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Flashback: George Mukasa: Born winner, controversial figure

George Wagaba Mukasa is one of the few footballers to achieve great success as a player and coach.

A mainstay of the successful KCC side of the 70s, he broke a few coaching records but failure to control his mouth landed him in hot soup many a time that it threatened to derail a distinguished career.

Mukasa hails from Mengo-Kisenyi, a shanty Kampala suburb and started his career in 1965 as a striker with Nakivubo Boys. But, after a series of training sessions with veteran goalkeeper John Agard, he switched to the posts and gradually established himself as a master at making pointblank saves.

In 1969, Mukasa joined powerhouse Express FC but the presence of Joseph Masajjage, the undisputed Cranes number 1, put paid to Mukasa chances in goal.
So dominant was Masajjage that Mukasa only made his debut after the former arrived late for a friendly match against visiting Kenya’s Gor Mahia in 1969.

In 1970, Robert Kiberu, the national youth coach, made Mukasa the first choice in a regional event in Tanzania. He would go on to make a surprise Cranes debut in a 1971 Olympic qualifier away in Sudan as a late substitute for George Bukenya, who had already conceded three goals. After a solid performance, Cranes coach Burkhard Pape gave him the nod for the return leg in Kampala, which ended 1-1.

Swapping Express for KCC

At the persuasion of Bidandi Ssali, the influential football administrator, Mukasa joined KCC FC in 1972. At the time, the club played in the lower second division. He straightaway relegated Marakai Muwanga to the bench but his hot temper would quickly grab headlines at the expense of his undisputed talent.

On many occasions, he engaged in exchanges with match officials for making “wrong calls.” In one infamous incident while coaching Nakivubo Boys part-time during the Buganda Cup final against UEB, he got involved in a lengthy spat with referee George Katumba on the touchline.

And in a 1973 grudge match against NIC, he slapped referee Keith Bukenya. Fufa swiftly slapped him back with a one-year ban to the keeper and also suspended him from the national team.

Mukasa returned to the posts in June 1974 and regained his Cranes and KCC slot, which had now been promoted to the topflight. Mukasa was a giant and few strikers could get the better of him in the air or in one-on-one situations because of his ability to cover the whole goal. However, Denis Obua’s hard shots from distance and Swalleh Waswa’s stupefying flicks used to expose him as ordinary.

In March 1976, Peter Okee, the Cranes coach, dropped Mukasa from the squad which travelled to Ethiopia for the Nations Cup. But just days after the team’s departure, Mukasa got a lifeline and joined the party in Addis Ababa.

While there, drama ensued when he refused to play in one of the games and sarcastically asked Okee to give chance to the initial choice of young custodians Hussein Matovu and Ali Sendegeya.

Mukasa put the disappointment behind him and became the cornerstone of a formidable KCC side that won the 1976 league title. Mukasa transferred that form to The Cranes at the 1976 Cecafa Cup. However, it came at a cost when he broke a finger in a group game against Somalia.This paved way for Paul Ssali to take over.

Uganda would go on to win the title but Mukasa retired from the national team. Back at KCC, he helped the side retain the league title in 1977 but the arrival of Jamil Kasirye threatened Mukasa’s position and playing time. After the 1978 Cecafa Club Championship which KCC won, Mukasa hung up his gloves to try out life on the touchline.

Coaching Career

In 1979, Bidandi appointed him coach of City Cubs, KCC’s junior side after returning from a Caf coaching course in Ethiopia. He nurtured several youngsters like Yusuf Ssonko, Charles Masiko, George Serunjogi, Joseph Sekitto, John Kaweesi, Jimmy Sekandi, Joseph Kiwanuka, John Tebusweke, Enos Agogo and Joseph Ndaula among others.  Many of these players got drafted into the senior KCC team.

In 1982, free-spending SC Villa, noticed the successful conveyor belt he had created at their bitter rivals and lured him to Villa Park with a Shs 3m sing-on fee. It proved an instant masterstroke as he guided the Jogoos to the league title in the unbeaten 1982 season, the first of its kind.

He followed up that success with the 1983 Uganda Cup title but his disciplinary problems returned to haunt him. During a league match against Millers FC at Nakivubo Stadium, Mukasa stormed onto the pitch to attend to injured Villa player Rogers Nsubuga without the referee Dick Nsubuga’s consent.

The official sent him off the technical bench but not after hot verbal exchange.  The Villa hierarchy responded by suspending him for ‘unbecoming behaviour’ in August 1983 but that didn’t seem to affect him as he joined Express in 1984 for Shs 5m.

He reorganised the underachieving Red Eagles and led them to the 1985 Uganda Cup title. Before that, Fufa had appointed him Cranes coach, replacing Okee.
He left Express in 1987 and handled a couple of topflight clubs before finally retiring in 1996. He is currently a businessman.

Mukasa  Fact File

  • He was born in 1949 to John Luwemba Senyimba (RIP) and Beatrice Nakato
  • He studied at Nakivubo Settlement, Katwe PS and Kololo SSS
  • At KCC, he won two league titles (1976 and 1977) and the 1978 Cecafa Club Championship
  • He was part of The Cranes side that won the 1976 Cecafa Cup.
  • He also briefly coached The Cranes in 1984, guiding the team to the Cecafa Cup semifinal.
  • He played for the national team from 1971 to1976.
  • As coach, he won one league title [1982 with SC Villa]. He also won the Uganda Cup twice [1983 with SC Villa and 1985 with Express].
  • He also coached City Cubs, Nsambya, Spear Motors, Coffee and Villa wwInternational. He has three wives and ten children

The author is Director Marketing & Promotions of The Observer Media Ltd.

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