[Ibrahim Ssekajja defending against Manchester City’s Adam Johnson in the Europa league in 2010]
By: BONIENOVIC LULE
A story is told of a young boy who always admired his elder brother because of what he used to do. Big brother left home at a tender age for the City centre to do all kinds of jobs and do what you would call real hustling to make ends meet. Apparently big ‘bro’ learnt that to be a MAN was not a day’s job, so he had to wake up every morning before the dawn to prepare for what the sun might bring. In the midst of all the hustle and success big ‘bro’ always spared time to visit home.
On one of his visits he makes a brief yet powerful statement to the younger brother, ‘A boy dreams what a man does’ and then poses a question as they enjoy ice cold Guinness beer, ‘Brother, are you ready to drink at the table of MEN?? then he hands him a bus ticket to join him in the city and start hustling. By now you know this was a Guinness beer commercial but with a good message right? Now lest you think we are here for commercials, let’s move to the real gist of this…
Playing professional football is every player’s dream, at some point in a player’s career they all aspire and hope to one day make it to the paid ranks. Many Ugandan players have tried their luck at playing both professional and semi-professional football. Not all have succeeded in the dream. Majority have failed and found themselves back to where it all started but then there are those that I have called the crème de la crème that have made it.
My point of interest is those that have made it, now these are quite many so I decided to narrow it down to those that have MADE it in EUROPE. (note the fact that ”made” and ”Europe” are in uppercase for emphasis) I am talking about lads who where born and bred down here in Uganda and found their way to Europe and actually made a name for themselves. So, the likes of the Kiwomya brothers, Bevis Mugabi, Ibra Sekagya (not to be confused with the former Cranes captain), Melvyn Lorenzen, Martin Kayongo Mutumba etc sorry but you guys do not count.
This list is what I call ”THE TABLE OF MEN”. In no particular order, I will start it off with one of Uganda’s greatest player of all time. Remember I am not here for the superlatives describing talent and abilities but rather achievements and milestones. Here we go…
MAJID MUSISI (RIP)
Majid needs no introduction, a lot has been written about him and his exploits on the local scene when he was at Sc Villa and for the national team so I won’t go into it again. Musisi happens to be the player that opened the flood gates for other players to join the paid ranks in Europe. After winning everything that was there to be won domestically, from league titles, Kakungulu cup, CECAFA club championship and CECAFA Championship to individual accolades like league topscorer, footballer of the year etc and milestones such as first player to score 100 league goals etc, Musisi’s talent was finally noticed by French side Stade Rennes who signed him for an alleged fee of $180,000 in 1992. It is believed that at Rennes Musisi’s progress was to some extent affected by language barrier because he couldn’t speak French, never the less, in the two seasons he was at the French side, he played 64 games and scored 18 goals.
[Magid performing his famous crocodile walk]
At the end of his two year spell in France, he was signed by Turkish side Bursaspor in 1994 for $1m. It is in the Turkish first division league that Musisi left a long lasting mark. In his first season he played 34 games and scored 9 goals, in the second season 95/96 he improved on his first tally scoring a respectable 15 goals in 30 appearances. In his last season at Bursaspor he saw his game time reduce tremendously but he still managed 7 goals in 13 outings.
From Bursaspor, he was then signed by another Turkish side Canakkale Dardenelspor for an undisclosed fee. At Dardenelspor Musisi started sluggishly scoring just 5 in 17 games before finding his groove in the second season scoring 15 in 33 games. In his last season in Europe as a professional 98/99 before returning home, Musisi scored 9 goals in 29 a clear sign that his powers were on the decline.
It is also important to note that while still at Bursaspor his first Turkish club, Musisi was voted the best foreign player of the year in the league (1996). Majid also played in the now defunct uefa Intertoto cup with Bursaspor and they made it to the quarterfinal being knocked out by Germany side Karlsruhe on penalty shoot out. Majid is also remembered for the famous crocodile walk celebration at Bursaspor and to this day the team still performs it in his remembrance 22 years after he first did it in that quarterfinal game against Karlsruhe.
In total Majid Musisi played 207 games in Europe and scored a respectable 72 goals in league games only. The fact that he managed to stay in Europe playing for a period of 7 years and playing in over 200 games speaks volumes about the players character.
When Obua’s contract with Kaizer chiefs ended in 2008, he tried his luck in Europe for a new challenge. First he had trials at premier league side Westham United before his former coach at the national team the Cranes Laszlo Csaba signed him for Scottish premier league side Heart of Midlothian. The winger cum left wing-back who could also play as a forward did not get off the blocks running in his spell at Hearts. It was expected that since his manager Csaba had worked with him in Uganda and knew his strength, it would be easy for him at Hearts but this wasn’t the case because he struggled a bit at the start. None the less he managed to play 27 league games scoring 2. In the second season he played 32 games scoring 3 goals. Obua’s goals in the Scottish league appear to be few compared to the numbers he was putting up for the national team but this was due to the fact that he was mostly used as left back and left-wing back.
[David Obua was hit for Scottish side Hearts of midlothian ]
Obua was a big game player who had a knack of scoring in big games throughout his career and his notable milestones in the Scottish premier league include him scoring the winning goal in the Edinburgh derby away at bitter rivals Hibernian. Scoring in such derby games usually makes players fan favourites and this was not any different. Another ‘BIG’ goal Obua scored was the one against giants at the time Rangers in the opener of the 2011/2012 season in a 1-1 draw at the Ibrox Stadium home of Rangers. This was the first goal scored the Scottish league season of 2011/12.
Obua was also still on Hearts’ books when they won the Scottish cup in the 2011/2012 season. They beat bitter rivals Hibernian 5-1 to lift the trophy for the 8th time in their history. It is not very clear if Obua was eligible for a winners medal but what I am sure of is that he played in just one game of that tournament enrout to winning it. He was not part of the squad that played the final.
All together, Obua had 4 seasons of professional football in the Scottish premier league with Hearts and played a total of 91 league games scoring 6 goals to crown off a very good professional career in general. The Hearts contract was the last that he ever signed because he retired there after despite never officially announcing his retirement from football.
CHARLES LIVINGSTONE MBABAZI.
Mbabazi was a versatile player who could play as an attacking midfielder, a striker and also in central defence. After having brief stints at ASEC Mimosas in West Africa and at Al Ahly in Egypt, Stone like he was nicknamed finally found his way to Europe landing in the somewhat less known Irish league (league of Ireland Premier division) playing for Dublin club St Patrick’s Athletic fc. Before this deal went through, his representative at the time Fashanu had tried to see him join Westham in England but the deal was curtailed by difficulties in acquiring a work permit.
[Livingston Mbabazi played for St. Patrick’s FC in Ireland ]
Like many, Mbabazi also did not have it easy mostly because of the difference in weather from what he was used to. Also despite the fact that he spoke English, he still found it had to keep up with the complicated Irish accent. This however did not stop Mbabazi from performing on pitch. Within a short time he had become a regular player for Patrick’s and had become a darling to the Pats’ fans.
Mbabazi’s very good reputation at the club was dented in 2002 when his team was docked 15 points for fielding him in the first 5 games of the season before registering him properly. These 15 points painfully cost St Patrick’s the league title that year which they would have won had this not happened to them. That said, it was not his cause rather there was a mix up in the flow of information between the club and Ireland’s league committee.
It was during Mbabazi’s time at St Patrick’s when they made history by becoming the first Irish side to progress in the Intertoto cup when they knocked out NKEWU Rijeka of Croatia. They lost the first leg in Croatia 3-2 and won the return 1-0 with Mbabazi scoring the all important goal that they needed to go through on away goals rule. Next they played against Belgium side KAA Gent and after losing the first leg in Belgium 2-0, Mbabazi inspired them to a 3-1 win scoring one of the goals although this wasn’t enough for them to go through.
[Mbabazi celebrates winning a match for St. Patricks]
On one fateful Friday night in a game against Bohemians, Mbabazi collapsed on the play ground and was rushed to hospital for diagnosis. The doctors at St James hospital later discovered a complication with his veins leading to the heart and as a result advised him not to play football again. This happened in October 2003. A week from this unfortunate day, St Patrick’s had a cup final to play against Longford and they had just lost one of their best players to this heart complication. Without him, they lost the final in what should have been his last title triumph had the team won it for him before calling it quits on his European adventure.
Had it not been for this complication, Livingstone Mbabazi was destined to be one of St Patrick’s greatest imports and they were promising to win many trophies with him. He spent four seasons at Patrick’s Athletic fc in which he played 104 games scoring 21 goals. Former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr described him at the time as probably THE BEST FOREIGN PLAYER in the Irish National league.
What would have been had his career in Europe not been cut short by this illness??
JOSEPH NESTROY KIZITO
[Nestroy Kizito featuring for Partizan Belgrade]
After dominating the local league with his former club Sc Villa in the early 2000’s, Nestroy joined the paid ranks in Serbia. The talented left back who is arguably Uganda’s best left back in the last 16 years started his professional career at Serbian club FK Srem. His stay at Srem only lasted one year and he did not play that many games ending up with 21 appearances and 2 goals. He was then signed by FK Vojvodina still in the Serbian league. It’s at Vojvodina that Nestory stayed longest and notching up over a century of games. He was a main stay in the Vojvodina team.
Despite spending 5 years at Vojvodina and playing over 100 games, there is nothing notable or worth mentioning that he won with them. That said, his talent was never in doubt and as a result he was signed by Serbian giants Partizan Belgrade for the 2010/2011 season. This move came a little bit late because at this point Nestory’s powers were on the wane. He only managed a meager 14 appearances in the 0ne year he spent at Belgrade. On the positive side though, Nestroy won the Serbian super liga and the Serbian cup completing a double to wrap up his European professional career. In total he played 147 games in Europe scoring 3 goals.
Uganda’s most successful export to Europe by virtue of what he won. After spending six years playing professional football in Argentina, Captain Sekagya’s breakthrough to Europe finally came in 2007 when he was signed by Austrian heavyweights Red Bull Salzburg. Sekagya immediately became a regular in the Salzburg defence notching up 34 appearances and 3 goals in his maiden season 2007/2008 in the Austrian bundesliga.
[Ssekajja celebrates winning the Austrian Bundesliga]
The second season 2008/2009 was not any different from his first but probably even much better because it saw him win his very first league title with Salzburg playing 34 games and scoring 0ne goal. In the 2009/2010 season he won his second league title playing 24 games.
His most successful season though came in 2011/2012 when he won a historic double of the league and Austrian cup. It so happened that he was the captain and as a result he made history by becoming the first African to captain a European club to a league and cup double. He played 26 games in the league and 4 games in the cup.
Previously on an individual basis, Sekagya had been voted the fans player of the year for the 2008/2009 season. In total Ibrahim Sekagya played 165 league games for Salzburg scoring 6 goals, 12 Austrian cup games scoring 4 goals and a total of 46 European games (Both Champions League and Europa league) scoring 2 goals making him the most successful Ugandan export to Europe.
Ibra came, he saw and he conquered. He saw it all, from playing against teams like Juventus, coming up against some of the best strikers in the world like Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, Jo, Vincent Kompany and a host of others, to being teammates with legendary Thierry Henry…mention it. He is the ‘encyclopaedia’ for any young Ugandan footballer aspiring to become and make it in Europe as a professional.
[Jackson Mayanja Mia Mia]
There is an exception to every rule so they say. Remember this was about those that made it in Europe but I have two players that deserve recognition despite never playing in Europe. They are the special exceptions to the rule. The first player is Jackson Mayanja. The former KCC player is way up there with likes of Majid Musisi and Philip Omondi as one of Uganda’s greatest player ever. At the peak of his powers Mayanja joined the paid ranks when he was signed by Egyptian side El- Masry in 1992.
Mayanja immediately made his presence in the Egyptian league felt, scoring 8 goals in his debut season playing as an attacking midfielder. The fans loved him and nicknamed him MIA MIA which is Arabic for 100 100 or simply to put it 100%. In the second year 1993 Mayanja was voted the best player in the Egyptian league. Speaks volumes about Mayanja’s talent to go and win player of the year in a league that has never been short of talent. His professional career was cut short by frequent injuries to mostly his knee. This is why Esperance the Tunisian giants terminated his contract after just a year of his signing.
Exception two is Denis Onyango Masinde. The Mamelodi Sundowns custodian has won everything that is there to be won in club football on the African continent. He has won 3 PSL titles with Sundowns, the CAF champions league, the CAF super cup and the Nedbank cup. On individual basis, he won best goalkeeper of the year in the PSL 2016, African player of the year based in Africa. Onyango was not done yet, he was also ranked as the 10th best goalkeeper in the world by reputable body IFFHS ahead of other established goalkeepers like Petr Cech and Marc Ter Stegen. Onyango has raised the bar so high and I believe these are records that may never be broken by any Ugandan player.
Other notable names that almost made it onto the table of MEN and are worth a mention are; Former captain Andrew Mwesigwa. (162 games in Iceland scoring 8 goals), Tonny Mawejje (106 games and 10 goals in Iceland), Abel Dhaira (RIP) 58 games, William Kizito Luwagga ( so far 100+ games and 25 goals mostly in Portugal)
This ladies and gentlemen is what I have termed THE TABLE OF MEN, and i ask, Is any of the current active players ready to ‘drink’ at the table of MEN??
To make it as a professional in Europe is not a day’s job, one has got to wake up every morning before the dawn to prepare for what the sun might bring!!!
© SWIFT SPORTS