Having stood between the national goalposts for fifteen years, Denis Onyango could well be ranked as the greatest goalkeeper in the history of Ugandan football. But, it is increasingly likely that the former SC Villa, St George and SuperSport United shot stopper may have played his last international game in the 0-1 defeat to Malawi in Blantyre, writes MARK NAMANYA.
The shelf life of goalkeepers is normally longer than the one of outfield players. The men between the sticks run lesser distances on the field and for as long as they maintain hunger, passion and desire to go along with fitness of mind and body, they can play on into their 40s.
Uganda Cranes captain Denis Onyango has turned the position of national team goalkeeper into his own ever since his debut in 2005 during the managerial reign of Egyptian coach Mohammed Abbas.
He has rarely disappointed in national team colours and virtually every coach has selected him as first choice in the last 16 years. But information filtering through those close to the player indicates that he is seriously considering retirement from national team football.
Onyango reportedly told some members of the Cranes contingent to Malawi, after the match, that the 0-1 loss was going to be his last game for Uganda and that he would concentrate on club football with South Africa giants Mamelodi Sundowns.
The player is aware that the federation is going to hire a new coach who will be tasked with managing a player transition. Although Onyango is not one of the players who would be subjected to the transition seeing how he has maintained top-level performances for club and country, the goalkeeper understands that it is better exiting while at the top than leaving the stage because of floundering displays.
Onyango has enjoyed a storied career at club and national team levels. He was crowned the Africa Player of the Year based in Africa in 2016 and has regularly featured among the best goalkeepers in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League and the continent.
Onyango was a key figure in the Cranes team that qualified for back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations editions in 2017 and 2019. He has used his frame to command the penalty box superbly, is a good organiser of the defence and is tremendous in one-on-one situations.
Onyango has won the South African PSL title on numerous occasions and is also the only Ugandan to have won the Caf Champions League. He kept goal for Mamelodi Sundowns when they represented Africa at the Fifa World Club Cup.
Lately, he has developed a frosty relationship with the federation, however. It should be remembered that he was captain when the Uganda Cranes players refused to train before the Africa Cup of Nations encounter with Senegal in Cairo in 2019.
This week, a recording of his voice has gone viral in various WhatsApp groups where he criticizes Fufa president Moses Magogo. Meanwhile, Onyango won’t be the only Cranes player retiring from international football.
Hassan Wasswa late last week announced he had quit international football after 76 appearances in which he played both as a midfielder and defender.
Wasswa, who hadn’t featured for Cranes since Afcon 2019, was regularly selected by coaches Bobby Williamson, Micho Sredojevic and Sebastien Desabre. He was tenacious in the tackle and resolute in defence with an all-action style that endeared him to fans.
Wasswa also featured for Cranes in the back-to-back Afcon editions. He has reportedly expressed interest in taking up a role in the technical department of the federation. Another player who will be announcing his official retirement in the upcoming days is Michael Azira.
The fate of players like Joseph Ochaya, Emma Okwi and Farouq Miya will be known when the squad is named for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers that start in June.