Over the years, it has not been an easy task for a football club to make a direct return to the top flight a season after relegation as the lower league competition has proved so difficult to maneuver through considering the challenges there in.
However, Mbarara City became one of the few clubs locally, to have achieved the fit, following their return to the top flight, having been relegated to the second-tier league a season ago.
At the climax of the hotly contested FUFA Big League 2022/2023 season with match day 30 last week, the Ankole Lions that had braved their way through an entirely tough competition for the three promotion slots, had already made it through with a game to spare and were title contenders against eventual winners Kitara FC.
Five major reasons can explain the magnificent return to the top flight, the level they had played in for the longest of seasons (6) than any other club from the Western region.
Maintaining coach Sadiq Ssempigi at the helm
Maintaining Sadiq Ssempigi as coach of the club throughout the entire season played an important role in the team’s progression, from a relegated side that has lost almost an entire first-team players after going down, to a side aiming at getting back to the top.
Ssempigi had worked under celebrated Livingstone Mbabazi at the then vibrant league debutantes that at one time claimed a grab of the coveted league title.
This means he had mastered all the science of the Ankole Lions both on and off the field, which he leaned on to help the team back to the top.
Ssempigi was returning to Mbarara City for a 4th stint after the departure of Hussein Mbalangu and saw the side fall short of competition at the top to eventual relegation.
Even when he had issues over payments in the middle of the season, the club management sorted his issue and as a committed commander, Ssempigi stayed to see his mission accomplished. ;
Players played a ‘Loyal servant’ role at the club
When Mbarara City was relegated at the end of the 2021-2022 league season to the second tier league, almost the entire first 11 left the club because either their contracts had run out or did not feel suited for them to play at the lower level.
It's only the loyal servants Karim Ramathan, Solomon Okwalinga, Jude Ssemugabi, Seiri Arigumaho, Henry Kitegenyi, Henry Musisi, Ivan Otude, Ronald Edwok, and Saddat Nsubuga that stayed at Kakyeka.
The management went into the market and got the services of Wycliff Mori keeper, Lawrence Nduga, Methodius Junju, Isaac Kiiza, Deo Ntegyerize, Godgrey Sunday, Hamza Mumbere, Johnny Mugweri, Brain Mugisha, Jamir Kisitu Nvure, Hakim Nsamba, Hakim Magombe, Med Kyeyune, Shaban Waswa, Brian Oyuka, Ibrahim Thembo, Isaac Kwizera, and Daniel Opio.
But even then, the newly joined players kept their loyalty to the club and played to make history that making ends meet.
In fact in the middle of the season, there was a reported player strike over unpaid wages and sign-on fees, which led to some suspensions and cautions but the players still quickly regrouped to mean business.
This impasse happened days before the crucial home game against Kitara FC, which eventually Mbarara City won 1-0 that boosted their chances of return.
One should have noticed how the players lifted high coach Ssempigi after the win, an indication that something that had not been going well in camp, was amicably settled.
Striker Henry Kitegenyi had been acquired a season before the side’s relegation and the striker decided to stay at Kakyeka even when the team was relegated to the lower league.
The talisman, who eventually finished joint top scorer with Booma’s Denis Omedi at 22 goals, scored crucial goals for the club to stay in contention for promotion.
Staying Jude Ssemugabi and captain Solomon Okwalinga sat almost the entire season injured but the club management made wise decisions in recruitment.
The capture of goalkeeper Wycliffe Mori from Catda FC a Kampala region outfit, defenders Hakim Magombe (Onduparaka) and Johnny Mugweri (Kajjansi United), and midfielders Jamir Kisitu (Bright Stars) and Ibrahim Thembo from Arua Hills constituted the most crucial outing in the player market.
The five teamed up well with the remaining loyal guards and formed a formidable Mbarara City side that effectively competed in a stiff lower-league campaign.
Picking crucial points from contenders
Mbarara City ensured they posted good results against the promotion contenders that came out to be eventual champions Kitara FC, third finishers, and promoted National Enterprise Corporation (NEC) and unlucky Police FC.
The Ankole Lions never lost to the three opponents home and away they picked 4 points from Kitara and 2 from each of Police and NEC as all their games ended in draws.
And these coupled with a smart defense, fans’ support, and the commitment by the team management, will live to tell the true story and how long Mbarara City lasts in the new challenge of the top flight, depending on how management plans it from now.Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info). 2023-06-01T06:10:56Z dg43tfdfdgfd