While critics often accuse him of being defensive minded, they ignore the circumstances which force his hand
With four league and three Uganda Cup trophies in the last 14 years, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) FC rightly deserve to be referred to as one of the giants of Ugandan football.
Put into perspective, they have won more titles than each of SC Villa, Vipers SC and Express FC over this period.
They are the sleeping giant. Unlike either Villa or Express, they have the resources not just to recruit the best players and top coaches, but also to implement a professional club set up that includes a stadium, clubhouse and even an academy if they want to.
As it were, URA, the tax institution, has left behind the impression that football is just a pass time to them. Just one of the ways they are administering their Community Social Responsibility initiatives.
The appointment of Ivan Kakembo as new club Chief Executive Officer and later, Sam Ssimbwa as new head coach last year, however, brought new light to what could be a change in attitude.
Kakembo is easily the most knowledgeable and astute CEO in domestic club football today, while Ssimbwa’s profile and reputation speak for themselves.
There were no surprises therefore that after finishing 9th in the 2017-18 season, 28 points behind eventual winners Vipers, URA have finished third in the 2018- 19 season with 51 points, 15 behind champions KCCA.
On the field, Ssimbwa has stabilised the shape of the team and given it a structure on which they can now build a competitive edge. In curing the rot that was keeping URA closer to bottom than the top, Ssimbwa has created space for improvement.
While Ssimbwa’s critics often accuse him of being defensive minded, they ignore the circumstances which force his hand.
The quality of players at URA, is not the same as at KCCA or Vipers. With 15 draws in the recently concluded season, URA were the draw champions, two more than Villa.
And with 28 goals alongside Onduparaka and Kirinnya Jinja SS, URA were the lowest scorers among the top nine clubs. That was 33 goals less than KCCA. The most telling statistic however, is the goals conceded.
URA had by far the best defensive record after conceding just 13 goals in 30 games-seven goals better than Vipers.
Ssimbwa’s priority it seems was to build the character of URA. They are the hardest team to score against or beat in the league.
While teams that don’t score enough rarely win championships, teams that don’t lose will always be up there challenging for titles. Teams that don’t lose also carry with them bags of confidence. This is the dream for every ambitious coach-to have players with character and confidence.
All that is left now is for Ssimbwa to find a way of turning the draws into wins and they will be champions in the next couple of seasons.
It’s left to the management of URA, especially at the strategic level, to smell the opportunity and support Ssimbwa with resources to buy the quality that he needs to improve the offensive side of the team.
To rely on Shafiq Kagimu, the gifted attacking left playmaker, Saidi Kyeyune and Omunuk Robert - all midfielders for goals - is to fetch water in the desert.
What Ssimbwa needs from the club administration, even more, is a practical demonstration of their ambition and vision for the club. URA must run the club as a giant club.
Thus far, they have shied away from initiatives that will see the club recruit fans to build a competitive fan base across the country.
Their promise to build a home stadium has been lip service for over five years. URA play largely to empty terraces.
Ssimbwa, a maverick joy footballer who built his career playing in front of packed stadiums, understands the value of fans support and adoration. There is no better inspiration for a footballer.
URA need superstars who will be praised by the media and mobbed by fans. Ssimbwa knows how to play to the gallery and so should his team.
It’s a route to success.