The Serbian wolf also known as the Gray or Timber wolf is the largest of the canid family. With powerful teeth, this largely endangered species is a fierce hunter and has endured the test of time. Far across in Africa this wolf is unheard of and for football nations hungry and hunting for long lost glory, great indigenous fierce coaches are indeed an endangered species.
A self-declared Serbian wolf finally set foot in Africa for the very first time in 2001 as a young 32 year old. Charged with restoring the mighty SC Villa’s glory days, over the next three years he won three consecutive league titles including a domestic double in season one and securing the CECAFA club gong that had eluded Uganda’s most successful club over a 17 year period. Milutin Sredejovich later nicknamed “Micho” followed on from his SC Villa success, traversing the continent with good measure of success, taking his talents to St. George, Orlando Pirates and the Zambian and Rwanda national teams amongst several other coaching stints, before eventually, in 2013, landing the top job of attempting to qualify the Uganda Cranes for their first ever Africa Cup of Nations participation in almost four decades, a task he accomplished 3 years later, ensuring the Cranes would be part of the cream at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon for the first time in 39 years.
His success at this feat earned him a second stint at South African giants Orlando Pirates having had the job in 2006-2007 with limited success. Not afraid to take a second bite at a different cherry, he returned for another dance, with the Uganda Cranes in 2021, with the Serbian managing 7 wins, 5 draws and 5 losses this time round, producing a 41% win record. His most recent predecessor Jonathan McKinstry had managed a 67% win record, claiming 12 wins, 3 draws and 3 losses and grabbing a record 15th CECAFA crown along the way and sat only two points away from qualification for AFCON 2021 before the axe fell. Important to note he had already secured a 2-0 win over Malawi and a goalless draw against Burkina Faso, the two teams he was set to face.
Micho, having previously walked away from the job on his own terms after ending Uganda’s barren qualification run, finally lost a war he had bravely fought, and seemingly entrenched himself, and parted ways with the Uganda Cranes having failed to qualify the team for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament slated for 13th January to 11th February 2024 in Ivory Coast.
I interviewed the Serbian on several occasions and one thing that often stood out was his determination to win at all costs. Style was not overly important, but rather substance. To many, myself included, he was a pragmatic coach whose end justified the means and Uganda’s qualification to the 2017 continental showpiece was testament to that. To be fair, he hardly had the technical, infrastructural or even ideal financial support to perhaps accomplish his vision second time round.
The Federation of Uganda Football Association (FUFA) leadership in my eyes found the perfect scapegoat who provided the ideal shield. In their own style, the FUFA leadership has often relied on the ends to justify the means and qualification to two consecutive editions of the Africa Cup of Nations in 2017 and 2019, the U20 sides successful run at the U20 Africa Cup of Nations in 2021, three ideal scenarios to support their cause and perhaps their crowning moments. We were all quick to applaud these achievements, is it time to now demand for accountability since we have now gone two consecutive qualification campaigns with no end product, and I might add under three different coaches?
Abdallah Mubiru was placed in temporary charge after Jonathan McKinstry was ill-advisedly sent on gardening leave right in the heat of the qualification campaign. The Cranes attempted a reboot, with FUFA satisfying fans and media baying for blood by hiring a local coach and playing to the gallery. Once that campaign was done and dusted, they opted to return the Serbian who was tried and tested, but with no long term strategy in place as FUFA made it clear on his re-appointment that the 2026 World Cup tournament to be hosted by USA, Canada and Mexico was the target, giving him a blanket immunity of five years.
The Uganda Cranes have been used as the saving grace by FUFA for so long, distracting both the media and fans with the coaching revolving door. Digging deeper you unmask a local national football league that has not been ranked on the continent for three years running, a league that has only produced two club sides qualifying for the CAF Champions’ League group stages, a national team that is steadily plummeting towards dropping out of the top 100 in the world and no FIFA accredited stadium to host the national team home games.
There have been scattered achievements such as the Women’s Super League and the successful transition of former national U20 players such as Aziz Kayondo, Kenneth Ssemakula, Gavin Kizito, Bobosi Byaruhanga and Richard Basangwa into the senior set up. But the corresponding question is what has now befallen the underage sides after the transition of these selected few?
At what point do the authorities that appoint the sacked managers step forward and take responsibility? Perhaps it might be time for a new direction and a bunch of new fellows to steer our football ship in a different direction. Thank you Micho for your services and good luck on your next journey.