Why Ugandan Soccer players have short professional stints.

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By Alex Bossa

Despite the imposing performance of the national soccer teams in the CECAFA region and the south of the Sahara region, the export of Ugandan players to the top European leagues has been a mission impossible.

The pearl of Africa has witnessed its inferior neighbours get a breakthrough with Kenya registering a champions league winner’s medal (McDonald Maringa – Inter Millan 2010) while we still struggle to get a representative in the group stages of the competition.

Even those finished products we have tried to entice to change nationality are either playing in lower divisions or play squad player roles at relegation strugglers.

The closest the country came to break the top5 league transfer jinx after Majid Musisi’ stint at Rennes was when Savio Nsereko crossed to Westham United from Germany but only after six months in London, Nsereko’s transfer is still viewed by the hammer’s Faithfull as the worst in the club’s history.

The likes of Hakim Magumba, Hassan Mubiru, Andrew Mukasa, Jackson Mayanja, Steven Bengo and many others took the country by storm but failed to get a breakthrough to the cream de la creme. In his post-match interview after Uganda Cranes 1-1 draw against Ghana in 2002, Former Bayern Munich defender Samuel Kuffour wondered why Hassan Mubiru was not playing professional football as the striker was a menace throughout that match.

Most local-based Ugandan footballers who try to play professional football, play in obscure leagues where they struggle to get first-team football. The majority who have tried semi-professional stints in North Africa have returned home without celebrating their first birthday at the clubs.

Some of the players are believed to settle for less. They are kind of in a comfort zone once they are on board the plane and forget that it is easier to go on top but hard to maintain when you are on top. Most of them turn into facebook bloggers instead of concentrating on improving their game attributes.

Most of our boys when they join professional ranks, cannot improve on their technical attributes because they have limited exposure to the tactical, psychological and intellectual part of football. A number of them fail the fitness test as a result of missing the technicalities involved at an earlier age as early as 12 years.

Another case in point is the raw material we export. The players are not given enough time to mature before they acquire the move. Players like Joel Madondo fell victims of joining the professional ranks before they can stamp authority within the local franks. Joel Madondo had barely completed a full season in the local league when Wydad came in calling. The player only featured for five matches and by the time we could realise, the striker was back to lower franks of Ugandan football with Army Side Gaddafi Fc.

Our player development lacks the coaching education which is key to the development of a footballers technical attributes. The lack of financial support has only exposed our players to the actual part of the game while ignoring the technical bit with most of them being spotted during the age-group tournaments. This leaves the players with game exposure but without the technical bit thus failing to handle themselves professionally.

The age group categories also have their dark side where age cheating is the order of the day.  Age falsification has always been a major Vince in Uganda with players’ passports reading 5 years younger than the actual age.

For example, when you play in the under 17 categories when you are 23 years, you tend to be faster and mature in decision making because of the style of play and the Physique you possess. The falsification of age always comes into play for our boys since at a certain age let us say 27 years where a player is expected to be at the peak, the player is at the long side of his game with a decline in speed and physique.

The media has also shared its share of the blame on the unsuccessful professional stint of Ugandan players. The media seems to give a mileage to a footballer just after two back to back impressive games. They are christened names like Uganda’s Christiano or the new Messi. This not only puts the player under pressure but also makes them think that they are beyond the level they are playing at and in the end, they make future regrettable transfers.

Agents are expected to advise their clients on the moves but most of them in the country only mind the financial bit of the contract while ignoring the technical part where player growth and development is critical. Most agents only concentrate on how much they will get and their client but forget the real part of the contract closes.

The majority of our local players have always complained about the unfair treatment especially from North African teams who hide some details from them during the signing of the contract. But why do you sign a contract in a language you don’t know? Just like most middlemen, agents are double dealers to the extent that they are bribed into making quick moves with a financial benefit set aside. This corrupts their mind to the extent that they ignore their principal role of acting as a player representative and take on the role of businessmen.

Lastly, the language barrier and culture has long affected the professional careers of most Ugandan footballers. Local player agents don’t encourage their clients to take a month of language and cultural courses to familiarise themselves with their new home. Most of them are thrown into the frying pan thus having a cultural shock. They can neither communicate nor interact with fellow players which in the end isolates them from the rest of the group.

On joining the professional ranks in Serbia, ex Uganda Cranes defender Nestroy Kizito confessed that he was almost returning home immediately after joining Sremin in the 2004 – 2005 season from Sc Villa. The weather, language and culture were different from what they experienced but only persistence managed to get him to make it through the rain.

With all the above put aside, the likes of David Obua, Ibrahim Sekajja, Denis Onyango and Emmanuel Okwi have surpassed the expectations and tag that was placed on them and the federation should come up with an approach of trying to reduce on the short professional stints by most of the country’s football talent.

Proper player development, strict monitoring of player’s age and clear spelling out of contract clauses can all assist in limiting short professional stints by Ugandan players.

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