KAMPALA – It is not easy to satisfy Ugandan football enthusiasts simply because it is hard to understand what they really want.
Former head coach of the Uganda National Men’s football team, the Cranes, Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojević fell victim to them back in January 2017.
After ensuring that the Cranes qualified for their maiden Africa Cup of Nations tournament in 39 years, the Serb was criticized for his ‘defensive’ brand of football at the finals held in Gabon.
Elsewhere, such an achievement would be celebrated even after group stage elimination but not in Uganda, where the football community which also includes ‘Social Media Coaches’, think they must play beautiful football and win games at a tournament that they have not played in, for close to half a century.
As fate would have it, Micho resigned towards the end of July and it felt like an enemy to Ugandan football had been defeated instead of a loss of a legend after-all, the Serb would forever be remembered as the man who broke the 39-year-old AFCON curse.
As Micho started to settle in at his new role as Orlando Pirates coach in the South African top flight, a certain Moses Basena took over as interim head coach. Barely a month into his new role, Basena was too, criticized for sticking to Micho’s tactics and it was just a matter of time before the former SC Villa and Simba FC coach left.
On December 27th, 2017, it was announced that Sebastien Desabre would be the Uganda Cranes head coach for the next two years.
As soon as the name fell into the ears of Ugandan football fans and the so-called ‘Social Media Coaches’, the questions about his past and lack of National team experienced started to arise.
Those questions only grew stronger after the Frenchman led the Uganda Cranes to a group stage elimination at the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN). At the tournament held in Morocco, the Cranes lost two and drew one of their three games, finishing 3rd in Group C.
Desabre’s next assignment came in the February/March international friendly window where his Cranes would face Sao Tome and Principe and Malawi at Mandela National stadium in a space of three days. With the two nations not among the African giants, fans across the country expected to see Uganda dominant and winning by huge margins.
However, that would not be the case as Uganda defeated Sao Tome 3-1 and went on to draw 0-0 with Malawi. What followed after that was a Social Media outrage as fans questioned his tactics and style of play, claiming he was no better than both of his immediate predecessors Basena and Micho.
As though the fans’ outrage was not enough, journalists also questioned Desabre, making a negative assessment of his then three-month stay at the helm.
Having good knowledge about what was going on, Desabre maintained that he was still studying the team and promised to come up with better performances and results in future.
The performances would not improve in the next friendly window in May/June as Uganda lost its two games against the Central African Republic and Niger, two other minors in African football.
After seven official games, the Frenchman had overseen just a single victory, two draws and four defeats but he was still confident the best was yet to come.
On September 8th, 2018, Uganda Cranes took on Tanzania in their second 2019 AFCON qualifier at Namboole and it ended in a 0-0 stalemate. The result was welcomed with more outrage as many called for Desabre to be sacked, something that the Federation of Uganda Football Association (FUFA) did not respond to as their plans were to stick with the Frenchman.
The next three qualifiers saw Uganda go on a three-match winning run, ensuring the Cranes made an instant return to the AFCON finals that would be held in Egypt in 2019.
A draw with Nigeria in a high profile friendly which saw Uganda play the beautiful brand of football that the fans and media craved for ensured that many started falling for Desabre, finally seeing him as the solution that they for long wished for.
As fate would have it, Uganda lost their last qualifying game to Tanzania and although fans attributed the loss to FUFA, Desabre was mentioned along the lines too.
In another high profile friendly, Uganda defeated Ivory Coast 1-0 and then flew to Egypt to face the likes of Egypt, DR Congo and Zimbabwe in Group A of the AFCON finals.
Exactly a week and two days after the tournament had started, Uganda finished second in their group and progressed to the knock-out stages of Africa’s football showpiece, for the first time in 41 years.
The results impressed Ugandans across the world but it was the brand of football that took them over the edge as finally, they had a coach whose style they could pride in.
The Social media coaches had been silenced and turned into believers and even after losing to Senegal in the round of 16, a sense of satisfaction among the faithful could be felt.
The following day, Desabre and FUFA terminated their contract and the Frenchman would step down as Uganda Cranes head coach with immediate effect. It was an announcement that broke Ugandans’ hearts and a loss that will forever be remembered as a great one.
By the time of his departure, Uganda had graduated in terms of how football is played. Desabre had somehow eliminated the myth that Uganda was a fringe side, one that is supposed to lose to the heavyweights of African football.
The two losses at AFCON 2019 to both Egypt and Senegal highlighted how much the Cranes have grown as a footballing nation especially on the pitch.
Against record AFCON holders-Egypt, the Cranes mastered 14 shots, 8 of which were on target whilst managing 51% of the possession. It was a game they lost 0-2 but one they proved they can now stand toe to toe with the very best on the continent. Unlike in the past when Uganda would line up with a left-back as part of the midfield in an effort to limit damages, Desabre went for an all-out 4:4:2 formation to try and win the game.
It was the same approach against Senegal and despite having 48% of possession, Uganda managed 6 shots as compared to Senegal’s two, further testament to Desabre’s fearless approach.
The four games played at AFCON 2019 were entered with a feeling of ‘we can win all of them’ rather than going into some with a loss in the back of everyone’s mind. That is as far as how the Frenchman has developed the Cranes.
Whoever comes in will find a side that has been designed to go into games knowing they can win them all but that is all down to a certain Frenchman who will be unveiled as head coach of Egyptian side Pyramids, in the next few hours.
Whatever happens after, Sebastien Desabre is indeed a loss to Ugandan football!