2035/36 Open Thread
We enter the off-season transfer window focused on the defense — new wingbacks, to help take us to the next level, and depth at centerback.
Our first signing? A new shadow striker.
It does make sense when you think about it. Ibrahim Mugerwa joins on a free transfer from Jinja, having already made his U20 international debut. He will step directly into the 1st XI. We have talented youth in Sam Oyo and John Mujuzi (back from a broken leg), but Ibrahim seems to be the real deal and will take some of the burden off of Muhammad‘s shoulders.
Mujuzi has been offered out on loan for the year, as he struggles to reclaim the potential we saw in him. Oyo is preferred after a solid campaign on loan at Tooro United, and will join the 2nd XI with John Kittu leaving for Vipers (and freeing up a precious international spot).
Richard Mwaka is another early signing, arriving on a free from domestic rivals Proline. He will take over as our left wingback given what he offers in possession and transition.
Mohammed Hassani is a promising centerback who we’ve taken on loan from URA, having already declared his intention to leave when his contract expires next summer. He will battle for a starting role, but provides immediate depth even if he doesn’t take over in the 1st XI. He also replaces Deus Ngasa, whose contract was allowed to expire.
To fill out the 2nd XI, we promoted youth academy graduate Emmanuel Walulya from the U21s. He may only be 15, but he’s already better than anyone we could sign…with room to grow. One to watch, certainly.
It is a solid transfer window — we’ve added quality to the squad, focusing on young Ugandan players. Establishing domestic supremacy is a must this year, as it will provide us with the platform for an assault on the continent.
July 2035 – Champions League, Qualifying Draw.
After an easy draw last year, I fear the worst during the live broadcast from Cairo.
Yet Lady Luck is again on our side, as she pairs the Jogoos with Tonnerre FC, the semipro champions of Benin.
On paper, we should not be troubled. But there is no such thing as a “sure thing.” If we advance, we would almost certainly face Moroccan runners-up MAS Fes, who will square off against Ethiopian champions Saint George.
August 2035 – Champions League, Preliminary Round.
The first real test of the season arrives at the Mandela. Though, it isn’t a strenuous one.
Our guests are reduced to 10 men just after the half-hour mark, and we take a 5-nil lead into the half. A carnival atmosphere ensues both on and off the pitch. Barring a miracle in the 2nd leg, it is enough to book passage to the First Round proper. Yet I cannot help but wince at the manner in which we took our foot off the pedal.
Takeover rumors swirl ahead of the 2nd leg in Bohicon. But we pay them no mind. The hype train has already left the station. We are 2-1 favorites to defend our league title, with the press naming 4 players to the pre-season Dream XI — Ouedraogo, Isildo, Mayanja and Muhammad. Season ticket sales also rise to 249, up from 221 last year.
We are not at our best in the 2nd leg, thank in part to 8 players being away on duty with Uganda B. Further complicating matters are our hosts, who sit deep with a massed defense. A one-sided, scoreless draw is the predictable result.
We can look forward to a trip to Morocco after MAS Fes progressed on penalties after a 4-4 (agg) draw against Saint George, with a trip to the Group Stage on offer. I had expected the Moroccans to run away with this tie, though we should not read too much into a single result.
But two poor performances?
Alarm bells are ringing, as one flaccid performance follows another — the domestic campaign kicking off with a 1-nil loss to Proline in the Super Cup. That wasn’t in the script, lads.
September 2035 – Champions League, First Round.
Can we return to the Group Stage? I wouldn’t bet on it. But I’m not a betting man. So, you should take that with a grain of salt.
We start strong, with Mbowa standing tall to smash his first Jogoo goal in the 26th minute — a sumptuous half-volley. The diminutive wingback then turns provider in the 49th, feeding Mugerwa to double our advantage. And when Mugerwa claims his brace in injury time, followed by his third mere moments later, the supporters start to dream. At 4-nil, we have one foot in the Group Stage.
In the return leg, our hosts will have but one option — attack. Which is exactly what we want them to do. If we can take our chances, we will advance.
The chances fell our way. But we did not take them. At least, not until the 72nd minute when we were down 2-nil on the night, desperate to hold back the rising tide of optimism among the home support. Ndongala to the rescue, volleying home a long throw from Isildo. 5-2 on aggregate, a vital away goal to seal the tie.
We will return to the Group Stage, secure in the knowledge that our fortunes have improved since this time last year, ready to atone for our sins.
October 2035 – Champions League, Group Stage Draw.
For the second straight year, I watch Africa Sports drawn into the same Group as ASEC. It cannot be a coincidence.
Yet, for the second straight year, we avoid that Group and are instead drawn to face Enyimba, TP Mazembe and CS Sfax, the defending domestic champions of Nigeria, DR Congo and Tunisia, respectively. Giants, all.
Not to mention the fact that Enyimba will be seeking to avenge their ouster at our hands during the First Round last year.
We have not been perfect. We haven’t needed to be.
We’re unbeaten in the first 3 months of the league campaign, with both Proline and URA nipping at our heels. A brilliant run of form ahead of us welcoming both Enyimba and CS Sfax to Kampala in the space of a week.
While I could complain about our draw in the Group Stage, no one could complain about the scheduling.
We play host on Matchdays 1, 2 and 3 in Kampala — favorable in the extreme.
If only we’d stood up to the challenge.
We dominate Enyimba but end up settling for a 2-2 draw after spurning several quality chances.
One week later, CS Sfax put on a footballing clinic — a one-sided 3-nil loss that demonstrated why they won the Champions League 18 months ago.
Perhaps there is some joy to be found in our last-gasp equalizer, to humble the mighty TP Mazembe in the last match of the calendar year, 1-1, but it is not found in my heart.
We have every reason to be proud of the results and how far we’ve come, but at the same time I cannot help but view the Enyimba match as two points lost, instead of one gained. More to the point, the gap between our XI and those of our opponents is vast. Of course, we are not done for in the Group Stage. And these results do not define us. But now the hard work begins as we plot to steal points away from the friendly confines of the Mandela.
Setting aside the temptations of self pity, our backroom staff are abuzz at the young players coming through the academy. If they are correct, we have an epic class of youngsters coming through.
It is, of course, a double-edged sword. I have been advising the Chairman to invest in our facilities, to establish a new La Masia here in Kampala. Yet, to-date he has refused. If we begin producing talent without investment, I will lose any and all leverage.
Time will tell.
New Year’s Eve is a time for self-reflection. And, thinking ahead to the future.
While plotting the downfall of our enemies.
To take the next step in Africa we have to be more ruthless. We must make better use of our 5 foreign registration slots. With that thought in mind, our scouts have been set loose across East Africa, while relying on YouTube for the rest of the continent.
Of course, many promising youngsters are reluctant to join us in Kampala, given our modest stature in the eyes of the footballing world. It’s their loss, though, not ours.
Saidi Mao is the first to sign on the dotted line and rock up at the Mandela — an established Tanzanian international whose Simba contract had expired. He wouldn’t talk to us over the summer. His willingness to do so now has to come down to our having advancing to the Champions League Group Stage for the second consecutive year. He steps directly into the 1st XI.
We’ve also managed to convince 2 Senegalese youth prodigies to join us when their Generation Foot contracts expire in the summer — Seydou Traore and Albaye Papa Dabo. Traore will train as a roaming playmaker and provide coverage throughout the midfield. Dabo will pair with Odokonyero in the 1st XI, relegating Moobs to the bench.
All together, these 3 immediately improve the 1st XI and provide strength in depth. We may not have enough matches to justify two full XIs, but it is imperative that we have an indominable 18-man squad.
Ahead of the trip to Nigeria for Matchday 4, I cannot help but be nervous. We’ve worked far too hard. I cannot bear the thought of further disappointment.
I need not have worried.
We race out to a 2-goal lead at halftime, thanks to Odokonyero and Moobs, before Muhammad and Isildo heap misery upon our hosts. The scoreboard reads 5-nil at the final whistle. A command performance which makes the flight home pass by in a euphoric haze, as I sit clutching a paper bag containing no less than $128k in prize money.
The question on everyone’s minds as we landed at Entebbe was whether lightning would strike twice, away to CS Sfax in one week’s time. We keep the lions at bay for nearly an hour, but it isn’t enough. Our hosts’ quality shows through in the end. We have no answer to their 2 goals, and find ourselves eliminated after TP Mazembe claim all three points in Aba.
It’s a kick in the gut. But we’ve improved our lot from last year’s 4th place finish, even if the media claim we’ve peaked.
Peaked?! Let me tell you something, we haven’t even begun to peak. And when we do peak, you’ll know. Because we’re gonna peak so hard that everybody in Kampala’s gonna feel it.
PSA: With the FM21 cycle coming to a close, the African Nearly Men will end here. Between work/family obligations and FM22-related legwork for this site and Dictate the Game, I simply don’t have time to carry on. Never fear, the series will return to Africa (and Kampala) in future iterations.
If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused… Don’t worry. The basic concept behind the Nearly Men of Africa is explained here, and each installment in Brendan Rodgers’ story can be accessed through the Nearly Men of Africa archive.
You can also join Seattle Red in his dedicated DtG discord channel, to discuss any and all things related to his saves, tactics and anything else under the sun.