By Joseph Batte
I have intentionally waited for the disappointment that came with the Cranes' defeat against Senegal in World cup qualifiers in Marrakesh, Morocco, to die down, before writing this story.
Simply, because I wanted to be as objective as I could be. _ at was perhaps one of the best Cranes performances I have ever seen while on away duty.
New Vision Sports editor Fred Kaweesi was spot on when he observed earlier on that the decision to drop striker Geoffrey Massa would return to bite our behinds (not his exact words but something close to that).
History having a nasty habit with normally repeating itself at the most crucial moments, I can't help the feeling too that once again, we shot ourselves in the foot and unwittingly helped Senegal qualify for the group stages by dropping Massa the story is all too familiar:
In the early 90s, it was ugly club politics that saw late Villa strongman Patrick Kawooya recall striker Majid Musisi from the national team and prevent us from qualifying. Musisi's parting shot to his teammates was the famous 'Mugende mukafiremu'.
In 1989, we were done in by a daft note from the pavilion advising Barnabas Mwesigwa to make tactical changes against visiting Cameroon at Nakivubo.
It proved calamitous as the starstudded Cameroon, who were until then on the receiving end of a good thrashing from the Cranes, scored a vital goal that saw them qualify on an away goals rule.
When the Cranes were awarded a penalty against Nigeria in 1993, Semogerere and Adam Semugabi first haggled for the ball. It was decided Semugabi takes it. He placed it wide of the mark.
In 2004 we blamed Rwanda's Amavubi Stars of witchcraft, lost concentration and lost the game 1-0. Seven years later, David Obua was unceremoniously axed from the Cranes team on the eve an important qualifier against Kenya. The recent victim of the 'qualifier curse' was Massa!
Unto the match in Marrakesh. Yes. It was always going to be a daunting task against the starstudded Senegalese team made up of bulky players.
But on the evidence of Cranes show, we would have easily turned tables on them. From the first whistle you could tell our boys were really fired up.
They were mentally and physically prepared for battle. The way Micho set up the team tactically, was also spot on. the players, too, had tactical cohesiveness —played with high tempo and tried to pass the ball quickly.
They attacked their opponents when they had the ball, quickly closed them down when they lost it.
Senegal were digging in their own half of the field, intercepting the ball, performing a lightning fast transition from defense to attack often by playing a long ball to their tall and strong forwards.
For most parts of the match, the Senegalese fans were deathly quiet. Their coach and the players on the bench wore worried looks.
Their body language said it all — they would contend with a draw. So what went wrong?
The missing Massa factor
"If you are under pressure as a manager (coach) you are going to look for experience, not youth, although there are some exceptions."
Kenny Dalglish explaining why England's Roy Hodgson picked Paul Lambert for England. I'm not detracting from the quality of the game that our boys displayed.
I just want to put into perspective that by dropping Massa, we goofed yet again. During the match I got the feeling we might have just been able to spring a surprise in Marrakesh.
Given the pace and physical nature of the game, the missing piece to the jigsaw was an out-and-out bully striker like Massa who can be a real handful for opposition defenses —powerful in the air and often effective in front of goal.
He has a wicked shot too. Without him, you felt the team lacked that little bit extra especially in the final third.
Massa would have created a whole new dimension by holding onto the ball, drawing opposition defenders and thus creating space for Emmanuel Okwi, who was being easily anticipated by the Senegalese defenders and closed down.
It's worth noting that in the corresponding fixture in 2011 at Namboole, Massa came off the bench and turned the game on its head and won us a penalty. Cranes were just unfortunate to draw that game.
Why Massa was dropped
So what happened? Why did the Serbian tactician drop Massa? The story by Kaweesi came as close as it could to giving us a clue as to what was going on. Micho first blamed Massa for playing 'badly' against Angola and Egypt and not communicating on his travels.
On August 3, he then turned and said he ignored Massa for disciplinary reasons after being told earlier he had been in the country a week earlier and was enjoying a holiday!
Massa angrily countered all that Micho was saying as a pack of lies: "I'm disappointed in him (Micho).
I don't mind being left out but I would prefer that reasons sent out are done with honesty. Micho phoned my coach (Steve Baker) and he told him that I was still in the process of clearing my transfer to the club (University of Pretoria)
It doesn't take a genius to work out there is more to Massa's exclusion from the Cranes than lack of form, if you read between the lines!
It's ego. Massa does not have that strong sense of self-worth like David Obua. He has always kept his feet on the ground.
However, I have heard whispers that some of the personnel on the technical bench double as FIFA player agents. And that Massa paid the ultimate price for turning down an offer to be sold by one of these offcials. If this is true, then it's very unfortunate.
For a team that aspires to be one of the best on the African continent, and for a game of that magnitude, you simply do not drop one of your best strikers for new boys, some of who are still adapting to the rigors of international football because of feelings.
Professionalism should prevail over personal sentiments.
Of course, Cranes' problem was compounded by the send off Godfrey Walusimbi after the
South African referee Daniel Benett was conned by the Senegalese defender who rolled on the ground like he had been shot in the legs yet there was minimal contact if any.
According to my informers, we could have won but the players were too tired after travelling by bus from Casablanca to Marrakesh.
"We could have won the match but Micho was pushing them very hard during training sessions," a source told me.
Micho is a coach who demands 110 percent cent commitment during training. If you don't show it, he will shout at you. So, some players consider him to be too harsh.
Don't get me wrong. Micho is a good coach and I'm one of his biggest fans. But if he and the current FUFA executive are to succeed, they will have raise above petty issues. We can't continue making the same mistakes over and over again and expect different results. Let's hope the lesson has been learnt.