The 2015/16 league campaign was full of surprises. But perhaps the single biggest surprise was league top scorer Danny Usengimana, who plays for Police FC and Amavubi. The 20-year-old, Rwanda international striker caught the eye of soccer pundits during the season.
But for the soft-spoken striker, the journey to stardom had a humble beginning.
Usengimana’s love for football started at an early age. He was obsessed with soccer and always organized matches with age mates in the neighborhood— but this attracted rebuke from his parents who never embraced his love for the beautiful game.
“In the beginning, my parents never wanted me to play football because I used to leave home every morning to go and play with my friends and would come back late in the evening, for which I used to get punished,” recalls the football star.
His parents wanted him to focus on studies because they thought football would distract him.
Consequently, he complied with what his parents wanted, although he says, he always reserved time to play football every day at school.
In 2009, while in primary six, some of his friends advised him to join Esperance Football Academy, known for nurturing young talents. The club was under coach Jean-Paul Kalisa, also known as ‘Mourinho’, who passed way in May this year.
He joined the academy where he spent one and half years before joining Remera Youth Center which was playing in the national Under-17 League, in 2010.
In 2012, he joined second division side Gasabo United, which was headed by his former coach Kalisa (RIP), however; he did not get enough time on the pitch.
“Kalisa had taken me to his team because he believed in my talent. But in the first half of my first season I did not play any game. It was in the second round, when I started getting some playing time to prove myself,” he noted.
After two years at Gasabo, in 2014, he moved to Kicukiro-based second division side Sec Academy for trials.
By then it was being coached by former Rayon Sport assistant Coach Sosthene Habimana.
Unfortunately his spell at Sec Academy was not successful because he only spent six months— however, in his last days at the club, he was on the squad that played the Peace Cup quarter-finals against Police FC, losing 4-3. Usengimana scored one of Sec’s goals.
As fate would have it for the young forward, among the interested spectators at that game, was a newly appointed Amavubi head coach Stephen Constantine.
The Englishman was impressed by the young lads skills and tactics, and hence called him up in the provisional squad that was preparing for the final preliminary qualifying round of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations finals.
Usengimana says, “Although I did not play that game, by being involved with the national team was the most inspiring moment of my career. “The coach encouraged me to keep working hard, and that my chance will come sooner rather than later.”
Following the life changing moment, Usengimana decided to take a career in football and start earning money.
After successful trials at Amagaju FC, Abdu ‘Beken’ Bizimana who was the head coach signed him.
However, Sec academy owner Augustin Munyandamutsa advised him to go for trails at Rubavu-based Marines FC, where he could have better chances to play.
“I went there but after two weeks of trails I received a call from Innocent Seninga, who was the head coach of Isonga FC, asking me to join him if I needed to develop my game.
“He convinced me to play at Isonga without pay, explaining that my focus should be on developing my game and show that I was capable, after which I would attract big clubs, and I agreed,” explains the Rwanda international forward.
In his first season 2014/15 with Isonga FC, Usengimana scored seven goals, and this attracted the attention of many big clubs including Rayon Sports, and Police that approached him. The next season, he signed for Police in a two-year deal.
The just concluded 2015/16 season has been his first season with law enforcers’ side, but in first days at the Kicukiro-based side, he struggled a bit due to stiff competition from the more experienced forwards, Isaiah Songa and Jacque Tuyisenge.
Usengimana managed to score five goals in just eight games which he played in the first round, however; following the departure of Tuyisenge to Kenya’s Gor Mahia in February, he became a regular player and was involved in all 15 second round matches, scoring 11 goals to finish as the league joint-top scorer with Mukura midfielder Muhadjiri, who has since joined APR.
After getting his maiden call up in 2014, Usengimana made his debut in November 2014 against Morocco in an international friendly before featuring again in another friendly against South Africa U-23 in 2015 as Amavubi were preparing for the 2016 Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) held in Rwanda.
During CHAN finals tournament, the 22-year-old forward played two games; the opener against Ivory Coast and a quarter-final against DR Congo.
His last cap was against Mozambique at Amahoro National Stadium in April during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. However, he is yet to open his goal account at the international level.
Born on March 10, 1996 in Kimisagara sector of Nyarugenge district, City of Kigali, to Abboubakar Nsabimana and Rema Uwamariya, Usengimana is the first born in the family of four—three boys and one girl.
He is a fan of European giants, Manchester United and Real Madrid and looks up to Portugal and Argentina Internationals; Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio “Kun” Agüero.
He attended Rubirizi Primary School located in Kabeza, a Kigali suburb for his primary education before joining APEM (Association de Parent pour l’education a Musasa) located in Northern Province District of Gakenke where he completed his ordinary level education.
He later joined APAER (Association de Parent Adventiste de l’education a Rusororo) located in Kabuga, Gasabo district, City of Kigali for advanced level education and is planning to enroll for university education.
Best and worst moment
Without thinking much, he says, “Of course my best moment was when I received my first call up to the national team in 2014; it was the most surprising thing ever to happen to me.”
“My worst moment is when I went for trials at a certain club and a coach I can’t reveal told me to go back to school and study because I did not have talent to make it in football,” it hurt me but I hope I can make it even further to prove him wrong.
“My dream is to become a better player, a regular starter for Amavubi and above all play professional football, preferably in Europe and I am working hard to make it happen,” he says.