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Sekagya: the standout player of his generation

(L-R) Wilson Gayi, Derrick Muyanja, Lawrence Musoke, Godfrey Sekweyama, Ibrahim Sekagya (2nd R) & Sadiq Wassa in 1997 KCC team

It is a rare thing in football to find a player that is peerless to his contemporaries.

World over, such footballers take generations to come and in Uganda, there has only been a handful of eminent players above comparison to their teammates. The legendary skipper Jimmy Kirunda was the last such figure in the late seventies and early eighties. Ibrahim Sekagya, who hung up his boots after more than two decades of an illustrious career, is the only other player.

From a teenage trainee with Equatorial FC, to top-flight State House FC to  KCC FC (now KCCA FC) and later The Cranes, Sekagya has played the game at the highest level and rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s best in a way no Ugandan footballer has ever done. What stands out most is his unconventional journey to fulfill his dream; from South America to Western Europe before winding up in the US.

Basing on his abilities, individual achievements, level of competition and longevity, Sekagya’s career is unique from anyone that has ever laced football boots. In fact, it is absolutely logical to throw in Sekagya’s name in the mythical greatest-of-all-time debate alongside Kirunda, Polly Ouma, Moses Nsereko, Phillip Omondi, Ashe Mukasa, Majid Musisi and Paul Hasule.

Yet somehow, it can also be argued that Sekagya was not the most naturally gifted; but possessed the most important attributes of success in any field. His discipline, dedication, perseverance and focus saw him scale heights previously unimaginable as many players from his generation wandered off without leaving a lasting legacy.

However, Sekagya ended his career with some unfinished business with The Cranes, having failed to reach the Nations Cup in seven attempts. That will forever be a blot in his career.

GLITTERING CAREER

Sekagya, like several other football stars from the nineties, kick-started his football career at playgrounds at Kawempe Mbogo. Alongside the likes of Wilson Ggayi, Willy Kyambadde, Lawrence Musoke and Abubaker Tabula, among others, Sekagya was one of the top prospects at Kawempe Muslim primary school.

The lanky defender stood out due to his aerial presence, pace and stylish play; he rapidly outgrew his age especially when he joined Kawempe Muslim SS. Unfortunately, the school under Hajji Ibrahim Matovu was not giving football first priority and he left after his senior one. At that time (1993), he joined the local club known as Super Star before he finally settled to Equatorial FC, another Kawempe-based side.

In that period, several schools used to hire his services during tournaments but in 1994, Naggalama Islamic School took him on after impressing in a friendly against Old Kampala SS. For one, Naggalama school principal Sheikh Kakeeto offered Sekagya a full bursary. That move would forever change Sekagya’s career and he linked up with the likes of Wilson Ggayi, Hussein Ssali, Lawrence Musoke, Mohammad Byansi and Haruna Mawa among others.

Naggalama went on to reach thefinals of the national schools championship in 1995; but it soon became clear that Sekagya was playing a high level of football beyond his age. That same year, he attracted the eyes of Yusuf ‘Chuni’ Kyeyune, who was an official with second tier league side State House FC. Chuni persuaded Sekagya to join the club, which was coached by the late Stephen ‘Jesus’ Mulinde.

It didn’t take long before Sekagya was drafted into the national youth team and was part of the team that lost to Ethiopia in the 1995 final of Cecafa Youth Championship in Addis Ababa. In 1995, coach Paul Hasule greatly improved Sekagya’s game at State House when he partnered him with Geoffrey Bukohore in central defence.

At that time, his football artistry was so irresistible that national team coach Asumani Lubowa handed the youthful player his Cranes debut on August 11, 1996. It was a 1998 Nations Cup preliminary round qualifier against Ethiopia.

Sekagya was again in The Cranes side that won the 1996 Cecafa Cup held in Sudan. Unfortunately, that would turn out to be his only silverware in the 12-year career with the national team.

KCC GOLDEN ERA

KCC FC’s had for years yearned for an elegant defender since the retirement of Tom Lwanga in 1987.Over the years, the club had tried several sweepers such as David Kavule, Charles Temaligwe, Moses Lasu, Sulaiman Tenywa, and Robert Mukiibi but with little success. So, in 1997, KCC FC knocked on Sekagya’s door.

KCC coach Mike Mutebi, who was also Sekagya’s tactician at Naggalama was convinced that the soft-spoken defender suited KCC’s `one-touch’ style of short, crisp passes.
The only question was how to get him? SC Villa had also lined up the defender as a prime target, and so had Express FC. However, KCC seemed to have the upper hand due to the fact that Sheik Kakeeto doubled as a KCC official.

So, the stumbling block remained State House, which owned the player and was not willing to let him go easily. Since Sekagya played on a student license, KCC found out that State House had defaulted to pay his school fees as provided by the league rules. Sensing danger of losing the player, Chuni, renowned as one of the shrewdest people in Ugandan football, quickly paid the fees yet at the same time, KCC too had paid Sekagya’s fees.

The stalemate ended when KCC bowed down and accepted to pay Sekagya’s club Shs 1.2m and he signed for the Lugogo-based club. KCC also went ahead to recruit Sekagya’s State House teammates such as Edward Mugisha and Ggayi. Mutebi paired Sekagya with Derrick Muyanja in central defence and that season, the team put up a spectacular show winning back the fans’ hearts.

It was Sekagya who wore the armband in the last league game against Scoul FC, which KCC won 5-2 to clinch the league title. Sekagya had also played an integral role in KCC’s Caf Cup campaign that saw the City Lads ejected by Tunisia’s giants Esperance in the semifinal.

MIXED RESULTS FOR THE CRANES, KOBS

By October 1997, Sekagya had played ten games for The Cranes; however, he failed to transfer his KCC top form to the national team. One notable game was the Nations Cup qualifier against Tunisia in Nakivubo in 1999, when he partnered Muyanja. It was Sekagya’s casual play which saw The Cranes concede both goals in the 0-2 loss that eliminated Uganda.

Sekagya playing against the English Premier League club Manchester City

But in September, 1999, Sekagya was at his top form to help Kobs reach the semifinal of All Africa Games in South Africa. However, the biggest news from that tournament was his bust-up with Andrew Mukasa, which forced team officials to send the temperamental striker back home.
 

JOURNEY TO PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL

At KCC, Sekagya remained the driving force of the team despite several player strikes instigated by unpaid allowances. As his teammates took to missing training and insulting officials, Sekagya remained disciplined and focused, and spent most of the time asking colleagues to play.

Sekagya’s dream of becoming a professional player came on January 9, 2000 when, together with Michael Sebalinga and Abubaker Tabula, they went to Italy for professional trials. They were guided by Italian scout Albrieux  Giacomo. The trials didn’t bear fruit but in August 2000, Sekagya and Tabula travelled to Argentina and made an instant impression at Los Andes.

The Argentine FA asked Fufa for the pair’s international transfer certificates (ITCs) but sensing a kill, both KCC and SC Villa refused to clear the players. Stranded, the players returned home in December 2000 and were drafted in The Cranes side that faced Senegal on January 13, 2001.

 

In this 2002 Nations Cup qualifier, Cranes coach Harrison Okagbue played Sekagya on the right side of defence. That turned out to be a nightmare for Sekagya as Khalilou Fadiga tormented him. Okagbue him further embarrassment by substituting him at half time.

As a consolation, KCC handed Sekagya the ITC and left for Argentina, where he settled at Atletico de Rafaala and later Ferro Carri Ceste. There, Sekagya came under scrutiny when he failed to make it for The Cranes’ Afcon 2004 Nations Cup campaign but he helped his new club to gain promotion to top-flight football.

END OF THE ROAD: A disappointed Sekagya lies on the field in his last Cranes game against Kenya

However, doubts about his commitment resurfaced when he missed vital games against Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, South Africa and Ghana. At that time (2005), he had moved to Argentina’s Arsenal de Sarandi. In September 2006, Sekagya returned to The Cranes fold for the 2008 Afcon campaign and featured in the game against Lesotho.

Hungarian Csaba Laszlo had just taken over as Cranes coach and he picked Sekagya as the Cranes skipper to replace David Obua. He was on the score sheet when he scored from the spot in the crucial 2-1 win over Nigeria in March 2007. It soon became evident that Sekagya was the most important player in the team and possessed a special attribute of a leader.

However, his absence in the penultimate qualifier against Lesotho left many Ugandans disappointed because Uganda dropped two precious points. Understandably, the build-up to the match coincided with Sekagya’s transfer from Arsenal de Sarandi to Red Bull Salzburg of Austria. The move also proved to be a blessing in disguise because in Austria, Sekagya easily honoured most of The Cranes campaigns.

October 10, 2011 was the last time he donned Cranes colours after for the heartbreaking draw with Kenya. The result ended Uganda’s hopes of qualification to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. Sekagya quit days later. At club level, he continued to flourish and became the Red Bull Salzburg captain. He scaled new heights when he transferred to New York Red Bulls in July 2013.

After 20 years, Sekagya hung up the boots last week to end the most illustrious career of a Ugandan footballer. His successful career as a professional player in Europe and America is unmatched. Sekagya is also credited for his mentorship to several Cranes players; living by example as his wealth and real estate investments suggest.

bzziwa@observer.ug


The author is operations director of The Observer Media Ltd.

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