Uganda Cranes goalkeeper and Mamelodi Sundowns on-loan to Bidvest Wits Denis Masinde Onyango was cheery in a far corner of one of the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation studios and explaining why, back in October 2011, he and the rest of Uganda Cranes staff took the decision to lie to Ugandans over failing to qualify for Afcon.
“We told Ugandans luck was not on our side. I actually wept when after the final whistle knowing we had disappointed a nation full of hope after so many years of not qualifying,” he explained, shaking his head. “We lost concentration just hours to the most important game our generation. David was a very senior player on the team and always fought for Uganda. We should have told that to our fans.
As the Cranes intensified preparations for their final game of the 2012 Nations Cup qualifiers against Kenya on October 8, 2011, on the eve of the match, however, hell broke loose as Obua was dismissed from camp. His crime: requesting team management to allow him ask President Museveni, who was visiting camp, questions.
Result: Uganda 0-0 Kenya, Obua’s retirement and Cranes’ failure to make the Nations Cup finals after the most realistic chance .. Ugandans’ hearts broke.
That Obua was sorely missed in the Kenyan game needed no emphasis listening to Onyango’s confession to Star FM’s Kenneth Musisi and Fifi Namiiro on Thursday night.
In fact, Obua commonly referred to as King David uncereminously retired from the national team preferring to head back to Europe; was playing for Hearts in Scotland.
The heartbreak also led to skipper Ibra Ssekajja and Nestroy Kizito’s retirement a moment that was widely considered career-ending for a generation so promising.
“We shared great memories during that time with the Cranes. I loved playing with Geofrey Walusimbi, Ssekajja and Masaba in defence. We’d joke and enjoy representing our country,” the South African Premier Soccer League club Mamelodi Sundowns second choice goalie who has 29 caps for Uganda said when he was asked about his preferred Cranes defence.
Perhaps, then, it is little wonder that it is a seemingly changed man finally prepared to talk about the past, and a future which, he admits for the first time, includes a plan to reclaim the Uganda number one spot from former understudy Robert Odongkara who current Uganda coach Micho prefers ahead of the young veteran when fit in the last 12 months.
“Ah,” said Onyango. “You’re talking about The Marrakesh game now, aren’t you? But it’s not important today. It was only an emotional moment. That is the real me. The other one is my alter ego. He’s the one who comes out when I feel am disappointed like when left out of an important game yet I know I would have contributed better than the one chosen ahead of me.
“You see, the coach chose who started against Senegal and when we returned to Kampala I took a decision to concentrate on my club career back in South Africa.
He is relieved just to be able play for Uganda again (started in goal against Madagascar on Saturday June 1st and had a good posting) though he had hinted on retiring from international football after he was ignored in the World Cup qualifying game which Cranes lost 1-0.
“When I didn’t play in the Senegal game everyone automatically retired me saying i had grown old. But I never said anything. I was determined to prove people wrong, like I have been all my life,” the 29 year-old said. “In goalkeeping 29 is young. My goalkeeping coach Andre Arendse in South Africa retired when he was 41 years.
“Odongkra is a young lad and he has brought in good competition since last year and we are all competing for the first place. He was fantastic but all in all it’s the coach who will decide who starts and he will go for the best as is his philosophy,” he told Red Pepper Online exaxtly a year ago after a game against Liberia in the world Cup qualifiers due to suspension.
“You have to understand, my not getting enough playing time doesn’t make me a bad goalkeeper. Am returning to Sundowns next season and fight for my place again.
Kenneth Musisi then suggested he talked about the heavy 4-1 defeat by Benin in 2010 World Cup/Africa Cup of Nations Group three match in Cotonou back in June 2008.
“I failed that day,” he concedes. “I let a lot of people down, including myself. I betrayed the trust and belief I had obtained from so many people by the mistakes I made. Omotoyosi was too dangerous.
Uganda’s press rounded on Onyango, calling his performance in Cotonou “his worst game in national colours.
He was “conceding goals from schoolboy errors,” said the mighty Red Pepper.
“The nation’s worst nightmare came true as goalkeeping errors and a lethargic performance conspired to allot Uganda a catastrophic 4-1 defeat,” added the New Vision.
Until now, Onyango is not back in training with Sundowns (on holiday here), he will travel to South Africa in a weeks’ time after completing a season long loan under his former coach at SuperSport United, Gavin Hunt at Wits.
Turning professional in 2006, Odongkara has earned more money than even he would have dreamt of. He has businesses flourishing as varied as planning on starting a goalkeeping academy back home. He has been one of just one of the three Ugandan goalkeepers to have been employed by wealthy South African PSL clubs. Why go through it all again not come back play for beloved SC Villa?
Onyango knows the answer to this instantly.
“It’s because I have to. I’ve always wanted to play help take Villa back to the top but ofcourse not administratively. Well, if it got a deal to go to Europe I would receive it with to hands, isn’t it? We just don’t have the connections apparently and the fact that we never get prepared in good football academies here makes it almost impossible to break into Europe.
“If I’d got a chance like Idris Kameni (Cameroon and Espanyol in Spain) to move a young age, what a chance. I love Petr Cech of Chelsea and will miss watching him play for his country in Brazil though Manuel Neur is equally a great goalkeeper down there.
As he says his farewells to the listeners, takes a last appreciation to the few but wonderful fans that turned up in Namboole last weekend. Till July 19th when the ‘Brazilians‘ of Equatorial Guinea come here.