By Fredrick Nadulli aka Razor,
When the Uganda Cranes flew into Kumasi to face fancied Ghana in an Afcon qualifier,pundits didnt know what to make of the unheralded East Africans.It was going to be an easy stroll for the Black Stars,or so they betted.Star-studded Ghana were left with pricked egos when it took a dubious penalty for them to share spoils and deny Uganda victory.Ninety six hours later,the Syli Nationale of Guinea trooped into Kampala and were nonchalantly whacked 2-0.
In recent years Ugandan football has been mired in confusion,wrangles and infighting but amidst all this turbulence,their national teams have perfomed reasonably well.Ugandan footballers have continued to be great ambassadors beyond the country’s frontiers.
Lest we forget,the Cranes came to within a game of qualifying for the Nations’ cup in Equatorial Guinea/Gabon.That time,Kenya denied them the victory they craved in Namboole.Ironically,the Harambee Stars played the role of spoilers,as they had virtually no chance of making it to the continental showpiece.
KENYA THE SPRINGBOARD
While the Uganda super league was on a free-fall,across the border in Kenya the TPL was flourishing.A well organised league,good club packages and better career prospects meant Ugandans began to look at Kenya as an irresistible alternative destination to ply their craft.
And so began the cross-border exodus.
Its interesting to note that of the sixteen teams in the Kenyan top tier,more than eight have a Ugandan national in their ranks.Champions Gor Mahia lead the pack with Danny Sserunkuma,Geoffrey Kizito,Godfrey Walusimbi,Israel Emuge and junior international Arthur Ssemazi.Admittedly,present day Gor would not do without this foreign legion.Tusker have the trio of Martin Kizza,Robert Omunuk and Khalid Aucho.
KCB boasts of Sula Bagala,Ronald Musana and Abassi Kiwalabye.Bandari has Brian Sserunkuma and Jimmy Bageya.At AFC Leopards and City Stars are Musa Mudde and George Abege respectively.Sofapaka have utility Shafik Batambuze while Thika United have inspirational goalkeeper Hamza Muwonge.KRA parade lanky Ivan Anguyo.
Away from the premier league in the football-mad suburbs of Eastlands in Nairobi like Jericho,Kayole and Donholm,dusty pitches are teeming up with Ugandans working out daily trying to navigate their way into the TPL.The Nationwide league,a lower division,is also littered with these wannabes hoping to hit the eye of a prospective talent scout and make it to the elites.The toll is rising.
COST TO LOCAL GAME
These players have as much right as anyone else to ply their trade here.Ability is the yardstick.It underlines just how much talent Uganda has.However,while this benefits the clubs and ultimately the Uganda national teams,it comes with a heavy cost for Kenya long term.
The TPL provides a conducive environment for our neighbours to sharpen their skills.During the Brookside secondary school games in Mbarara,a hopeful lad confided in Soka25East.com that his dream was to play in the TPL.Interestingly,compared to Kenyans going regional,the numbers can be counted on the fingers of one hand.For the record,even coaches are being attracted like Bear cubs to honey sandwiches.
Sam Ssimbwa was here a few seasons back.Presently,Sam Timbe is here as well as the man who managed the Cranes for half a decade;Bobby Williamson,formerly at Gor and now at the helm of Harambee Stars.
But what fuels this massive exodus,many a Kenyan youth often ask.
The wrangles have subsided a truce called.The premier league,now renamed the UPL, is set to kick off on Friday 12th September after a two year hiatus,complete with television coverage.Keen observers believe the infighting contributed largely to the massive exodus across.
Which begs the query,should the UPL prosper and match or surpass the TPL,will these players return home?
If it eventually happens,for the sake of this region,stakeholders hope it will be a win-win situation for all parties involved.
Until we get to that bridge,we cannot cross.
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