Goalkeepers are often unsung heroes but Uganda’s Denis Onyango became the wild exception in the last decade.
Football bounced back in the last decade and in particular the Uganda Cranes, who ended their four-decade evasion of the Afcon with back-to-back appearances at the continental showpiece. This list top of the 11 footballers of the decade is largely influenced by this Afcon renaissance even though it had room for two players who were not part of those historical feats. Who were they? Let’s find out, beginning with the last in rank.
11. Daniel Sserunkuma
He may not have made the Cranes squads for the 2017 and 2019 Afcon campaigns but Daniel Sserunkuma had some of the most memorable club seasons in the last decade. In 2011, he was named the best young player in Kenya Premier League then player of the year in 2012. The following year he won USPA footballer of the year before topping the scoring charts in the Kenyan Premier League in 2014. Returning to Uganda in 2017, Sserunkuma kept finding the net and his goals - he top-scored that year - helped Vipers win the 2018 Ugandan Premier League title.
10. Khalid Aucho
The soft-footed midfielder launched his senior career at the beginning of the last decade with home club Jinja Municipal. At the time few would have predicted what a glorious 10 years lay in store for Khalid Aucho, who made his made debut for the Cranes in the 2013 CECAFA Cup and has never looked back. A member of Uganda’s last two Afcon Finals appearances, not many would have foreseen the sort of impact Aucho would go on to have when he was summoned to the Cranes at the beginning of 2017 Afcon qualification bid. His winning goal in Uganda’s away trip to Botswana in 2016 gave the Cranes control of Group D, a position they would not relinquish.
9. Murshid Juuko
The retirement of the great Ibrahim Sekagya was supposed to precipitate a long and painful search for a worthy replacement. Thanks to Murshid Juuko, the pangs were largely avoided. An assured and astute center-back, Juuko has been a great pillar of stability for the reliable defense that has been the foundation of the Cranes successes of the last decade. Juuko came through the ranks, playing for both the U20 and U23 national sides, a learning curve that has paid off massively for a player who started out at Bunamwaya (now Vipers) before enjoying his best club years yet with Tanzania’s Simba.
8. Hassan Wasswa
He’s here. He’s there. He’s everywhere. If there has been a Ugandan footballer with the invincible qualities of the terminator, it has to be Hassan Wasswa. Whether he had a club or not, whether he was fit or not, Wasswa was always part of the Cranes. And in fairness, he was a relatively reliable part, whether playing in his natural holding positive or in the adaptive defensive role.
7. Godfrey Walusimbi
With nearly 100 appearances for the Cranes, Godfrey Walusimbi is not just one of Uganda’s top footballers of the past decade but one of the all-time greats. He was reliable at worst spectacular at best. ‘Jajja Walu’ went from being mature beyond his years to being one of the veterans of Cranes, taking part in both the 2017 and 2019 Afcon Finals in Egypt. He called time on his international career after the latter tournament, the perfect sign off for an almost perfect left-back.
6. Tony Mawejje
The proverbial bundle of energy, Tony Mawejje overcame the pain of multiple failed Afcon qualification attempts to become one of the leaders of the 2017 Cranes team that broke the continental duck. Mawejje was a powerhouse, often fighting on when everyone around him was overwhelmed. The box-to-box midfielder finished his career having fulfilled the dream of playing at the Afcon, boasting almost 80 international caps.
5. Farouk Miya
Some footballers walk onto the scene. Others budge in, door unhinged and boots on fire. Farouk Miya did the latter. He exploded onto the national football stage after a historically great 2014 - 2015 season with Vipers. Miya was the darling of Uganda’s 2017 Afcon campaign, his goal against Comoros on Sept 4, 2016, officially ending the Cranes 40-year absence from the continental tournament. Miya came into the Cranes as something of a talisman, which he remains to date.
4. Emmanuel Okwi
One of the most gifted footballers of the last decade, Emmanuel Okwi completed the decade as the fulltime first choice Cranes striker. It was a point long and hard in the making, with stints in Tanzania, Tunisia and Denmark part of his often trying club career. Okwi’s two goals at the 2019 Afcon are certainly the highlight for a career that occasionally appeared to be in danger of losing its way in the last decade.
3. Geoffrey Massa
Uganda’s record goal-scorer bowed out on a high after captaining the Cranes to the 2017 Afcon. But what a struggle it was for Geoffrey Massa to fight and wait and to wait and fight for that breakthrough. For six campaigns, Massa ploughed the lonely furrow that is the Cranes’ striking job in vain. In 2017, the door opened and Massa’s goal in Uganda’s 2-0 win over Botswana was the first spark in a qualification journey that ended in glory.
2. Ibrahim Sekagya
What a shame he had retired when the Afcon breakthrough arrived in 2017. Ibrahim Sekagya is the most talented Ugandan footballer from the last decade even though he retired from competitive football in 2014, three years after ending his international career. Sekagya won the Australian Bundesliga and Cup double in 2012 with Redbull Salzburg, later becoming captain of the club in an incredible honour for a Ugandan. He also enjoyed two campaigns in Europe’s Europa League with Salzburg before joining its New York sister club and, upon retiring, studying for his coaching badges.
1. Denis Onyango
Goalkeepers are often unsung heroes but Uganda’s Denis Onyango became the wild exception in the last decade. He was a mini-superman for club and country. Voted the best Africa-based player in 2017, Africa’s best goalkeeper in 2018, Onyango had an unforgettable decade as he also became the first Ugandan to win the CAF Champions League - in 2016 with Mamelodi Sundowns. Onyango has been the cornerstone of Uganda’s 2017 and 2019 Afcon campaigns and has won six South African League titles.