In the 2014/15 season, FUFA established a new Reserve league, dubbed the FUFA Juniors League, featuring teams of underage players, specifically those just under eighteen. By the end of the season, Kampala Junior Team was crowned inaugural champions.
However, it was only at the conclusion of the sophomore season, won by Vipers Junior Team that other Uganda Premier League clubs were promoted to establish their very own Under-17 teams.
As of today, it is a requirement for all UPL and Big League clubs to have an Under-17 team, to act as a feeder for the senior team.
The FUFA Juniors League for this season was up and running successfully before football and other sports were halted by the lockdown put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Furthermore, FUFA, in proposals for reforms aired out in March this year called on clubs to set up Under-20 teams to further reinforce the culture of academy football in Uganda, with a tentative plan to see this reform realized by the beginning of the 2021/22 season.
However, for all the success attained in this respect, there remains a lot to be done. For starters, having a single age group doesn’t really help much in terms of player development.
The Juniors League is concerned with the Under-17 category alone. What this means is that for young footballers up until at least fourteen years of age, there is no organized framework to enable them to develop their game.
It is true that there are many academies not affiliated with FUFA or the clubs, but these tend to be profit-based, which alienates a significant chunk of the population. Also, for those above eighteen, but obviously not ready for first-team action, there isn’t much destiny other than ending up left in limbo.
FUFA Should Plan for Other Age Groups in Academy Development to Avoid Stunted Growth
This results in the stunted development of both abilities and mental maturity. And that is merely where the problems begin. For decades now, a major challenge to the growth of Ugandan football has been down to a failure to attract spectators.
In an age and time when people, most crucially the youth, are exposed to the foreign leagues of England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany, clubs back here have found it immensely difficult to entice fans back into stadiums, which has kept gate collections low, rendering the development of the clubs, and the league at large, a steep mountain to conquer.
A lot of the blame is put on the fans themselves not being patriotic, but the fact of the matter is that the quality of the play itself needs to be improved, if newer, younger people are to be intrigued sufficiently to the point of them becoming ardent fans.
Establishing academies at all age levels from at least the age of ten, up until the age of twenty one would result in the production of more technically adept players. Consequently, the quality of football on the show would improve in the long run. This would not only improve the quality of the local league but would also raise the standard of Ugandan footballers, which would ultimately increase their chances of succeeding in bigger, better leagues.
While Uganda has a long and varied history with the exportation of its footballers, including such famous exports as Majid Musisi, Ibrahim Sekkagya, David Obua, and Denis Onyango, there have been way too many heart-breaking failures in the mold of Muhammad Shaban, Robert Ssentongo and Steven Bengo as well. This isn’t to say the players in the latter category aren’t good enough.
Very few of these unsuccessful forays into foreign leagues have anything to do with the players themselves. They are simply victims of a system not designed to give them a better chance at succeeding.
This is true not only in terms of technical abilities and tactical comprehension but also in terms of mentality. A lot of Ugandan players leave without any readiness to succeed at all costs. Furthermore, they burst into the local scene already in their twenties, which denies them time to learn and adapt when they finally land big-money moves.
All this can be remedied by preparing players right from a tender age when they are more receptive to education. Another benefit would be the positive social impact of enrolling young children into football schools run by the clubs themselves.
This would create a clear pathway to success for children, especially those from more financially vulnerable backgrounds, which would discourage them from antisocial habits and crime.
Therefore, while the efforts undertaken so far to develop youth football are commendable, they are quite simply put, grossly inadequate. For any success to be realized out of the grand plans set into motion, more must be done. The good news is, FUFA seems to have figured this out as well and it remains to be seen whether or not the reforms on the issue of youth football in the country will be adopted and implemented.
Author: Timothy Ainebyoona
Timothy is a dynamic analyst passionate about news and all things sport.