KAMPALA. This week, six-time league champions Express hired experienced tactician George ‘Best’ Nsimbe as the club’s technical director in a bid to stave off the relegation monster.
The appointment represents a growing number of similarities with the side that found itself in a similar situation 11 years ago.
Express are currently among the bottom three teams in the Azam Uganda Premier League with nine games left to the end of the season.
While Shafik Bisaso retained the club head coaching role, Nsimbe’s presence makes him the fourth major addition to the club’s technical department that previously had Mathias Lule, Douglas Bamweyana as head coaches, earlier this season.
This is in addition to Edward Kalungi, Sam Kawalya and Hassan Mubiru, who took temporary charge of the games against Kirinya Jinja SS and Proline.
In 2007, the Express found themselves in the same kind of scenario going through the season with five coaches George Ssimwogerere, Kefa Kisala, Ibrahim Buwembo and Kenneth Lubogo before Sam Ssimbwa took over the reigns.
Then Express lay 14th in the 17-team league that saw the bottom four teams relegated to the lower division. Ssimbwa had four games to save the club’s season with league fixtures against URA, Simba, Masaka LC and an away game against KCCA (then KCC) and were also still in Uganda Cup contention. He inherited a team that included the veteran Badru Kiyega as well as budding youngsters Kassim Kasawuli and Hamza Ssemwogerere and the likes of Nicholas Kabali, and Abel Dhaira (RIP).
2007 architects on survival
“We needed about four points from our last four games as well as the Uganda Cup competition. And with most senior players having left at the start of the season we suddenly had to shoulder responsibility,” stated Kasawuli who was completing his education at Makerere University at the time.
First choice strikers Hassan Mubiru and Tony Odur had departed for Denmark while the constant changing of coaches did not help matters either.
Kasawuli though scored in Ssimbwa’s first league game in charge, a screamer that sealed a 1-0 victory over Simba after captain Kiyega missed a first half penalty. “I just told the boys that if we did not concede me and Hamza would always find a way of getting a goal and thank God the players believed in me,” he explained.
The skillful Ssemwogerere, who earned himself the moniker ‘Ugandan Messi’ would indeed score in the subsequent game, a finely executed free kick in the 1-0 win over KCCA to maintain the team’s league status.
“Ssimbwa gave us confidence and had a lot of belief in us. You had to play under instructions but he would also give you freedom to express yourself,” Ssemwogerere acknowledged.
Ssimbwa on the other hand faulted poor administration for the club’s woes at the time something that has also continued to affect the club.
“The players I found were really good but were not being fielded because of belief in witchcraft. They told me Dhaira brought bad omen whenever he was fielded but I insisted on using him and we later helped us win the Uganda Cup,” Ssimbwa explained. This season has seen former club chairperson Florence Nakiwala overthrown with her reign synonymous with poor players’ welfare.
Like the 2007 side, the current crop is also a mixture of youth and experience. Versatile duo Omar Hitimana and Ayub Kisalita have the know-how while exciting youngster Billy Nkata debuted in Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Soana.
The 2007 side benefited from a favourable fixture list with the Red Eagles not featuring for a month while their relegation rivals competed. A 1-0 defeat to SC Villa on June 4 was only followed by the game against Simba on July 02.
“What Ssimbwa did was to help have some of our games rescheduled because most of us were doing final exams at the time,” Kasawuli, who now works with Infectious Diseases Institute, added.
This season, Fufa president Moses Magogo revealed the club would be the first beneficiaries of the Fufa Clubs Pro Agenda, a programme designed by the federation to help its member clubs professionalise and commercialise as well.
Ssimbwa backs Nsimbe
Like in 2007, Express have again looked to a former KCCA stalwart to save them from the embarrassment of relegation.
Ssimbwa, who is now coach at Kenyan side Sofapaka has consequently backed his former KCCA teammate Nsimbe to succeed at the club.
“He will definitely be of help because these players have tendencies of undermining coaches but that can’t happen with him in charge because of his experience,” said Ssimbwa. With nine games left, including fixtures against Vipers, KCCA, URA, SC Villa, it remains to be seen if history will repeat itself.