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Exclusive interview with Uganda Cranes coach McKinstry on the forthcoming international break

H.E YK Museveni granted sports activities the green light to resume in his address to the nation on Sunday and definitely the Uganda Cranes head coach Johnathan McKinstry is not resting on his laurels as the team begins preparations for the forthcoming International break 5th-13th October 2020 and 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier double header against South Sudan in November.

Below is an excerpt from the exclusive interview with coach McKinstry about his plans

On a personal level, how have you been able to go through the lockdown period?

In the last couple of months, myself and the coaching team, we have really dug deep in terms of the game module, looked into what we want to do for the team, every position and the players we have now but also the players for the next few years. That sort of conveyor belt of talent, who we expect to step up in the near future. Therefore, in the last months, we have been able to put in place some good plans. Whereas it’s been a frustrating period for most of the people but ultimately, we have been able to use it effectively and we are better prepared than before.

There is buzz from the public that the lockdown was lifted and football back, how pleased are you?

We were all pleased, not just me but everyone here at FUFA and the wider sports community. We have been eager to get back to the field of play but I think it poses a big challenge for us coaches on how we can rearrange the player, trying to get back to the top in terms of fitness and performance.

A section of Uganda Cranes fans attending a game before lockdown.

The green light to sports means a busy schedule ahead for Uganda Cranes in the forthcoming games. How have you prepared for this?

CAF announced that in November we will be returning to competitive action in terms of playing our Africa Cup of Nation qualifiers against South Sudan, rescheduled from March as the COVID-19 Pandemic escalated around the world.

Uganda Cranes coach Johnathan McKinstry and assistant coach Abdallah Mubiru

With that in mind, obviously we have engaged the Government, FUFA and we are pleased to announce a training camp in Dubai in early October.

Why a training camp in Dubai?

We believe that taking the team to Dubai for nine days helps us to achieve a lot of things. We get quality time with the players in class and on grounds which you wouldn’t get before.

The Uganda Cranes go through the paces during a training session (File Photo).

Logistically, most of our players are playing across 17 different countries and with restrictions of travel, it would be easy for them to get to Dubai where most of the restrictions have been lifted. It is not straight forward as well but it gives 80% of our players chance and will be available. It’s been a long time since we last played in November last year and obviously, the camp is timely.

Why choose a camp over friendlies games during the International break?

When you look back at the last time we played in November last year against Burkina Faso and Malawi, we only had three training sessions coupled with travelling and playing two games in a space of four days. But here is an opportunity where we think of a huge value of getting to know ourselves better, getting some quality training sessions and the game plan. Definitely, we are looking at an option of a friendly game in Dubai with one of the clubs in the Arab Leagues but that will be confirmed at the end of this week.

How will the composition of the team to be summoned look?

We have already highlighted the travel restrictions in place and four of our foreign based players are likely not to join us. The squad will be 70% composed of foreign based players with the rest coming from the local league. But like I said, with travel restrictions when we fail to get some, there must be other options especially from our league. Equally, this in the long run will definitely help our local legion as we plan for CHAN.

What is the fate of some of the new players you had summoned prior to the lockdown?

Definitely, we still have them in our considerations and it will depend on their availability. But the situation in March is not the situation now. For example, we did not call Farouk Miya in March because he was out injured but he came back strong and ended the season well with his club in Turkey and he has also started the new season with them. You look at players like Derrick Nsibambi in Egypt. It is very important that they are getting playing time week in week out.

You should be impressed that a number of players in foreign leagues are commanding playing time at their respective clubs.

Faruku Miya beats Malawi’s Hellings Mhango Gabadinho and Gomezgani Chirwa

We always tell our players that when they go outside, they have gone to compete at the highest level. Obviously, it takes time to settle in a new environment like it was the case with Miya in Belgium but he showed commitment and is now doing well. When you look at 10 years ago, we only had a few players commanding playing time but that has over the years changed and it is very pleasing that we see many of them playing regularly.

South Sudan is our next opponent and a potential banana skin for us. How are you preparing for them?

South Sudan is a team that we need to look at carefully. It is not a matter of looking at the record books and think it’s a foregone conclusion. They have improved in the last years and whereas they lost to Burkina Faso and Malawi, they only lost 1-0 in both games. They are going to be tough, they are our opponents and have close connections here with some of their players born in Uganda and playing in the Uganda Premier League. However, we shall go into the games against them with full commitment and whoever we field shall be up to the task.

How important will it be for Uganda Cranes to secure maximum points off South Sudan and all but guarantee their place at 2021 AFCON?

It’s all about qualifying and the fact that we have qualified for the last two editions, obviously the minimum should be getting back and go a step better. We definitely have the chance to qualify as soon as we can but we will not take things for granted.