Mugabi: There should be no limits on Uganda’s ambition
Bevis Mugabi earned overnight fame by breaking a Cristiano Ronaldo record
Uganda defender wants to return to the spotlight by helping the Cranes qualify for their first World Cup
Mugabi: “I feel that’s the next step for this team"
Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t exactly short of goalscoring records, and Bevis Mugabi never expected to be threatening any of them.
But the Ugandan defender became something of a social media sensation earlier this year when a colossal leap to head home for his Scottish club, Motherwell, eclipsed a benchmark set by CR7’s famous, physics-defying effort against Sampdoria.
“I guess it’s something I can show my kids further down the line,” Mugabi told FIFA.com. “To be honest though, I had no idea how high I’d jumped until the next day or two, when my Twitter and Instagram started going crazy. That was how I found out that I’d broken Ronaldo’s record. And it was a nice feeling.
“I’ve always had a high jump but it had never been a big focus for anyone until that moment. Now when I go up for set pieces, I think other defenders definitely keep a closer eye on me!”
Besides the added attention from opposition markers, Mugabi even received some unwanted online aggravation in the shape of angry DMs from Cristiano super-fans. It begged the question: did his record-breaking jump become as much of a curse as a blessing?
“In a way, yes. After I scored the goal and my Twitter was going crazy, it felt like it got too much,” Mugabi admitted. “Even now, the messages are still coming through about it.
“Eventually I just disabled my notifications on Twitter and Instagram because it got a bit silly. But I understand the hype about it because Cristiano Ronaldo is a global superstar, a legend who’s going to live on for years and years, and there is still something special about being mentioned alongside him.”
Being in the same conversation is one thing. But it’s being on the same pitch, in the same coveted competition, that is Mugabi’s stated aim.
His hope is that, if Ronaldo makes it to his fifth FIFA World Cup™ next year in Qatar, Uganda’s Cranes will be one of the teams standing between the Portugal icon and glory.
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t be aiming to qualify,” he said. “My view is that we shouldn’t limit ourselves in our goals and ambitions. And I don’t feel that going to the World Cup is unrealistic for us.
“With the young players we have coming through, I don’t see any reason why we can’t be in the picture to make it to Qatar.”
Uganda's upcoming World Cup qualifiers
Thursday 2 September: vs Kenya (A)
Monday 6 September: vs Mali (H)
Given the team’s exploits since Mugabi - an English-born centre-half who qualifies for the Cranes through his Ugandan parents - was first called up in 2018, such belief is understandable.
The highlight of the 26-year-old’s international career thus far remains the 2019 edition of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament that, until recently, Uganda had gone over three-and-a-half decades without even participating in.
“I’d felt in the build-up to that, especially with the way that we had prepared, that we were going to surprise a lot of the teams there. And that’s exactly what we did,” he recalled with a smile. “In the end we got to the last 16, qualifying from a really tough group that had Egypt, Congo and Zimbabwe.
“The progression in the team has been great. Previously, qualifying for the African Cup of Nations was unheard of; now expectations are that we should be there. And we want to be at the World Cup too. I feel like that’s the next step for this team, and our next challenge to reach that level.”
Bevis Mugabi: Quickfire questions
Best Uganda player right now? Miya Farouk. Best Uganda player of all time? Denis Onyango. Best African player right now? Mo Salah. Best African player of all time? Didier Drogba. Best player in the world right now? Cristiano Ronaldo. Best player of all time? Pele. Best national team in Africa? Morocco. Best attribute he has? I’m strong and powerful, so probably one-v-one defending.