experience of international football.

The majority of Ugandan footballers lack football related experience because they are not given an opportunity by the people responsible for their development.

The recently concluded UEFA Nations League (UNL) should have been a very good example of how long term planning in football is being implemented to help young players gain experience.

Portugal, Netherlands, England, and Switzerland wanted to win the tournament but used it as an opportunity to name squads that had a mix of youth and experience.

Joao Felix (aged 19), Declan Rice (aged 20), De Ligt (aged 19) and Manuel Akanji (aged 23) all represented their respective nations.

Giving young players an opportunity to gain experience comes at a cost in the short term but has long term benefits. How much experience of a semifinal will those young players have at the Euro 2020 and the 2022 FIFA world cup in Qatar?

Allan Okello, Mustafa Kizza, and Paul Willa are some of the U23 national team players that played well in the league. Going for COSAFA was a good step for them to gain experience of international football but should have continued to AFCON 2019.

They don’t have to play but be part of the squad to gain tournament experience in 2019.

What will happen at AFCON 2023 when they will be required to lead?

They will be older but will most likely lack tournament experience and the cycle will continue.

What happens when Uganda Cranes might be trailing 3-0 with 5 minutes left to play?

What happens when Uganda Cranes is leading 3-0 with three minutes left to play?

That would be an opportunity for those players to get on the pitch and gain practical experience of AFCON.

Reflection of Society

Football is a reflection of society but can also be used to change the society we live in.

It’s common to find a businessman/woman in Uganda operating a business for 10-20 years with teenage sons/daughters lacking experience of how the business operates because, in our mindset, we expect experience to be like an on/off switch.

We keep searching for experienced people in everything.

In 2016 I wrote a blog suggesting how FUFA should implement a flexible player licensing system to enable young players to gain experience of top-flight football.

FUFA acted on it and it’s now operating on paper. In the recently concluded 2018-19 Uganda Premier League (UPL) season, Uganda Revenue Authority Football Club (URA FC) went through an injury crisis but responded by naming only four out of a possible seven substitutes for most of their matches during that injury crisis yet they had a U-19 squad of 25 players available to fill in.

That’s a clear example of denying young players an opportunity to gain experience of top-flight football.

AFCON 2019 should have been a good opportunity for Allan Okello, Mustafa Kizza, and Paul Willa to gain experience from experienced players ahead of them.

Ugandan football needs to greatly improve on planning if we are to solve most football related problems. In this case, it’s a lack of experience in our players.