By Pius Arinawe
CRANES defender Savio Kabugo is a man destined for big things in his burgeoning career but it has not been all plain sailing for the youngster.
Having to deal with the heartbreak of losing both his parents at a tender age did not derail his dream of playing professional football and is on track to captain his country one day just like his idol Ibrahim Sekagya.
After an impressive display against Tanzania at Namboole on Saturday, Savio opens up about his meteoric rise to the top of the game and his plans for the future.
Is it fair to say that the past 12 months been the best of your life so far?
Absolutely. I am very happy with what I have been able to achieve in such a short period of time. Last year, my team Victoria University got promoted to the top flight and my first season at the very top has been incredible if you consider that I won the Uganda Cup and also received a call up to the national side.
How have you handled the transition from the Big League to the top flight?
The level of competition is completely different. Big League is very competitive and promotion to the top flight is extremely difficult, there are so many games to play and you have to travel as far as Gulu, Yumbe, Koboko and Arua to play games and it’s a very tiring experience. Most of the games in the top flight are played around Kampala which is not as tiring.
How have you adjusted to life in the top flight?
I have listened to the senior players a lot. Their advice is invaluable and I have gotten plenty of it from Denis Iguma, Nestroy Kizito and my cousin Ivan Bukenya but they all tell me to work hard and stay grounded so I can achieve my dreams.
How did you feel when you got the news of your first national call up?
I was so excited because it was a dream come true. As a kid growing up and playing football, being chosen to represent your country is the best honour of them all and it is something I had dreamt of. Though not being able to share a dressing room with the great Ibrahim Sekagya because he has retired is a bit of a regret.
Clearly you admire Sekagya a lot and he recently trained with you and the rest of the team before Cranes face Angola. What did he say to you?
I was pleasantly surprised when he told me he had heard plenty of good things about me and said I have a bright future in the game. He also told me to keep up the hard work and take any criticism on the chin and keep learning. I want to enjoy an outstanding career like the one he has had so his advice was invaluable.
Do you see yourself occupying Sekagya’s position on the senior team soon and making it your own?
Watching him play influenced my decision to quit playing upfront and switching to defence so yes, I hope to become a first choice center back for the Cranes. It would be a dream come true for me. I just might even ditch my hairstyle and go bald like him to cap it off!
What about the captaincy? That would be great too, wouldn’t it?
[laughs] Captaincy would be a great honour but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. Maybe let me captain my club side first before I can even think of the Cranes but it is something I wouldn’t shy away from.
Right now, the man who would make that call is Micho the coach? How has life under him been for you?
I enjoy every moment working with him a lot because he is very open and honest with the players and he tries to improve every aspect of a player and I’ve improved a lot under him. He shows so much passion in his work; it is refreshing to work under him. Just remember never make him angry though.
Do you feel any added pressure when playing for Uganda? Especially at a ground like Namboole.
None. No pressure at all. Football is played by normal human beings who have two legs like I do so I approach every match and treat every player with no fear. I know we all have bad days sometimes but you just dust yourself up and get on with it. I know Ugandan football fans can be very demanding but Namboole is my home ground so the least I can ask from the crowd is to get behind the team each and every time regardless of the situation.
You recently went on trials with Bidvest Wits in South Africa. I am curious to know how it went for you.
I think I did well and it was a great eye opening experience where I got to learn a lot. I wish I could have stayed longer but national team duty got in the way so I hope to be back there soon. Sadly I was there in the middle of the winter season and the cold was unbearable initially but I had somewhat acclimatized by the time I left.
If you qualify for CHAN, you’ll be back there sooner than later so how important is it for you that you get the job done?
It’s immense for the players and for me too. The exposure and experience at such a big stage can only help market my talents around the world and for them too. It is my dream to play in Europe at some stage in my career and I hope that chance comes soon so this could be the first step to achieving this. We also have a good team and a great coach and there is no reason why we can’t win the tournament if we qualify. We simply have to believe.
Do you have any preferred destination in Europe?
My primary goal is to play in Europe. Where that may be, I don’t know but I am open to anything so I can’t say I prefer one over the other.
Lastly, with your popularity soaring through the roof with your face plastered across newspapers and TV screens, how are you dealing with your new found fame?
Am I famous? I didn’t know that! Seriously though, one of the most important things I’ve been taught all my life is to keep my feet on the ground and stay humble so the fame if any, doesn’t change who I am or affect me in any way. I only care about playing football.