I had lost track of Peter Onen for more than a decade until he resurfaced as national Under-17 coach.
For those who may not know him, Onen is one of those laid back personalities who let their work do the talking. I remember when Tushar Ruparelia first brought a young Onen, along with Erick Anyole, at Villa Park in the nineties. It was perhaps Onen’s first time in Kampala after leaving Tororo-based UCI.
During his time at SC Villa, Onen hardly spoke a word on and off the pitch but his input was always immense. Last year, I met Onen again when he was inquiring about some youngsters he wanted to summon to the national Under-17 side also known as Cubs. He was meticulous to the extent of being concerned about the young players’ diet.
In spite of lacking the charisma and star power, Onen steered the Cubs to their first ever qualification to the Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations due to be held in Tanzania starting this weekend. Had it been one of the vocal coaches around, that feat would have been amplified 10 times. But only downplayed the achievement and was solely focused on preparing the team for the tournament that took place recently.
Unfortunately, his bosses at Fufa had other ideas. Without any warning, Onen was summarily sacked three weeks ago and replaced with Ghanaian Samuel Kwesi. Just like it was during the exodus, Moses after 40 years walking/leading the Hebrews he never saw the promised land; just few miles away. Curiously, the job was not advertised and one wonders how Fufa president Moses Magogo thought of the need to replace a winning coach out of the blue.
Magogo reasoned that the appointment of Kwesi was based on his football ‘connections’ in Europe. There is absolutely nothing wrong to expose our players to professional leagues in Europe but it is in the manner that I find a problem with. For those who may not understand the true meaning of that statement, it is an innuendo which means Fufa’s main goal is to sell these youngsters. In other words, this is a business venture veiled as a technical upgrade. This begs the question; what is a coach’s role in the sale of players? Did Fufa hire a coach or a football agent? Besides, his commitment is questionable when you factor in that he has been at six jobs in 12 years.
The move also raises a number of issues regarding football integrity. For instance, who are these agents for the players? My impeccable sources intimate that this is a scandalous scheme at Fufa to benefit a few individuals acting as agents for these naïve players. Don’t be surprised if all these youngsters are forced to sign contracts with one particular agent and are in turn assembled on display at Afcon in a manner similar to slave trade auction markets. Anyway, that is a topic for another time. Back to Onen, the decision to axe him is a stab in the back, especially after he had already done the hard work.
And, Onen is not alone in this dilemma that has left several local coaches and players frustrated. Just last year, Fufa sent Moses Basena for a coaching course in the USA in a bid to widen his technical acumen but the federation has left him idle. Instead, what we have is a national team coach [Sébastien Desabre] who is solely focused on results.
I don’t really blame Desabre for negotiating a good deal that limits him to the national team with no other input to develop our game.
Back in the seventies when Burkhard Pape arrived in Uganda as coach, he gave special attention to empowering our tacticians. He was not result-oriented. And it is because of him that the likes of Ben Omoding, Peter Okee, Robert Kiberu and David Otti, among others emerged.
Even when Fifa president Gianni Infantino visited Uganda last year, I told him we need technical assistance first, not material support because even the worst village can afford to buy a ball or net. What we lack most is the technical capacity. Juxtapose that with Desabre who doesn’t even watch league games but is tasked to summon a national team…what you get is a result-oriented team that masks the deficiencies inside. So, Fufa should be grooming technically astute people like Douglas Bamweyana to plan for Ugandan football instead of allowing him go to the deep end of coaching where he will be devoured by the wolves and have his reputation tainted. Right now, we are just over two months away from the Nations Cup and there is no clear roadmap for the national team but there is hardly any plan. If the roadmap is there, it is in the hands of a few individuals who are still engaged in underhand lobbying for particular players to be summoned or how to make the most from ticketing. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Don’t even be surprised when at the last minute, Fufa runs to the media to express frustration at lack of funds when they knew in advance what lay ahead. It has become a norm to see a Fufa delegation petitioning State House for money by first blackmailing the country for their woes.
The author is Nyamityobora FC president