Uganda woke up to news of one of the country’s greatest football sons, Willy Kyambadde’s passing on Monday morning.
It is said Kyambadde slid and fell to his death at his home in Kawempe, a Kampala suburb, where his early football days could be traced at the renowned Kawempe Youth Football Association (Kayofa). He died aged 44.
Kyambadde, whose left foot was arguably the best in the country in the 90s, is remembered for his exploits at KCC (now KCCA), Express, Uganda Cranes and a memorable stint in Vietnam.
Despite his riches in talent, he had his flaws, including alcohol addiction, which defined a significant part of his life until he passed on this week.
He also came off as one with self-esteem issues in his later life and never got around without a head sock that touched his eyebrows.
“Kyambadde hardly looked up to respond to a greeting and perhaps on no occasion did he seem to enjoy the attention that football brought him,” wrote Ismail Dhakaba Kigongo, the Nation Media Group Uganda (NMGU) Sports Editor, in his Daily Monitor eulogy on Tuesday.
With the help of former KCCA and Uganda Cranes teammate Jackson Mayanja and ex-Crested Cranes captain and coach Majidah Nantanda, Kyambadde spent at least three months in rehabilitation.
There is not much footage of Kyambadde playing but NTV Uganda did an interview of him after completing his rehabilitation and he told the scope of the addiction.
“The biggest challenge for us footballers is we never seem to think about life after football,” Kyambadde told NTV earlier this year.
“Some of us didn’t get a good education and a time comes when you have to fend for your family yet you have no job
“We depended on football a lot. You cannot get an office job so you have to stick around football. You get to a point when you have nothing to do which gives you a lot of time to waste,” he added.
Kyambadde’s sad tale is a reminder of the never ending need to help footballers and our sports stars beyond their active days.
In his glorious footballing days, Kyambadde was a darling of everyone and they had good reasons to love him.
The talented midfielder won league titles with Express in 1995 and 1996 under coach Jimmy Muguwa Jimmy Muguwa (RIP) and Dragan Popadic respectively, as well as the Uganda Cup (1995)
He was also part of the Express team that reached the semifinals of the Africa Club Champions’ Cup, losing to eventual champions Orlando Pirates.
Thereafter, he left Express for KCCA but later returned to the former. But even with struggles with alcohol, Kyambadde still had it in him to guide Express to two more Uganda Cup titles in 2001 and 2003.
He then moved to Vietnam, playing for several clubs there. While there, he mesmerised the Vietnamese so much they named him ‘The Black Maradona’.
Kyambadde won the league title again with KCCA in 2007/8 as a bit-part player upon his return from Vietnam.
Kyambadde is one of the stars that honed their skills from the football factory that was Naggalama Islamic Institute.
And he grew up in a generation littered with top class talent including Uganda Cranes stars like Ibra Sekagya, Baker Mbowa, Abubaker Tabula, Mohammad Byansi, Hussein Ssali and the late Wilson Ggayi among others.
Of the lot, he was perhaps the most talented. His club football started at Arua Young, with KCCA, Express, URA, Proline and Bright Stars soon added to his CV.
“If you saw him play, he would inspire you to play the game as well, he made it look easy,” Mujib Kasule, a former teammate at KCCA and Proline director, is quoted by the Daily Monitor, “He would take on an entire 11 of your team!”
Kyambadde briefly converted to Islam, changing his name to Jamil, in what he reportedly believed would help tame his drinking problem.
The last time Kyambadde played for Uganda Cranes, he was clearly out of shape and overweight. He lasted only 45 minutes and was replaced by Tony Ojara at half time.
That was against Ghana in the 2006 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign.
But six years prior to that poor showing, Kyambadde starred in Uganda’s 5-0 pummelling of Rwanda at Nakivubo in 2000 Afcon qualifiers.
He was at the centre of everything, building up Magid Musisi’s hattrick and the other goals from Philip Obwiny and Joseph Mutyaba.
Then in 1999, Kyambadde was again the engine as the national U23 team, the Kobs, reached the semifinals of the All Africa Games in South Africa.
His only goal for the Cranes, a masterpiece where he dummied to the ground the entire opponents backline before lofting the ball to the net, came in the 2000 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup at home.
Back then, Uganda fielded two teams – A and B – with both reaching the final. Kyambadde’s A team took the day. Rest In Peace!
WILLY KYAMBADDE AT A GLANCE
Local clubs: Arua Young, KCCA, Express, URA, Proline, Bright Stars
Clubs in Vietnam: Tay Ninh, Long An, Hai Phong, Becamex Binh Duong
Titles: Two league titles and three Uganda Cups with Express. Also won a league title with KCCA
- Reached 1999 All Africa Games semi-finals with Uganda Kobs
- Part of the Express team that reached the semifinals of the Africa Club Champions’ Cup, losing to eventual champions Orlando Pirates
- Played for Uganda Cranes between 1998 and 2004