Sula Matovu: Let’s not kill a talent with typical redundant criticism

Ugandans love it. With real passion. We love to criticise anything and everything. We love to rebuke. It’s our favourite pass-time. We love to see things in a negative way. There’s no single known reward in spending our time dismissing the little good in our midst, but tell that to no one. We are a funny, strange lot.

Still, I will take it upon myself to criticise Ugandans who love to criticise nearly everything theirs. You could say I am doing it because I’m Ugandan. Perhaps. An inquiry into our penchant for criticism ought to be commissioned to explain why we love doing it.

One of the brightest young footballers in the country is Nalubaale midfielder Sula ‘Malouda’ Matovu. The boy is good. He possesses great technique, superb control and burning pace. And he can pack a belter too in that left boot. He is, in every sense, a full back’s nightmare. He inflicted URA’s first defeat of the season with a gloriously struck winner in the second game of the season at Nakivubo stadium. Matovu has had a terrific first season, scoring a couple of goals on his first top flight season and netting on his international debut for the Cranes, stuff of dreams indeed.

But no, that is not how others see it. Apparently, he has a poor right foot. Apparently he is too selfish, suffers from poor decision making and can be erratic when shooting at goal. We can go on and on and still not exhaust what they say of Matovu’s weaknesses.

It’s that typical redundant criticism that makes us the average lot we are in the continental game. We continue doing nothing else but rip apart the little good we have. Matovu is, and will never be, Lionel Messi. But no, the fans in the comfort of the kirussia view it differently. They want him to play like Messi. If he doesn’t – and he obviously won’t, he qualifies to be a load of rubbish.

Thankfully the national team has a coach who is not swayed by fan/pub talk. Bobby Williamson can see qualities in the player that are vital to the aspirations of his national team set up. More than anyone, Williamson has frequently been disappointed by Matovu’s woeful crossing and dodgy decision making. But Williamson – thank God he is Scot and not Ugandan – sees the brighter side and bigger picture.

He can see the pace and power that no opposing coach would love his full back to face. Williamson is aware Matovu is the kind of player who listens and has what it takes to become better. But crucially, he owns qualities that can’t be taught. And that is why the Scot admires the player and Ugandans see it the other way.

There is no soccer school that teaches pace. Not anywhere in the world. Not in Brazil. You either have pace or not. It is how a player blends that pace with vision and awareness that makes him more devastating.

Matovu is far from the finished article and no one knows that better than Nalubaale coach Mujib Kasule. “The boy is improving by the day,” says Kasule. “He is working hard on the training ground to improve all his weak points. He knows them but we all know what a dangerous player he is for opponents.”

Williamson knows it too well similarly.

That’s all that matters at the end of the day. Matovu’s career is currently being shaped by the two men tracking and handling his progress, Kasule and Williamson. The player is mentally strong to be put down by what fans think of him. Under the useful lecture programmes regularly held at the club’s base in Namugongo, the player has grown to become immune to criticism.

Maybe we needn’t look further to understand why the country so despises its national team. Where we are supposed to offer support to our players in time of hardship, we choose the easiest option of cursing how inept they are. It – the criticism – doesn’t improve us a great deal. But that hasn’t stopped us from doing it.

We keep on wondering why we were cursed as a nation as we count thirty second year without qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations. We blame the soccer administration, the government, the soccer politics and so forth. We conveniently exonerate ourselves yet our role in this qualification hoodoo is as pronounced as any. Do we ever think through ourselves?

The Matovu scenario is representative of our tendencies. But by now, the player at least will have discovered that admonishment comes with the territory. That will help him pay a deaf ear to the nonsense that is said of him time and again.

After criticising Ugandans for their incessant criticism of everything theirs, I can’t but expect them to criticise me for this blog – typical of our culture.