The silent mutiny shaking the Uganda Cranes

Uganda Cranes head coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic in conversation with members of his technical team during training /FUFA image

FEATURE The silent mutiny shaking the Uganda Cranes

Shafic Kiyaga 11:22 - 03.09.2023

This qualifier against Niger is no ordinary game; it serves as the crucible that will either solidify or shatter the Cranes' aspirations of returning to AFCON glory for the first time since 2019.

As the Uganda Cranes prepare to face Niger in a decisive Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier, tensions within the team are silently simmering towards boiling point.

This match is no ordinary game; it serves as the crucible that will either solidify or shatter the Cranes' aspirations of returning to AFCON glory for the first time since 2019.

Yet, while the focus is on the impending match, there is an undercurrent of discord threatening to wash away the team's unity and collective ambition.

At the core of this tension lies a silent mutiny—a potentially destructive force that pits players against the coach and even against each other.

To the casual observer, the Cranes maintain a façade of unity. Their training sessions proceed with the kind of disciplined intensity that comes from a history of hard-fought victories.

Trusted players who have long served as the team's backbone are questioning the path forward, and concerns they've raised have been brushed aside or completely ignored.

This underlying tension, a "silent mutiny," looms like a shadow, threatening to disrupt years of collective effort and the deliberate rebuild of the team’s core.

Uganda Cranes head coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic issues instructions to his players during training | Photo Credit: FUFA Media

As the team arrives in Marrakech, amidst the pressure of public expectation and the burden of their own aspirations, the question remains;

How long can they continue this balancing act? Can they put aside internal divisions and pull together for the sake of national pride? Or will the rifts finally break open, shattering the illusion of unity and derailing their hopes of returning to the AFCON stage?

At the epicenter of this turmoil is the team's head coach, Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic, a figure who, in his second stint with the team, finds himself increasingly at odds with key players and even his own coaching staff.

Even though Micho was initially heralded as a saviour, especially at the start of his second tenure, the mood in the camp has sharply turned.

Several players, once devoted to the coach, now find themselves questioning his motives and methods.

The source of the tension? A belief among some team members that Micho is using players as mere pawns in his strategic game, discarding them when ‘make no sense to his blueprint’.

One notable episode involved a senior player, a longstanding pillar of the team, who was curiously left out of the traveling squad to Morocco.

Goalkeeper Charles Lukwago during training | Photo Credit: FUFA Media

There was already fever high discord between coach and player before the training camp held in Kampala this week, over a ‘failed business transaction’ – more on that in another story.

Despite Micho's attempts to engage the player in private talks, the latter showed no interest, causing Micho to turn on him in what has been perceived as a vindictive act.

This particular incident seems to have amplified the discord within the team, leading to a heightened sense of unrest.

Another top defender decided against being part of the team for the Niger game over his mistrust of the coach, and the continued tension between the two.

But it's not just player relationships that have soured; Micho has also clashed with his backroom staff, including old friend and colleague Fred Kajoba – the goalkeeping coach.

Some of the local based Uganda Cranes players in training this week | Photo Credit: FUFA Media

The disagreement arose over the selection of goalkeepers for the Niger game. Only three of the five summoned would make the team.

Kajoba insisted that at least one of the keepers who had been part of the week long camp including Charles Lukwago, Joel Mutakubwa, and Jack Komakech deserved to be on the final team, since he was sure of their sharpness, condition and readiness.

Micho, however, dismissed these recommendations, asserting that none of the goalkeepers would make a difference and particularly questioning Lukwago's reliability due to his current club less status.

He reported words to Kajoba, "After all, it is me that gets to answer when we fail to get the results. Let me die by my decisions; I will be able to defend them," reveal the extent of his resolve but also his increasing isolation within the camp.

Another key figure on the technical team is reported to have advised the Serbian to “stop being and acting like an agent to the players and actually be a coach.”

There have been several key clashes in the past.

Striker Yunus Ssentamu deserted the Cranes team over what was termed as ‘private issue’, but his sabbatical has continued a year on since he initially turned down a call up for a 2023 Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifier.

Micho stressed that the striker who he described as his ‘football child’ is facing ‘personal challenges’, but maintained that Ssentamu stays an integral part of his plans with the national team.

“But he remains an integral part of our plans for the future. We need him so much and I will speak to him soon to put things straight and see that we can have him back in the future,” Micho told media in August 2022.

There was also another clash between the Serbian and KCCA FC midfielder Ashraf Mugume ‘Fadiga’ who after being left out of several camps, was eventually called ahead of a European tour.

However, Fadiga is said to have been constantly picked on by Micho in training sessions, choosing to point out his mistakes over those of other teammates.

And in one situation, Fadiga is said to have told him blatantly that it would help either of them if he was not summoned anymore because he was not ‘a Micho player’.

Midfielder Ashraf Mugume during Uganda Cranes training | Photo Credit: FUFA Media

As the tension simmers within the camp of the Uganda Cranes, the clock is also ticking on Coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic's tenure.

With Micho in the last year of his contract, his future hangs in the balance. His role was already under scrutiny as of March, especially when the team teetered on the brink of a disastrous qualifying campaign.

A lifeline came in the form of a 1-0 victory over Tanzania's Taifa Stars, a win that may have preserved Micho's position for the time being but did little to ease the undercurrents of discontent.

The Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA) has stepped in, albeit not in a manner that has been comforting to the players.

While the federation has engaged in public relations exercises to present the image of a united front, players within the camp know otherwise.

The superficial handling of internal issues has contributed to a sense that Micho wields disproportionate power over the federation's decision-making.

Uganda Cranes coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic (C) with midfielder Laban Tibita and defender Aziz Kayondo | Photo Credit: FUFA Media

For players, this perception is disheartening; it implies that their grievances, instead of being addressed, are more likely to result in their replacement.

The key issue now is how to balance the preservation of team unity with the need for constructive change.

With Micho's contract set to expire, a failure to qualify for AFCON could spell the end of his time with the Cranes. Conversely, a successful campaign might validate his methods, despite the rifts they've caused within the team.

In any case, the coming AFCON qualifier against Niger could be a watershed moment, not just for the team's immediate future, but for the direction of Ugandan football as a whole.

The stakes are high, and with an unsettled camp, they've never felt higher. The next steps taken could either mend the cracks or deepen them into unbridgeable chasms.