While various head coaches—notably Javier Aguirre—have parted ways with their erstwhile employers following underwhelming Africa Cup of Nations campaigns, Sebastien Desabre departed the Uganda set-up a hero after breaking new ground with the Cranes.
The Frenchman ‘parted ways’ with the Ugandan Federation a few days after his team’s Round of 16 exit at the hands of Senegal, and was duly unveiled as the head coach of Egyptian side Pyramids FC.
They’re Saudi-owned, fuelled by petro-dollars, and ambitions—keen to become the nation’s third established giant alongside Al-Ahly and Zamalek SC.
It’s an exciting prospect for Desabre, who returns to Egypt following a previous stint with Ismaily SC, and he’s found an environment in which he can test himself, oversee an exciting project, and, hopefully, compete for the major honours in domestic and continental football.
Certainly, only the most blinkered Cranes fans would not wish him well after all he’s achieved with the national side since taking over in late December 2017.
First impressions weren’t entirely encouraging; Uganda fell at the first hurdle at the African Nations Championship, which Desabre oversaw despite only just being appointed in the role, and the Frenchman was made to wait for his first victory with the East Africans as he took his time to assess the players at his disposal.
However, he qualified for the Nations Cup in style; his team didn’t concede a single goal during their first five qualifiers, before being undone 3-0 by Tanzania in their final game—a dead rubber—when a much-changed team was sent out in Dar es Salaam.
It was an excellent campaign, and despite being drawn into a tricky Group A at the tournament proper, Desabre also negotiated this challenge well.
Perhaps his side were fortunate to be pitted against a Democratic Republic of Congo side who had spent the previous day at an Egyptian hospital getting their medical reports after the team doctor forgot to bring the original reports to Cairo, therefore denying their team a critical final day of preparation.
However, as flat and discombobulated as the Leopards were, Desabre’s Cranes deserve credit for killing the game early on—vital in the Cairene heat of the early kick-off—and for his selection decisions, notably to have faith in KCCA FC forward Patrick Kaddu.
As fortunate as they may have been to have held on for a draw against Zimbabwe, with Denis Onyango called upon to make a critical save to deny the Warriors the chance to take the lead, they were arguably unfortunate not to have defeated hosts Egypt in their final group game.
With qualification all but secured, Uganda expressed themselves against the vulnerable Pharaohs, and quality in front of goal was the major difference-maker for the two teams.
Against Senegal in their Round of 16 tie, their level appeared to have been reached; they weren’t outclassed, but Onyango was mighty fortune to have stayed on the pitch, and Uganda struggled to demonstrate that they had the ideas, or the nous, to break down a side filled with quality defensive talents.
It may have only been a Godfrey Walusimbi error that made the difference between the two sides, but Uganda didn’t appear to truly be throwing everything at their opponents in the second half as they sought an equaliser, despite the impending threat of elimination.
Nonetheless, Uganda gave a good representation of themselves in Egypt, and Desabre did his reputation no harm at all.
Decisions to include out-of-contract duo Walusimbi and Hassan Wasswa were largely vindicated, as was the faith in Kaddu, and the late decisions to introduce—or reintroduce—Bevis Mubagi, Abdu Lumala and Mike Azira into the fold.
Those micro decisions have been critical in Desabre’s history-making tenure with the Cranes, as they reached the knockout stages of the Afcon for the first time since they were runners-up in 1978.
Credit must also go to Milutin Sredojevic, the Serbian coach who ended the East Africans’ near-four decade wait for an appearance at the continental high table when he qualified them for the 2017 tournament, and did so much to boost the national team’s stature within the African game, professionalism and the investment they’ve received from the government.
A whole collection of Ugandan players owe a lot of their career progress and highlights, as well as their current standing within the African game, to the work of Micho and, to a slightly lesser degree, Desabre.
While Sredojevic laid the groundwork, made Uganda competitive—and could have taken them to the World Cup had he stayed—Desabre has begun to realise the potential of their more creative, attacking elements, playing a more expensive style than that espoused by his predecessor.
However, these two great figures in Uganda’s recent footballing history have now departed, with Sredojevic leaving for Orlando Pirates midway through 2017 after a payment dispute with the federation, and now Desabre.
With the African Nations Championship qualifier against South Sudan upcoming, Uganda can ill afford to hesitate or delay in making their next managerial appointment, although they must be wary at the same time.
Their performances in Egypt supported the narrative they they’re spearheading East Africa’s football renaissance, and the talent is there to truly rival some of the nations ahead of them in the pecking order.
However, the recruitment of the next head coach must be nuanced and informed if they’re to build on the progress of Sredojevic and Desabre.
They made a fine appointment in replacing the former with the latter, but can they now settle on a new man who will build on the work of the Serb and the Frenchman, and take Uganda to the next level?