MONEY AIN’T A THING: The question most have asked is why Okhuti went to an Express side that are - granted, rich in history - but so out of depth financially? The poised and articulate Okhuti knows better.
KAMPALA. When Caesar Okhuti burst onto the scene in 2007, he got every soccer fan talking. He had pace, dribbling prowess and an eye for goal.
Within a short time, Okhuti was called to the national team. His first few games with the Cranes made him look like he was tailor-made to solve Uganda’s striking problems.
But just as he was getting into his groove, injuries struck the then S.6 student at St Mary’s Kitende.
And as he returned from a second injury-forced lay-off to help Bunnamwaya, now Vipers, to the 2010 Uganda Super League (USL) title, Okhuti hoped he had gone over his troubles.
But after an on-and-off 2011/12 season, personal issues - most self-afflicted - and further injury niggles saw him get off the scene again.
Little, if anything, was heard of him in 2013. “I didn’t have my head in one place,” Okhuti tells SCORE this week.
“But then I needed money. So I joined a team in South Sudan called El Nasir. The main aim was to get some money.” Okhuti was to play the entire 2014 with El Nasir but he did not achieve his objective.
“I didn’t get the money I hoped for. It’s the same situation as here in terms of payment, sign-on fees and all. Only that here you are at home. You get better opportunities here than there.”
After that season in South Sudan, Okhuti helped his Arua home-side, Onduparaka, gain promotion to the Big League last campaign.
“I was supposed to go to Express straight away but the owner (of Onduparaka) called me and said he badly wanted me to help the team get promoted. So since I’m from Arua, I accepted.”
Roll on the 2015/16 Azam Uganda Premier League (UPL) season and Okhuti, mid-20s, is finally a Red Eagle. He has started off in swashbuckling fashion. The striker leads the scoring charts, alongside Vipers’ Farouk Miya, on four goals after seven matches.
The question most have asked is why Okhuti chose an Express side that are - granted, rich in history - but so out of depth financially? The poised and articulate Okhuti knows better.
“You know Express is not a club that you can say is very attractive moneywise,” says Okhuti, “But the most important reason why I went to Express is that it’s a place where you can express yourself.
“I wanted to express myself, to have more playing time. I could even go to other teams with a little more money, and that was the talk, but I believed in myself.
“After what I had gone through, I wanted such a kind of home. All I can say is that as a player, I let myself down at Bunnamwaya.
“Sometimes maybe I relaxed and that cost me opportunities.” Pain and pangs of regret are inescapable in Okhuti’s tone and in his face. “Obviously if you set a bar for yourself, maintaining it is not easy. I slept and thought about it. I said you know this (football) is where I must be.
“I had done it before; people appreciated it, so I woke one morning and decided that this is where I want to be. Football.”
Okhuti broke onto the national scene with a brace for Ediofe Hills against URA in 2007. He was instantly called to the Cranes; putting in a solid performance in Cecafa later that year.
But it is the delightful goal against Libya in an international friendly the following year, that had the country talking. Bunnamwaya soon scooped him from Ediofe for a then national record fee of Shs12m. Meanwhile, a back injury in September 2008 had forced Okhuti to take a two-month lay-off but he did return strongly, ending the season with 18 goals. He was the league’s third best scorer.
The return was, however, curtailed by Okhuti contracting a fungal infection that created spaces between his toes. “It never completely went away but now it’s manageable. I’m fine now,” he tells us.
Back for real?
Okhuti also recovered from that and helped Bunnamwaya to the 2010 title before he went AWOL again.
But after returning and joining Express, he has attracted Cranes coach Micho Sredojevic, who has summoned the striker for the Chan team preparing to face Sudan in the qualifiers next weekend. Is he now back for real?
“Like I told you earlier,” says Okhuti, “It’s how you maintain what you’ve set for yourself. Maybe after what I’ve gone through, I know.
“As you grow, maybe once you make a mistake, and then make another – it’s difficult to go back to that mistake.
“I thought maybe the mistakes which I have made; I have to learn from them. Football is where I earn a living; it’s my job, so I have to treat it as that.”
Did it kill him inside whenever he watched the Cranes play without him? “(Laughs) Not really but it’s every footballer’s dream to play for the national team. It’s a great honour to be back.
“Now I want to help my team do well, and that will help my proper return to the national team. I want to help my team to finish at least in the top four, third or second depending on the circumstances.
“It’s about helping the team win, and even when I don’t score, I can contribute to the team winning.”
Micho, too, wants to ease Okhuti back. “I will work together with people of his club to see that he does not go back where he has been,” he says.
“He has returned himself back in shape; we believe his speed and his ability of scoring could be a good asset to us.” Time will surely be monitoring Okhuti’s moves.