At best, I expected to write about Uganda’s chances of reaching the semi-final of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon). But instead, the country is still coming to grips with the last-16 exit preceded by a player strike over unpaid bonuses as well as the acrimonious departure of Coach Sebastien Desabre shortly after Uganda’s elimination.
In a sport where passions run high, there is always a probability that realism may be lost in translation to mean pessimism or, in Fufa’s language, sabotage. I warned that in the newly expanded Afcon of 24 teams, Uganda’s mark of progress in the Afcon would depend on whether they go past the last 16 phase, the same stage we started at in the 2017 edition.
Unfortunately, we didn’t cross the Senegal hurdle and I therefore find little joy in reaching the knockout stage; especially when you put into perspective the teams that failed to get out of the group stage. Can you really celebrate finishing above the likes of Namibia, Angola, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau, Tanzania or even Kenya? We’ve always bettered these mediocre teams.
In summary, The Cranes won when they had no pressure, drew when luck was on our side and lost both games when the stakes were high.
PLAYER STRIKE JUSTIFIED
Amidst the team’s eye-catching display on the pitch, their efforts at the 2019 Afcon were overshadowed by the strike before the Senegal game.
A lot has been said in different circles regarding the move and timing. Did the players short-change Fufa to demand the $6,000 outside the contract both parties signed?
I want to assure the public that Fufa’s posturing to make public the contract is a smokescreen aimed at hiding the injustice and duress under which these players were coerced. Did anyone take note of how the federation left out what it earns on the players’ behalf?
First of all, the players had no choice when signing the code of conduct or contract for the meagre earnings they were to get because questioning anything would have been tantamount to ‘insubordination,’ and therefore being dropped from the 23-man squad. My research shows The Cranes players had the lowest allowances and bonuses amongst all the 24 Afcon teams.
Secondly, the $6,000 the Cranes players demanded was outside the contract. Instead, it had accrued from the 2017 Afcon edition as well as Fufa’s failure to fulfill its promise to the players in the wake of qualification to Afcon. What’s more, President Museveni offered the players $1,000,000 for Afcon qualification.
Now, any intelligent player would know that the $14,600 Fufa had given the players so far amounted to just $345,000 yet the federation had already pocketed in excess of $1.5m on the players’ behalf.
So, for those who may not know the behind-the-scenes goings-on at this level, it would have been a different story had Fufa declared the funds at its disposal for the players.
I’m sure the Cranes must have been rattled when they read about Zimbabwean players threatening to strike before the game against DR Congo over their $12,500 arrears not to mention the $3,000 for the draw against Uganda in which The Cranes got $2,000.
All in all, it was a smart move for the players to get whatever little they could than leaving it to go into the pockets of a few individuals.
However, one thing I have learnt about Fufa’s dealings is that everything happens for a reason and you should take every statement they make with a pinch of salt until you get to the bottom of the matter.
One credible insider intimated to me that the strike could have been stage-managed to arm-twist government to release more money. This theory stems from Moses Magogo’s tactical withdrawal from the team in Cairo to return home and party like there is no tomorrow.
Government has fallen prey to this scheme in the past, especially when the team is due to travel for a crucial game.
Meanwhile, Desabre’s decision to abandon Uganda in the aftermath of the exit may have caught many by surprise but I foresaw it within these pages. Some uninformed Fufa sympathisers called me ‘unpatriotic’ yet my biggest concern was not about how much Desabre meant to Uganda, but how prepared Fufa should be if he jumps ship like his predecessors Csaba Laszlo and Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic did. Remember, a Ghanaian – Fabian Kwesi – that Fufa signed to coach the Under-20 team left within a month under unclear circumstances.
Unfortunately, the Fufa leadership doesn’t listen because it is comprised around patronage rather than merit; a federation where loyalists see technical brains as threats.
And it is hard to fault the Frenchman because no professional coach can work under the circumstances Fufa subjected the team to in Cairo. You may remember how Moses Magogo, the Fufa president, made Desabre culpable for the 0-3 loss to Tanzania in March by rebuking his selection.
My sources in Cairo also confirmed that Fufa officials faulted him for failure to rein in on the players during the strike yet Desabre understood their grievances and couldn’t force them to train.
I’ve also observed that in his departing farewell to Ugandans on Twitter, Desabre thanked everyone but Fufa, a clear pointer to the strained relations.
However, I’m also privy to the fact that his new employers have already compensated Fufa since Desabre had a running contract with a buyout clause. Unfortunately, these are earnings the powers that be at Mengo can never divulge to Ugandans despite the fact that Desabre’s salary was paid by government, not Fufa.
And now that Fufa has picked up the buyout bounty, Ugandans should wait for their next move to blackmail government into paying for the next foreign coach.
LET THE INQUEST BEGIN
The post-mortem of the 2019 Afcon can best be done with the involvement of government, which is the main shareholder in the sport by virtue of the billions President Museveni sinks into the game
I know a number people from the Ministry of Education and Sports, private sector and the National Council of Sports that travelled for the Afcon in the name of offering technical support yet in reality, it was an all-expense-paid holiday on taxpayers’ money.
Some of these 50-plus delegates, I learnt, earned allowances in excess of $3,000 yet the people who would have made a difference for Uganda at Afcon weren’t even considered. I mean the local coaches, club officials, Fufa delegates and district football association executives who would have picked vital lessons in football management.
What we need now is an independent team to probe the strike, mismanagement and circumstances under which Desabre left.
That would offer vital lessons in the future to stem the vicious cycle of rebuilding and growing back to the drawing board after Afcon.