What you need to know:
- His contract at the 2016 Caf Champions League champions goes on to 2023, and he remains one of the most important players at Masandawana.
- Even though the timing of his decision seemed sudden in the eyes of Ugandans, who hold him dearly, the 35-year-old believes it was the right call.
After over 80 Uganda Cranes caps, winning the best club accolades on the continent, and playing at two Africa Cup of Nations, Denis Onyango bowed out this week.
But you will continue seeing him in Mamelodi Sundowns colours in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) in South Africa and in continental club football.
His contract at the 2016 Caf Champions League champions goes on to 2023, and he remains one of the most important players at Masandawana.
In the aftermath of his retirement from the national team on Monday, Daily Monitor caught up with him.
The great captain spoke at length about his decision, career, relationship with Fufa, and president Moses Magogo's controversial statements about players among others.
Even though the timing of his decision seemed sudden in the eyes of Ugandans, who hold him dearly, the 35-year-old believes it was the right call.
Never mind the above coming less than than two months to the 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifiers.
"There is always going to be something," Onyango told this newspaper, "Be it World Cup qualifiers, Afcon or something else."
"I believe that it is the time to do so now, I also believe that our national team is well covered on the goalkeeping position, and it is time to give opportunity to the new guys."
Despite the recent toxicity between Fufa and Cranes players, current and old, which some Ugandans believe led to Onyango calling it a day, Africa's best says it was a decision well-thought out.
"Last year, Covid restrictions and new protocols took me away from my family for many days," he explained.
"And as you know my club, Mamelodi Sundowns, is competing on many fronts; league, cups, Caf Champion League.
"I just feel I need more rest between seasons and that is primarily the reason behind my decision to retire from the national team."
Q:How easy or difficult was the decision to retire from the Uganda Cranes?
A: It hasn’t been an easy decision to make, but after consultation with my family and my agent, I think I made right decision and I already informed all parties involved that I am retiring from the national team.
Q: Why now, especially with the World Cup qualifiers just under two months away?
A: There is always going to be something. Be it World Cup qualifiers, Afcon or something else. I believe that it is the time to do so now, I also believe that our national team is well covered on the goalkeeping position, and it is time to give opportunity to the new guys. Last year, Covid-19 restrictions and new protocols took me away from my family for many days. As you know my club, Mamelodi Sundowns, is competing on many fronts; league, cups, Caf Champion League. I just feel I need more rest between seasons and that is primarily the reason behind my decision to retire from the national team.
Q: Is it also true that you actually bid farewell to your colleagues after the Malawi game in Blantyre?
A: Yes. I informed them as well as the technical team about my intention. However, I would never bid any farewells to the national team; neither to any of my colleagues. I will remain a true sportsman, real friend and I will always stay in contact with them. Always available to provide advice and support. It's my country, my team and will always remain that way.
Q: What is your best memory of playing for, and captaining the national team?
A: From my first call up until now every single time I put that jersey on I felt pride and honour for representing my country. The time I put that armband on was special; the time when I contributed to the success of the team was special; the time when I hear the national anthem; the roar of the crowd when we play at home. I left with positives only as I know I gave my 100% every time I represented my country.
Q: Any regrets in national colours?
A: Absolutely none. As I said, I know I played for my country with pride and always giving 100%. Sometimes in sport we face better teams and defeat is part of the game, as long you give your all there are no regrets.
Q: Who is the toughest player, and team you've faced in Cranes colours?
A: Mohammed Salah and Egypt. Benin was also tough.
Q: Can this decision be reversed if you got a one-on-one with the Fufa president, Moses Magogo?
A: No, Engineer Magogo and Fufa have nothing to do with my decision.
Q: How is your relationship with the Fufa president?
A: I am a player, I was the team captain, he is the president. We interacted when and if necessary. Like every relationship we had our ups and downs, but in general we succeeded in some aspects, maybe could do better in others, but overall we created a good working environment.
Q: What is your opinion on how Fufa treated coach Johnny McKinstry?
A: I am a player, appointment of the coach and handling of the coach issue is a job of the federation. I am not aware of details so I can’t comment on that.
Q: Now, there is an audio doing rounds of you calling out the Fufa president on his 'shitty football' comment about Chan players, and also agreeing with Mike Mutyaba that Fufa actually embezzles players' money... Do you own up to that audio and its all its other entails?
A: Most of the stuff on that audio has been taken out of context. I am not denying that is me talking, I am just saying that the entire content of the discussion should be taken into consideration before making any judgment. The president, in a heat of the discussion with media, used inappropriate and wrong language. So I believe he regretted later on. I needed to defend myself and my teammates, as a player, as a colleague, and most importantly, as the captain. I would never allow derogatory words to be thrown at national team players. That was my duty as a team captain and as a human being. On the other issue you raised about non-payment of the promissed “players money,” I strongly believe that money is owed to them and money should be paid. Equally, I believe that Fufa and president Magogo will fulfill the promises made, and money will be paid. I also want to highlight that the president and I had a telephone conversation about the audio and we cleared the air between the two of us and no further comment about that is necessary.
Q: You retire before President Museveni fulfils his $1m pledge to Cranes players after Afcon Egypt 2019 finals. What is your message to him?
A: Hmmm, who am I to give advice and send a message to the President? It has been promised and we were informed about that. Fufa and the appropriate line Ministry should communicate and we as beneficiaries should be adequately informed. Protocols need to be respected. I believe Fufa should take the lead on that, not us the players.
Q: What will be your role in Ugandan football going forward?
A: For now? A diehard supporter of my country and my team.
Q: Are we seeing Denis Onyango challenge for Fufa presidency in the near future?
A: In near future I will be focusing on my club duties and my family. Mamelodi Sundowns and my kids and my wife are my focus now and they all deserve my attention so. I will focus on them.
Q: What is your message to Uganda Cranes fans, and your fans?
A: The best fans on the world! I will always remember your support; goosebumps, I had, every time I heard the roars in the stadium. We had some great moments together and I will never forget them. Love you all from the bottom of my heart. Please just continue being our 12th player and keep supporting.
Q: Is there anything you feel I've left out that you would want the world to know?
A: Our under 20s team (finished second at 2021 Afcon U20 finals) made us proud. I just want to give them a message. Soon, 'most of you will be in the senior national team, just continue where we stopped.'
Full Name: Denis Masinde Onyango
D.O.B: May 15, 1985 (age 35 years)
Height: 6ft 2
Weight: 89 kgs
Early career: Sharing, Nsambya
2004-2005: SC Villa
2005-2006: St. George
2006-2010: SuperSport United
2010-2011: Mpumalanga Black Aces
2011-2013: Mamelodi Sundowns
2013-2014: Bidvest Wits (loan)
2014- To date: Mamelodi Sundowns
Career honours and highlights
2016 Caf Champions League winner
2016: Africa Player of the Year based on the continent
2017: Caf Super Cup winner
Seven PSL titles: Three with SuperSport United and four with Mamelodi Sundowns
Named in Africa's Best XI in 2016, 2017 and 2018
Played at the 2016 Fifa Club World Cup
Two successive Afcon finals at Gabon 2017 and Egypt 2019
Ranked 10th best goalkeeper in the world in 2016 as compiled by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics.