‘Money and Mane…’two nouns, same pronunciation, different meanings, came together, to land one blow, that crushed an entire nation.
The plot was conjured up by the former, two days to the crucial game against west African giants Senegal in the last 16 of the 2019 finals of the biggest football show piece on the continent, but it was the latter that hit the last nail in the coffin.
Money orchestrated and Mane executed.
‘Money’ knew that football is a psychological game, so his strategy was to disorganise the players’ minds and have them thinking about him instead of the task at hand.
This worked intrepidly well.
On the 2ndof July 2019, ‘Money’ stealthily beat the security and sneaked into the player rooms of the highly guarded Radisson Blue Hotel in new Cairo, Egypt, where the Uganda Cranes players resided since the start of the tournament. Cunning as a fox, ‘Money’ quickly got to the players’ minds and successfully corrupted them.
His timing was near perfect. Uganda was in the middle of its most promising AFCON final since 1978 when Uganda made it to the final and lost to Ghana.
Sebastien Desabre’s boys had shocked two time champions DR. Congo 2-0 in their first group game, held a stubborn Zimbawe one all and, against the run of play and lost to the hosts 2-0 in the final game. A performance good enough to send them to the knockout stages of the tournament as the second best team in group A with four points.
All through the groups, every thing seemed well. We later learnt from the Federation of Uganda Football Associations, FUFA, that each player was rewarded handsomely for their group stage performance. 55 Million Uganda shillings (Approximately 15,000 us dollars), for each is what FUFA claimed each of the players received.
After a day’s rest, the players who were supposed to return to training on Tuesday, refused to take the bus to the Arab Contractors stadium where they trained through out the tournament. ‘Money’, the necessary devil was at work.
The players claimed they demanded 10,000 us dollars (approximately 38 million) Uganda shillings each, as qualification bonus from the federation and they made it clear, they wouldn’t play the last 16 game against Senegal on the 5thof July until they had been cleared. I didn’t believe this was serious, until it actually happened. They refused to train, until the federation and government held emergency meetings with them, reached an agreement to give them 6,000 each, and finally they agreed to do the job that took them to Egypt in the first place. But again, this was after playing ping pong. In fact, the penultimate training before the game, started at at close to 11pm in Cairo, that is almost two hours later than it should have, and continued until Thursday morning.
In the meantime, the Lions of Teranga were focused on the job, holding every training as scheduled at the 30thJune stadium. They knew, this concentration would be key if they were to avoid an upset from one of the tournament’s surprise teams.
MATCH DAY, 5THJULY – THE EXECUTION
With the ground work done and dusted by ‘Money’, who had left all Ugandan players thinking about him instead of the football, came the D-day. Who better than one of the continent’s best football assassins to finish off the plot.
The genius ‘Money’ was wise in choosing a partner in crime. Money went for Mane, to finish off what he had started and the former didn’t need much time to find his target and send Ugandans packing.
With Uganda’s players clearly disjointed, and showing signs of little concentration, probably with some playing with Money on their minds, it took only 15 minutes for Mane to find a pinhole, and finish off the job. It wasn’t the worst display by a Ugandan national team, but it was clearly down to the little loss in concentration on the field of play. For example, the manner in which Godfrey Walusimbi lost the ball to a Senegalese midfielder who started the build up the goal, was down to loss in concentration.
This is not to blame the players for the loss, it was in the first place always going to be extremely difficult for Uganda to knockout the tournament favourites, but the events leading to the game, made the loss more un questionable.
Did the boys give their best fight? Maybe yes, maybe not. Maybe they had the right to strike for what they believed is theirs’ but was the timing right? Could it have waited; could they have done it some other way? Again, maybe yes, maybe not.
As I watched the game, in the media stand of the magnificent Cairo international stadium, I honestly didn’t feel that special attachment to the team that I have always felt whenever my country walks out of the tunnel for a football match.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t care what happens on the day. I didn’t feel the pain I always feel watching Uganda’s opponents celebrating a goal against my beloved. I thought may be this was because I had the ‘privilege’ of watching these players hold the country at ransom right from where it all happened, as they spent hours and hours, in their rooms, keeping the coaching staff and doctors waiting like beggars in the lobby of their 5-star hotel, as the ‘special ones’, decided whether or not to proceed with training.
I thought may be it was because of how tired i got due to holding my camera from outside the hotel entrance, waiting for them to finally come out, as the security team kept starting and stopping the bus hoping they were finally coming to go for training, but all in vain.
I thought it was because of the frustration I got as the security kept chasing me away from the hotel with my camera, how I had to turn back to the hotel midway the road to the Arab contractors’ stadium, after learning that the players who had accepted to train moments before I left the hotel, eventually refused and went back to their rooms. The after I returned they had made up their minds again, and were all entering the bus.
But this wasn’t the case, everyone else I have spoken to, journalists and non journalists, Ugandans and supportive Egyptians felt the same. They all felt let down by the sons of the land.
I picked whispers that this isn’t done. That there might be a massive audit and clearance in the Cranes team. Some players might need something close to divine intervention to stay or even ever play for the national team.
But besides all the drama, the boys gave a good account of them selves when they were in their right state of mind. They showed the world that Uganda has got talent. Abdu Lumala remains the revelation of the tournament, in fact am told, he is on the radar of some of the biggest football teams on the continent. Timothy Awany might have thrown in his ring for a place as the heir to Hassan Wasswa’s central defence crown, while Denis Onyango remains Denis Onyango, ‘the best goalkeeper on the continent’.
As you read this, am on my way back to the place I call home, from the heat of the land where civilisation started, to the beauty of the pearl of Africa. We might not have the trophy, but with me I carry more love and admiration for my country, and if there is one thing my first visit to North Africa has taught me, its that Indeed Winston Churchill was right to name Uganda the Pearl of Africa.