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Meet Mike Azira, the Ugandan footballer who plays in the US

By Fred Kaweesi

Added 8th September 2018 04:07 PM

Azira primarily plays as a central midfielder. He can sit deep in front of the back four and dictate the tempo from there.

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Azira primarily plays as a central midfielder. He can sit deep in front of the back four and dictate the tempo from there.

In every footballer’s career, there are impactful moments. Some are positive, some not so successful. And Mike Azira has endured both at club and country.

While Uganda’s sports technocrats consider him surplus to requirement for the national football team –the Cranes, Major League Soccer (MLS) outfits –with Monteal Impact the latest in a long list –continue to reap the benefits from his all-round qualities.

Azira primarily plays as a central midfielder. He can sit deep in front of the back four and dictate the tempo from there.

He can, however, also operate as an attacking midfielder. He is a footballer who has excellent dribbling and passing abilities.

Last Saturday, Impact continued its playoff drive with a 3-0 win over New York Red Bulls at Saputo Stadium.

With six games to go in the regular season, Impact sit in the sixth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, six points in front of D.C. United and the New England Revolution, and four points behind fifth place Philadelphia Union, all teams the Impact will face before the end of the campaign.

Impact will also host New York City FC and the Columbus Crew SC before the end of the season, both in front of Impact in the standings, and Toronto FC, who sit nine points behind the Impact, with one game in hand.

 Azira with the Cranes team in Gabon

Azira needed just 90 minutes of his first full appearance against Red Bull to be convinced that Impact have what it takes to win the MLS Cup.

But besides this, Azira has, with his best friends Ronald Nsabyela and Musa Mawanda, initiated a football project that should in a few years offer the unprivileged footballers in Uganda a chance to follow his footsteps into professional football.

You have just signed up with Impact Montreal. How are you settling in at your latest club?

Impact De Montreal is treating me well so far, everyone is professional in what they do at the club.

The teammates mostly speak French, Spanish and English, so most of the instructions are in French.

That means I have to learn French too, but so far I am enjoying the new team and excited for the new challenges coming ahead.

You are fortunate to have Bacary Sagna in your team. How is he as a player and a teammate?

Having Bacary Sagna on the team makes our team better, with his experience and knowledge about the game it’s just good for the entire team. Sagna is very humble, hardworking and a good family man. He doesn’t talk much but he leads through his actions on the field.

 Azira with Ronald

What would you want to achieve this season?

For this season. we are trying to win the MLS cup, that’s the goal for every club every year and it’s the same thing for me too. But for now we are fighting for a spot in the play-offs.

You have had quite a successful stint since leaving SC Villa and turning professional in the United States in 2010. What would you highlight as the reasons behind your impressive journey over the years?

The main reason I think I have been successful in the major league soccer league is discipline, working hard and smart and having the willingness to learn from other players and coaches.

What does it take to be able to play professional football in the Major Soccer League?

First and foremost you have to be a good contributing team player. You have to be disciplined on and off the field and have that willingness to work hard and smarter than anyone else on the field.

Most players fail to make it to MLS because they think they are entitled to getting playing time. These players never want to put in the work, have a negative attitude and they play the victim all the time. If you are this kind of player, no one wants you on their team.

What has been your best career moment so far in the MLS?

My best moment came when I won the open cup and the regular season with Seattle Sounders in 2014. We won the open cup and the supporter’s shield.

The MLS has attracted some big names such David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Kaka, Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic and you have been fortunate to play against most. What has been the experience like for you?

Playing with the players that you used to watch on television is like a dream come true.

Sharing the field with the likes of Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Nigel de Jong, David Villa, and Giovinco has sparked off some of the best moment for me in this league.

I have met and competed with some of the best players and I will always cherish those moment. It has been a blessing.

What challenges have you faced playing for some of the best teams in the MLS?

The challenges any player would face is not getting a lot of playing time and injuries, but this is when you have to be patient, learn and ask questions as to why you are not playing.

During these moments it is easy to be frustrated, play the victim and have a negative attitude in training and the locker room, this will not get you in the starting team.

I have been there and I have learned how to deal with it by staying positive and focus on the team instead of putting myself first.

You started an annual football tournament that has been going on around the country. How successful has this been so far?

Quite successful. There has been a great turn up in the number of teams from all the regions where the tournament is taking place and a lot of good players have been noticed. It is the beginning of our learning on how to organize a youth tournament.

We had various teams play in the regional qualifying rounds. The two finalist and 3rd placed team from each region advance to the final round of the tournament be held in December 2018 in Kampala. Even though it was on short notice, many football teams have participated in the recently completed regional qualifiers thus far.

What was your idea behind the tournament?

The idea behind the tournament is to spot, develop and promote talent at an early age. Talent development involves various stakeholders like parent, grass root coaches, and educators.

We will be working alongside them to ensure these young talents are nurtured well. We will focus on proper training, formal training, and general health and well-being of players.

Are we likely to see some of the best players picked from this tournament recommended for better opportunities elsewhere?

That is the other main idea behind this tournament, we want the best players to be exposed to the best opportunities available.

Teams and schools are always asking for the good talented players, so this is an opportunity for the players to express themselves and show that they deserve these opportunities.

We plan to select the best players from the tournament and they will meet once a month for a training session with a top coach in the country.

These session will be accessible to the grass root coaches as an opportunity to gain more knowledge to take back and share with their teams.

In the background we will be on the lookout for university scholarships and pro academy for these boys to further their talents.

Over the years, we have had similar tournaments crumbling along the way. What makes this one unique?

This platform is going to be a non-profit program and it is going to be about the players not the founders. The people behind the idea are committed and willing to sacrifice their time, resources and knowledge to see another talented player become successful.

Our team is passionate and we want to be part of something that is bigger than all of us. We are also willing to listen to everyone who wants to see this platform grow, develop and become prolific.

Where do you see this tournament in the next five years?

We want this tournament to be one of the biggest and the best in the country, in terms of finding talent and helping young players reach their potential.

We want this tournament to extend to every corner of the country so that every young soccer player has access to these opportunities. 

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