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June 21, 2024

A Tribute to Denis Onyango: A Legend of the Beautiful Game of Football

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A Tribute to Denis Onyango: A Legend of the Beautiful Game of Football

By Joel Gadafi

In the annals of African football, few names resonate with the same reverence as Denis Onyango. Arguably the most decorated Ugandan footballer, Onyango’s career is a testament to talent, perseverance, and an indomitable spirit that has inspired fans and aspiring athletes across the continent.

Early Beginnings and Rise to Stardom
Denis Onyango’s journey to greatness began with SC Villa, where he made his mark in the Uganda Super League, later renamed the Uganda Premier League. In 2004, as a third-choice goalkeeper in a star-studded team, Onyango showcased his versatility and talent. In a memorable match against Ruhinda, he even stepped up as a forward and scored a hat-trick.

The squad, featuring current FUFA CEO Edgar Watson, Andrew Mwesigwa, Timothy Batabaire, Simeon Masaba, and others, remained the last to clinch a league title for the Jogoos until Saturday 18 May 2024 as two second-half goals from Charles Lwanga and Hakim Kiwanuka helped the Jogoos to overcome NEC and secure the 2024 championship.

SC Villa squad in 2004. | Courtesy Photo

Dominance in the Premier Soccer League
Onyango’s career trajectory soared as he moved to South Africa’s Premier Soccer League (PSL), where he established himself as a legendary figure. With a record eleven PSL titles to his name, Onyango’s legacy is unparalleled.

Supersport United FC

  • 2007/08
  • 2008/09
  • 2009/10

Mamelodi Sundowns FC

  • 2015/16
  • 2017/18
  • 2018/19
  • 2019/20
  • 2020/21
  • 2021/22
  • 2022/23
  • 2023/24

As the most decorated player in the PSL, Onyango’s name is synonymous with excellence. His tenure at Mamelodi Sundowns FC has been particularly remarkable, where his leadership and skill have guided the team to numerous victories, cementing their status as the powerhouse of South African football.

Denis Onyango in action for Mamelodi Sundowns

A Hero for Uganda
Onyango made his international debut for Uganda on 18 June 2005 World Cup qualifying match against Cape Verde. From then Onyango became a regular for the Cranes.

Onyango’s influence extends beyond club football. His crowning achievement on the international stage came when he led Uganda to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 1978.

The historic 1-0 victory over Comoros, which secured their place in the 2017 finals in Gabon, is a moment etched in the hearts of Ugandan football fans. It was a triumph not just for the team, but for a nation that had waited nearly four decades for such a feat.

Uganda Cranes players celebrate after qualifying for AFCON 2017. | Courtesy Photo

On 5 January 2017, he was voted the 2016 African-based African Player of the year at the CAF Awards held in Nigeria. The final tally saw him pick up 252 votes, compared to 228 votes for second place Khama Billiat.

In 2018, Denis Onyango was honored as the best African goalkeeper by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). He was the only goalkeeper and the sole African-based player selected for the CAF All Stars team of 11, which included Liverpool stars Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

Denis Onyango, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah featured in the 2018 CAF Best 11 of the year

The Legacy of a Champion
Denis Onyango’s career is a beacon of inspiration. His journey from the local pitches of Uganda to the grand stages of African football exemplifies what can be achieved with hard work, dedication, and an unyielding belief in one’s abilities.

As he continues to play, Onyango’s influence on the game remains profound, inspiring young athletes to dream big and persevere through challenges.

As we celebrate Onyango’s illustrious career, we are reminded of the power of sports to transcend boundaries and bring people together. His story is not just about the titles and accolades, but about the passion and resilience that define a true champion.

Denis Onyango has indeed hinted at the possibility of retiring at the end of this year. While Onyango has not made an official announcement, he has mentioned considering retirement after the 2023/2024 season.

Denis Onyango is more than a footballer; he is a legend whose legacy will inspire generations to come.

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