ARUA. When Police FC failed to honour their opening fixture with Onduparaka football club (FC), it was a sigh of relief for many caterpillar enthusiasts; at least if the team was to fall, it would be another day.
The events that unfolded after the closure of the 2018/19 season are heart-breaking, to say the least. One could have been easily forgiven to think Onduparaka FC would be relegated the next season.
Captain Rashid Toha, Denis Okot, Hassan Mahmood, Vienne Ssekajugo, Abel Eturude, Solomon Okwalinga, Gadafi Gadino, Nicholas Sebwato, Nicholas Kagaba among others exited the club.
The fans left agonizing sometimes through the controversial transfers of some of the players who had become darlings at the green light stadium and yet more worrying was the financial uncertainty over reports that players had not been paid for up to six months.
How could a financially-stricken club maintain its status in the league having lost more than nine first-team players at once?
One could understand the fans' frustrations, the management thrown into this unpalatable dilemma-issued statements to try to cool the pressure and yet many times shot themselves in the foot.
At one point during a press conference shortly before the kick-start of the Pilsner super eight that precedes the Premier League, club spokesperson Mr Adam Lematia announced that Wahab Gadaffi would be the new captain deputized by Vianne Ssekajugo but the latter later signed for Wakiso giants.
The transfer saga had reached its peak, it was risky perhaps to claim to be sure of what was happening at the club.
Coach Mbabazi and the old boys return
Charles Livingstone Mbabazi, the clubs former tactician despite having a spat with a section of the caterpillar faithful before his departure was to resume his job after parting ways with Mbarara City FC.
Mr Mbabazi has indeed entrenched his name as one of the finest tacticians in Ugandan football even in the hearts of his critics, they would rather disagree on different issues some of which are sometimes non-footballing.
Next was a pack of former club players following their former tactician; former Captain Vitalis Tabu, Rajab Kakooza, Mohamed Rashid and a host of loan returnees including Denis Andama, Gibson Adinho, and Mahdi Toto Ajobe were recalled.
Hertbert Mansur Angua, Ramadhan Dudu, Geriga Kapi, Abdul Lukwata and Joel Jangeyambe also signed for the club.
Besides four academy graduates were promoted to the senior side and they are John Rogers Okumu, Anthony Kenty, Iddi Abdulwahid and Jimmy Piriyo. These players with the few remaining at the club would then make or break Onduparaka’s season.
How would they fare in the shoes of the established departed stars? For if the crop of the new breed were not ‘formerly tested but found surplus to requirements’ category, then they were a bunch of purely untested little known recruits whose chances of success were as much as that of failure.
Blind faith or calculated action?
Fast forward to the fifth game of the season, the caterpillar’s only loss had been a narrow one-zero away at Proline.
A three-Zero walkover Police was later followed by a two-Zero, and solitary goals over Express (away), Busoga United (away) and Wakiso Giants (home) respectively conceding only one goal and scoring seven including the three awarded over Police in the process.
How can one explain such a mismatch between the results and the pre-season dilemma?
“We have a crop of players who are hungry to impress, some are former players who have come back and some new recruits that are eager to make it to the big stage, so it offers a good balance,” said Mr Swadick Sempijja, the Onduparaka Assistant Coach after the Wakiso win.
Only four of the 1st eleven during the Wakiso giants game were regular starters in the 2018/19 season and the bulk being new faces or returnees.
The purple sharks, although new in the league have been synonymous with big money signings and huge investments, some of the officials reportedly chartered a plane enroute the Onduparaka game in Arua.
Indeed they stretched play in the second half in desperate need for an equalizer after Ibrahim Faizul had given Onduparaka an early lead through a fierce thunderbolt.
Onduparaka held on to bag the three points to go back the top of the table. Whether this current crop of players was deliberately recruited or the situation was forced upon over the twists and turns of the transfer period is another question altogether, but what is clear is the motivation of the current pack is undoubted.
The Mbabazi factor
Coach Mbabazi is the man! I bet you can’t describe him with a ‘one-word-fits-all’ character.
Awarded a wildly-cheered yellow card during the Wakiso game, Mr. Mbabazi was charismatic, determined, aggressive and imposing with his characteristic gestures on the touchline to the delight of the caterpillar fans.
What more does Onduparaka FC need than a coach who has to sacrifice for the team to the point of earning a yellow card from the centre referee in such a tense game?
Mr Mbabazi never settles for less and his players seem to know that pretty well, the style of play, the aggression, and reaction all points to this fact.
Onduparaka lost so much that one thought this was the beginning of the destruction period but in the Mbabazi Era with the new breed, the destruction of Onduparaka FC had a different narrative at least, for now, it was for development!