Sports Archives -2016: Coach Alex Isabirye reveals why he exited BUL FC

The biggest problem I got at BUL was that there was no boundary or who was responsible for what. In fact it was like people gave me the job when they didn’t want to. For instance, we agreed when I was leaving URA to go and join them but to my surprise, I found when they had as well invited Frank Anyau. Although I was chosen over Anyau, they didn’t allow me to do my work as a coach - Alex Isabirye in 2016.

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Alex Isabirye (standing) has returned to Bul Football Club after leaving in 2016|BUL FC Media.

Alex Musongola “Trezguet” Isabirye Thursday, 29th April 2021 returned to BUL as interim coach since leaving the the Jinja based side in 2016.

The Ugandan former international’s task is to steer the club through the last part of the 2020-2021 campaign.

The soft spoken CAF ‘A’ coach replaces Arthur Kyesimira whose two year contract was unceremoniously cut short at the end of April for what the club authorities referred to as poor performance.

Upon his second stint at BUL, Isabirye is required to restore sanity in the locker room, something that sources pivy to club information say his predicesor had failed to do.

Isabirye’s departure from BUL was marred by controversy. He resigned the job citing poor working relationship with his then bosses.

The resignation followed a forced leave handed to him by the club administration under unclear circumstances.

Isabirye and Fufa president Moses Magogo|File/Courtesy.

This also occurred just weeks after Isabirye had broken his leg in February, 2016 during a CAF ‘A’ coaching course at the FUFA technical centre in Njeru.

To ascertain what exactly had led to the breakup of a two working contract between the club and ALEX ISABIRYE (AI), VICENT KAKOOZA (VK) then sought out the coach’s response.

In our first episode of the “Sports Archives,” we re-live his views in the following Question and Answer (Q&A) interview.

VK: Who inspired you to venture into football coaching?

AI: My coaching journey started when I was playing in Bangladesh.

When I suffered a knee injury, my coach got impressed with the kind of technical 
advice I used to give him as the team was in training and at times on match 
days. So, he recommended that I enroll for a beginners coaching course.

But because I was still actively involved in playing as well as language barrier, I didn’t go far with the course.
However, when I returned to Uganda, Coach Moses Basena realized I had a talent in coaching and he encouraged me to take it on.

VK: History shows you have coached many teams in a short period of time, 
what could be the cause of that?

Isabirye at Horsed FC in Somalia,one of the various clubs he has handled in quite a short period of time|Courtesy.

AI: I think the reason as to why our football failed to go to the next level is that our administrators have failed to appreciate the difference between technical and administrative matters.

For example, if I’m your boss and I give you the responsibility of coaching my team, it means that all technical powers are in your hands.
Then it would be absurd to start giving you orders on who should or shouldn’t play.

VK: So, does it mean that for all the teams you have worked with the administration has been interfering with your technical authority?

AI: No, not necessarily. At SC Victoria University, our disagreement was basically the fact that the administration wanted to alter players’ contracts in the middle of the season without even dialogue with concerned parties. So as a person who knew how these players always complained about various things, I couldn’t sit back and watch them do unprofessional things.

VK: Therefore, apart from SCVU, should we say that you left the other clubs due to interference?

AI: Not really. The reason why I left URA for instance, was never one of the above. URA is my team which nurtured me and it seems they had refused to accept that I had grown up. They always saw me in that picture of a young Alex Isabirye. In addition to that, I had won everything local and my challenge then was winning on the continent but as a club, we couldn’t get players who were good enough to compete at that level and yet even those we could get, it could be hard  for us to hold on to them.

VK: It is alleged that you drop players reportedly for poor performance but the moment you cross over to another side you immediately re-sign them, why is it so?

Isabirye at Kyetume in 2021. He left unceremoniously. Courtesy Photo.

AI: It is not true. The players I have moved along with when I’m changing a club are Augustine Nsumba, Derrick Walulya, Fred Agandu and Godfrey Buni.  Nsumba left URA just after I had brought on Yasser Mugerwa may be for fear of competition. He even asked for his release letter himself. Walulya left URA when I had already left.  In fact, he was dropped by Coach Fred Nkata. Then, Buni spent almost a season when The Saints had refused to officially release him. They only released him to URA towards the end of the season but unfortunately when I left, URA dropped him. 

But because I knew how good he was and how much time I had spent on him during the period he was at URA without playing, I recruited him.  

For Agandu’s case, I left SCVU when he was playing. So, I brought Walulya and Nsumba when actually they weren’t in a club I had just left. It was only Buni who followed me from URA and on top of that, none of those players got sign- on fees. They all came to play for a salary.

VK: Talking about sign on fee and salaries, it is also alleged that when you bring in players to the clubs you are coaching, you ask for a portion of their sign-on fees!

AI:  Let me tell you one shocking truth, I don’t negotiate with players. If you want to confirm, you can ask URA or even SCVU because these are the clubs I have worked with. For example, URA has a committee which handles transfers and its chairman is Mr. Kibumba. In fact when I was still at the club, all the players whom we recruited were on my recommendations but surprisingly, until now I don’t know how much exchanged hands. Problem is that people mistake my parental friendship with my players to something else which is unfortunate.

VK:  Still on the money issues, it is said that national team coaches even during your time of playing used to get money from players in order to summon and give them playing time, how true is that?

AI: It is good that you have brought up that thing because it has reminded me of what people used to talk about the late Coach Paul Edwin Hasule whenever he left me out of the team especially during away matches. The media used to say that he had asked for money from me and I refused which wasn’t true. As a player, I had a problem when it came to defending despite doing well in attack. During that time, we had a committee headed by Captain Mike Mukula and I was once individually taken to Egypt when Hasule and the rest of the team had left. Because the coach didn’t want to have arguments with the committee, he named in the lineup against Egypt and unfortunately for him, I scored. So everybody started pointing fingers saying it was because of money issues that he had not taken me to Cairo which was very wrong. Therefore, you should know that coaches select players basing on their abilities and the tactics to be employed on a given day.

VK: So according to you, no coach has ever asked a player for money before naming him in a squad or team?

AI:  that is false because what I know the only money a coach can get from a player’s sale should be legally indicated in the contract.

VK: You resigned your BUL FC job, what was the problem?

Alex Isabirye (left) being unveiled at BUL for his first stint at the club|File/David Isabirye.

AI:  The biggest problem I got at BUL was that there was no boundary or who was responsible for what. In fact it was like people gave me the job when they didn’t want to.  For instance, we agreed when I was leaving URA to go and join them but to my surprise, I found when they had as well invited Frank Anyau. Although I was chosen over Anyau, they didn’t allow me to do my work as a coach.

But still, it perturbed me again to see the same person Anyau being named coach of the club as soon as I left. So when you look at the hardship I have been going through and you relate it with what happened when I was joining the club and then what transpired after, you may be tempted to think that their motive was to see me leaving the club.

VK:  So in simple terms, do you think there was an external force which led to the poor working environment you have been through?

AI:  May be, because first ask yourself, when I joined BUL, it had finished fifth in the previous season. However, when you looked at the point difference between league winners and them, it was about twenty. But in my case, I finished sixth and winners KCCA bettered me by ten points in addition to tying with URA who finished fifth on 47 pints.

Secondly, BUL has been buying players in a region of six to ten million Uganda shillings in cash but when I joined them, I had to use players who only came to earn a salary. But all in all, I left because I realized I could not get the authority I deserved.

For example management has been sacking players without my consent. I want to be a coach who has authority on my team. Like if I told a player to sit out of a training session because he missed the previous one without substantive reasons and to my utter shock I find him training the following day because someone else has ordered him to return without even a written document, all players will start behaving the same way and thus, I will have no respect in the eyes of my players.

VK: Specifically, who has been eluding your authority at the club?

AI:  Hahaha, I won’t mention name’s here but just know it was the executive.

VK: Why do you blame BUL for unveiling Anyau the moment you left when actually kirinya Jinja SS did the same with you?

AI:  BUL trains at Jinja S.S and I requested for the training ground personally as an old boy of the school.  In fact when Kirinya-Jinja S.S was in FUFA Big League, I used to sit with their coaching team and we could exchange some ideas. And to tell you the truth, there was no negotiation between me and Mrs. Nyago, the head teacher. She only called to tell me to come and work the following day.

VK: Being an old boy of the school, don’t you think the head teacher may treat you the same way URA treated you?

AI: It is possible but difficult. First of all, this is a school we are talking about. When a head teacher gives a teacher a job, he/she only questions when students have failed exams. And I know the person who gave me the job trusts me and knows what I can do.

If there is a problem, I know she will invite me for explanation but not this business of passing orders on who should or shouldn’t play.

VK: Back to BUL, it has been said that some of your assistants at the club are the ones who went behind your back and complained to the management that you were fond of fielding players who were unfit because you happened to share drinks with such players when you met in bars!

AI:  What I think is that when you are my assistant, your role is to advise me. So, if you fail to advise and opt for reporting me to the management then that is a mistake. Secondly I have never sat with any of my players in a bar in all the time I have spent as a coach. Like I told you, people mistake the way I handle my players for something else.

My policy is that I have to know where my players sleep; I have to know their girl friends and some of their relatives. If I don’t allow my players to take sodas, how can I allow them to drink alcohol? That is impossible because I have never sat together with a player to drink.

But the good thing is that a person who has been taking players to bars quit and I hope the problem was solved. 

 What you need to know about Alex Isabirye:

He was born at block 14 in Walukuba, Jinja district to Amos Siraje Isabirye ‘Musongola’ (late) and Danata Nansubuga. He is the last born of fourteen.

He started his football career as a pupil at Iganga Boys’ Primary School in 1984 and was named the school and district team captain. He was also training with Walukuba boys, a village soccer academy with the likes of Ali Lukungu and Ronald Mugabi.

He proceeded to Aldinah FC from where he was scouted by Polly Ouma who took him to Nile FC.

At Nile, Isabirye turned into one of the best players and was called to The Uganda Kobs (under 23) team that finished fourth at the 1999 All-Africa Games in Johannesburg, South Africa. He made two appearances against Mali and South Africa.

 He later joined UMEME, Express, SCOUL and SC Villa.

 During the 2001 CECAFA Kagame Cup, Isabirye finished the tournament as top scorer.

In 2005, Isabirye joined Bangladesh side Lamberger FC where he spent two seasons before returning home due to a persistent knee injury. However, after resting for close to a year, the injury healed off and he joined URA in 2009 where he won the league under Coach Moses Basena.  He could later in 2010 retire and join the technical bench and served under Basena for three months before finally taking over as the head coach following the former’s departure.

Isabirye’s coaching journey: 

2011/12 – Won the league with URA.

2012/13- Won Uganda Cup with URA.

2013/14- Won Uganda Cup with SCVU.

2014/15- Finished 4th with URA.

2015/16- Finished 6th with BUL. 

2016/17- Coached at the Kirinnya-Jinja SS.[now Busoga United].

He has also worked with Nyamityobora, Kyetume (two stints), Soana (now Tooro United), Somalia premier side Horseed, Entebbe and the Buganda Province team in the FUFA Drum tournament.

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