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Flashback: Basena, cool demeanour behind the lion heart

“If you can’t beat them, join them.” That’s exactly what Moses Basena did when in a career-changing move when he crossed to Villa Park from underachieving Coffee.
By the time he joined SC Villa in 1992, the utility player had established himself as Coffee FC’s No 1 defensive midfielder; strong in tackles and tactically aware. Basena was born on November 25, 1967 to Eria Kayondo Basena and Christine Naiga of Bulele, Buikwe. He started his football career at St. James SSS?Jinja, where he played in attack.

Having grown up at Walukuba Estate, nearer Tobacco FC’s home ground, it was easy for Basena to join the side at the end of his A-Level in 1986. It also coincided with the club’s return to topflight football and had stars like David Mugerwa, Steven Bogere, Godfrey Seruwagi, Yashin Shaban, Edward Kaziba and Abdul Dumba.

Their presence was in a way a stumbling block for Basena given that coach Charles Okello preferred experience to youth. Indeed, he featured in a few matches as Tobacco finished the 1986 championship as surprise runners-up.

Tobacco’s feat offered them a chance to play on the continent as well as the regional Cecafa tournaments. Around the time, the team changed name to Blue Bats in compliance with Fifa’s regulations that banned tobacco promotion.

The high level of expectation never materialised and Blue Bats posted poor results in both Cecafa Cup and Caf Cup Winners in 1987. In 1988, several players, including Bogere and Letti, left. As if that was not bad enough, the parent company also withdrew its sponsorship, leaving the team at crossroads.

The club was renamed KBT Cosmos, following a merger with Division 1 side KK Cosmos. KBT Cosmos spent the entire 1988 season limping and was relegated at the end of the season.

Joining "rest of the world"

Down but not out, the then 22-year-old moved to highflying Coffee FC in what was a major transfer coup. Dubbed ‘Rest of the World’ because of its habit to attract star players, Coffee boasted of Cranes stars like Richard Mugalu, John Mapeera, Obadiah Semakula, Vincent Semanobe, Mathias Kaweesa, Isa Sekatawa, George Serunjogi, John Buga, Ibrahim Buwembo and Dissan Kiggundu, among others.

As expected, coach Sam Timbe initially kept him on the bench. However, with ageing Semanobe out of form and locked in studies, Basena got his chance in 1990.
Ever-present Basena quickly lived up to the high billing and made a mockery of KCC’s midfielders George Nsimbe, Sam Ssimbwa and Jackson Mayanja in Coffee’s 2-0 win.

His direct approach and athleticism, plus the blistering pace of flying wingers Semakula and Buwembo as well as the prolific Kaweesa nearly gifted Coffee the leagut title. But, as fate would have it, they let it slip away in the final two matches of the season. First, they couldn’t hold on to the lead in the 2-2 draw with SC Villa but it was the 0-2 defeat at the hands of relegation-bound Resistance FC that put paid their title hopes.

In the end, Villa took the crown by a mere two points. Twice he was summoned to the national team but was not fielded. Even after another gallant season in 1991, Coffee could only finish third.

League title at last

By this point, rival sides were taking notice and, when Coffee Chairman Alex Kiseego crossed to SC Villa and coach Barnabas Mwesiga moving to KCC for the 1992 season, the clamour for Basena to leave the Bugolobi-based club intensified.

In the end, Villa beat off competition for his signature. But it came at an astonishing Shs 380,000, a hefty amount at the time, which Basena used to build a house.
However, his new boss Timothy Ayiekoh’s 4-4-2 formation made life difficult for Basena at Villa Park, who had been used to 4-3-3 in Coffee where he flourished behind attacking midfielders.

And despite his few starts, SC Villa still managed to win the 1992 league title. Nevertheless, Basena remained cool and composed but the biggest test to his temperament came in a 1992 friendly with his former club Coffee at Bugolobi. So heated was the match that Basena clashed with former teammate Buwembo, who spat in his face and before being sent off but Basena kept his cool and didn’t retaliate.

In 1993, Basena got more playing time, featuring in most of the games as an anchorman behind Sula Kato. Interestingly, he also played several times as a defender to cover up for injury-prone defenders William Nkemba and skipper Paul Hasule.

His best game was the second leg of the Africa Club Championships against Burundi’s Vital’O in Bujumbura. Twice, he cleared off the line and created the decisive goal on the overlap, courtesy of his trademark hard shot, which the goalkeeper parried in the path of Idi Batambuze to score the decisive goal in the 3-2 aggregate win.

That said, his rare goal in the 1993 league decider against Express wasn’t enough as the 1-1 draw handed the title to the Red Eagles. Villa needed to win by more than two goals.

In 1994, Basena shocked the Villa Park faithful when he made a U-turn to Coffee FC. His return helped coach Tom Lwanga to build a formidable side and because of his experience and performances, Lwanga appointed Basena his assistant at just 27. But by this time, a spate of injuries had also set in and Basena’s playing time was severely limited, forcing him into early retirement.

He embarked on a coaching career and in 1996 he was appointed Hasule’e assistant at Simba FC before taking over fulltime when Hasule left in 1998. The move paid dividends when the clubpunched above their weight and finished league runners-up to Villa.

And when Villa parted company with Hasule in 2001, Basena was given the job, but before he could settle in, the club recruited Serbian tactician Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic and made Basena his No.2 The pair won the league and Cup double in 2002 season but unsettled Basena quit to return to Simba, where he was to quit in 2007 and joined KCC.

He barely spent there a season before moving over to Uganda Revenue Authority (URA FC), which he guided to the 2009 league title. He was unceremoniously sacked a year later and currently is Uganda Cranes assistant coach.

Basena fact file

  • He won only one league title with SC Villa (1992) and reached the final of CAF Cup (1992) and he was not capped.
  • He played for only three clubs (Tobacco, Coffee and SC Villa).
  • He was in the Mpologoma clan side which reached the final of 1991 and led his clan as coach to the 2002 Shield.
  • In 1999, he co-coached Simba with Mike Mutebi and the duo qualified the team in the Africa Cup Winners Cup for the first time in 25 years.
  • He was part of the Coffee FC side that finished league runners-up in 1990
  • As a coach, he handled four clubs (Simba, SC Villa, KCC and URA) as well as the national Under-20 side (Hippos). He is now headed for Tanzanian side Simba
  • Basena is married to Ann Barbara and the couple has three children.
  • His favourite was Shirt 12, both at Coffee and at SC Villa

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

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