A players’ license is a form of identification issued to a club for registered players. For clubs participating in tournaments that are under the supervision of the Federation of Uganda Football Association (FUFA) the players’ license is issued by FUFA.
In the current format, when a player is licensed to play in one league then they are ineligible to play in a different league. A player licensed to play in the Azam Uganda Premier League (AUPL) can’t turn up for a different team in the Big League which makes obvious sense.
At the start of the 2015-16 AUPL season, FUFA came up with a brilliant idea of starting up the FUFA Juniors’ League (FJL) as the U-17 league and since the U-17 league is supervised by FUFA, FJL registered players had to acquire licenses.
Playing in the FJL automatically disqualifies the youngsters from representing their senior teams in any other FUFA supervised competition.
One of the one thousand ways in which FUFA can promote the development of footballers in Uganda is by adopting a flexible player licensing system.
A player licensed to represent Maroons Junior team in the FJL should be able to represent Maroons FC in the AUPL. In this way, clubs don’t have to rush promoting junior players but can always field them or even have them as substitutes to motivate them and to reward them for good performances.
How exactly does that work out in player development? I was watching an English Premier League (EPL) match between Everton and Bournemouth, it was match day 35 Everton were playing for pride, then in the 87th minute with Everton leading 2-1 Ross Barkley’s number was up for substitution, the player coming on was an 18-year-old, the name? Kieran Dowell. I had no idea who this player was but the commentator and fans seemed to know him very well. As he came on to a standing ovation the commentator saved my ignorance when he mentioned that he had scored a superbly well-taken hat trick in a midweek U-21 league fixture against Leicester City.
EPL clubs register 25 players so I highly doubt Dowell was registered to feature in the EPL, I highly doubt his player license reads that. For Dowell to play three minutes against Bournemouth, he must have trained with the senior squad for about five days, does that develop him a player? Definitely yes.
It got better for Dowell on matchday 38 of the 2015-16 EPL season, yet again Everton was playing for pride as they hosted Norwich. Dowell made his full EPL debut and had a man of the match performance as he made two assists. Kieran Dowell is most likely going to have a bright future as a professional footballer. He will most likely become a first-team player in the 2016-17 season for Everton based on his end of season performance because he got a chance to show and prove his ability.
He got that chance because the flexible player licensing system used by the English Football Association gives provision for a player who started the season as a U-18 league player to end the season with an EPL appearance.
The FA in England will benefit too because the experience Kieran Dowell picks up from training and playing against seasoned internationals makes him a better player should he feature for the English U-18 national team.
As I was writing this article I saw the news flash that Marcus Rashford had been named in England’s 26 man Euro 2016 provisional squad. He got there because of the performances and goals in the matches he played for Manchester United. He got into the Manchester United squad because of injuries to senior players. Was he licensed to play in the EPL at any point in the season? I highly doubt, especially when you consider that he made his first appearance for Manchester United in February 2016 when the transfer window and registration windows had closed. Rashford went on to score eight goals, which was a massive step in his development as a striker.
Liverpool have had a Europa league run to the final, they had to rest players for league games, so youngsters like Ojo, Smith, Stewart, Brannagan, and Flanagan all got game time. On matchday 38 in the EPL, West Bromwich Albion was hosting Liverpool when Sergi Canos made his Liverpool debut, the commentator mentioned that he had spent the entire season on loan at Brentford, I was in shock how a player could represent one club then turn up for a different club in a league tournament. Was Canos licensed to represent Liverpool in a space of one week? Hell no. I still highly doubt that these youngsters are licensed to play in the EPL.
FUFA should start a flexible player licensing system that allows players belonging to a particular club to be open to representing the club at any time in any league tournament as long as the player has a license. The player’s license should be able to show which league he can play in. I guess for Kieran Dowell’s case he can play in the U-18 league, U-21 league and EPL for Everton.
Back here in Uganda, at the start of the second round of the 2015-16 AUPL, KCCA FC promoted Kikonyogo and Poloto from their U-17 team but because of a rigid player licensing system, KCCA FC can’t have them play in both FJL and AUPL, forcing KCCA FC to make a tough choice. I highly doubt these two youngsters developed as footballers because they hardly got any game time with the senior team and missed representing their U-17 team which went on to be runners up in the FJL.
In Uganda, we have had countless cases of highly rated youngsters fading into the unknown. Young players need to be with peers to maintain high levels of confidence, they can then be slowly integrated into the senior team with cameo appearances as they continue to play underage football.
To avoid rushing youngsters into top flight football, a flexible player licensing system is required so that highly rated youngsters like Kikonyogo and Poloto can be part of KCCA’s FJL team and also be able to make it to the senior team line up when needed. That way they wouldn’t miss out on FJL game time which is vital for their development as footballers.
At Maroons FC we got relegated on matchday 27 of the AUPL after a 3-2 loss away against Soana. As I write this blog, we have two league games to go but how I wish our U-17 players were eligible to represent Maroons in the AUPL. We would invite the youngsters to train with the senior team players, their presence would rejuvenate the whole atmosphere around the club because young players bring raw passion and enthusiasm to the game. Fans love seeing young players being given a chance.
The pick of the bunch are; Solomon Okello, Musa Senoga, Boris Onegi, Vincent Abigaba and Arafat Sentongo, playing two games in the AUPL would be an invaluable experience for these young players.
As a club, we would have created a moment that these youngsters would never forget, these youngsters would bring out a competitive attitude because senior team players wouldn’t want to lose their first team slots to youngsters but most importantly they would have a massive step in their development as footballers.
Its high time FUFA changed player licensing regulations so that players licensed to play in FJL are open to representing their parent clubs in the AUPL because the benefits are all too obvious.