In the line of fire.

During the 2015-16 FUFA Juniors’ League (FJL), I was coaching Maroons Junior Team when we lost 8-0 (in the line of fire) both home and away to KCCA Junior Team.

To make matters worse, the KCCA Junior team was using the Maroons pitch for its home matches but losing those two matches was the least of my concerns.

In both matches, I used separate goalkeepers because I needed both goalkeepers to gain experience, they definitely got more experience than I had hoped for because on top of conceding eight goals, it came with an addition of being ridiculed by their own peers which is part of football learning.

That KCCA Junior team has since gone on to have players join the senior team, Paul Willa, Kizza Mustafa, Allan Okello, Peter Magambo, Herbert Achai, Ronald Kikonyogo e.t.c. As for the two Maroons JT goalkeepers, Solomon Okello and Brian Ozelle are currently (writing of this blog) in Jinja for the 2019 copa coca-cola tournament representing Amus College and Nakaseke International respectively.

Hold on to label them as failures because they are not even close to failing.

Conceding eight goals would be very hard to take especially in Uganda where we want to win junior tournaments at all costs, where we treat losing as the definition of failure but it shouldn’t be the case in underage football which should be used as a development platform for the players.

When I checked the statistics recorded after the match, Solomon Okello had made 21 saves. In the reverse fixture, Brian Ozelle made 17 saves which clearly indicates they were in the line of fire.

The opposition goalkeeper made one save in both matches. For young goalkeepers, having to deal with a ball from the opponent is one of the activities that accelerate their development. The more activities, the higher the chances of developing earlier.

In professional football, it’s very hard for young players to break through to the senior team especially the top teams in Europe.

This comes from top teams being under pressure to perform well instantly, they rely on experienced signings and in most cases, the best players stay longer. Do a quick survey on teams like FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, Man City, Liverpool, Bayern Munich e.t.c.

When was the last time an academy graduate made it as a regular player? How often do academy graduates make it to play in the senior team of top teams?

HOW IS THE DEVELOPMENT OF YOUNG PLAYERS PROGRESSED?
Young players are usually sent out on loan to gain experience by getting first-team football. It usually starts by assessing the level at which the players can compete then send them out on loan however, the process to send them out on loan is not impulse.

Clubs break down how the player will develop. If it’s a defender, they will send them to a club where they expect the player to face the pressure of defending so that they can get involved in a lot of defensive work to gain experience.

The same thing will happen with a goalkeeper and other positions. They will also work out the ambitions of the club.

Do they need the player to gain experience in dealing with relegation?

Do they need a player to gain experience in dealing with promotion?

All this’ done to develop the player to prepare them for the parent club or to increase their value because not all young players will make it to play for senior team but they will bring in revenue for the club.

BACK TO UGANDA
In January 2019, I played in the Futsal Uganda Cup for Thunders FC. We had a 14-year-old Humphrey Oyirwoth as our goalkeeper.

After elimination, I started thinking of a club that could use him in the 2019-20 FJL to gain experience and develop into a better goalkeeper.

I thought of taking him to KCCA FC Junior team but while having a conversation with his older brother something crossed my mind, should Humphrey go to a team that completely dominates opponents?

Does a goalkeeper develop without being worked in a football match?

If he ever makes it past junior age bracket, will KCCA FC have a player development plan for him to go out on loan and acquire experience?

I didn’t think it would develop him.

I decided to look for a club that will be FJL underdogs because Humphrey needs to be placed in the line of fire. I need him playing against KCCA JT, Vipers JT, Onduparaka JT, and the other good teams.

The added advantage is that unlike the 2015-16 FJL season, these days FJL has three rounds which would mean Humphrey playing against KCCA JT three times. Wow!!!

The challenge I have with finding an FJL team for Humphrey is that I don’t know any team or coach in Uganda that would place developing a player ahead of matchday results in underage football.

I would have used him at Maroons JT but I was dismissed as Maroons JT coach after a 10-0 (you read that right ten-zero) loss to Onduparaka JT in February 2018.

I am still not bothered about that result but If you know any coach in Uganda that would place a player’s development ahead of a match day result in FJL, please let me know because I am bothered about Humphrey’s development.

Disclaimer: The writer has nothing against coaches or administrators in Ugandan football that place winning above anything else.

Bio banding would help Ugandan footballers.

Bio banding is grouping young players of the same maturation and growth attributes rather than grouping them according to chronological age like using U15, U17.

On average, children start puberty aged 12. During puberty, they go through a growth spurt stage but all this happens at different times for each individual depending on factors that range from quality of nutrition, gender, genes, physical activities e.t.c it’s possible to find two 14-year-olds with very contrasting maturation and growth attributes like height.

POPULARISING BIO BANDING IN FOOTBALL
Bio banding is thought to have been popularized by the Southampton FC academy in England.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was part of Southampton’s U14’s and was struggling to keep up with his peers on the field because his slow growth rate made it easy for him to easily get knocked off the ball.

The club thought of releasing him but James Bunce the head of athletic performance decided to keep him at the club.

James Bunce’s observation was that Oxlade-Chamberlain was very good at using the ball but playing with peers that were bigger, stronger and faster became harder for him which resulted in lower confidence and poor performance.

The Ox as he is known was kept in the U-14’s instead of promoting him to the U16’s to continue his football development in an environment that was suitable for him growth-wise.

By the age of 16, he had gone through his own growth spurt and developed into perhaps the best player of his age category in the whole of England.

The Ox made his senior debut for Southampton at the aged 16 and 199 days. Arsenal paid Southampton 15 million pounds for the then 17-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain in 2011 then later got paid more when he joined Liverpool for 35 million pounds.

Bar injury, he is one of England’s most influential players at the moment.

BACK TO UGANDA

When the Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA) introduced the FUFA Juniors’ League (FJL) in the 2015-16 season.

It meant that young players were going to get competitive football to help them develop.

In the 2017-18 FJL (U18) season, I was coaching Maroons Junior Team when we decided to register Tony Opio.

He was making 16 years of age in October 2017 but was very small for his age with very good football potential.

During the season, we restricted him to playing 45 minutes per match so that he could enjoy the experience of playing in the league.

I was able to explain to him why I needed to protect him from playing a full match against opponents that were bigger than him because the frustration of not playing well would affect him negatively.

2018-19 FJL season was upgraded to U-19 although I wasn’t his coach anymore I kept following Tony.

He was still the same size and played some matches.

Tony will be making 18 years of age in October 2019 but FJL will return to U-17 for the 2019-20 season which means that Tony will be ineligible to play.

“For a player of his size, FUFA’s competitions committee should consider him playing with the U-17’s because he would fit in. It would help him to have more time on the pitch to develop his talent.”

I know FJL has age cheating challenges but in this case, Tony is already registered and known, Maroons JT also has a very good record of not having age cheats (at least when I coached them).

For a player that was almost considered for selection when the U-17 national team was assembling to start preparations for AFCON U-17 qualifiers, he deserves a bio banding experience to help him develop his talent.

Tony is one in a million of Ugandan players that are struggling with the slow growth rate.

If he’s already been registered in a previous season and there’s a reason to believe he can improve by playing with players of his current physical attributes, then perhaps bio banding would save some of the lost talents in Ugandan football.

Disclaimer: The writer has no disclaimers at the moment.