Bursting from the shadows: Mico back to doing what he does best

Reviving one’s career is easier said than done. It is typically the very talented and gifted players who are capable of pulling off a complete comeback. Yet even the most gifted sportsmen/women fail to revive their careers; for instance, English professional footballer Ravel Morrison (once a Man Utd wunderkind), Moroccan Adel Taarabt (Genoa, Italy) and Italian Mario Balotelli to mention a few.
Justin Mico celebrates his goal against Gicumbi FC this season. The striker has so far netted 11 league goals in 21 matches for third-placed Police FC. (S. Ngendahimana)
Justin Mico celebrates his goal against Gicumbi FC this season. The striker has so far netted 11 league goals in 21 matches for third-placed Police FC. (S. Ngendahimana)

Reviving one’s career is easier said than done. It is typically the very talented and gifted players who are capable of pulling off a complete comeback.

Yet even the most gifted sportsmen/women fail to revive their careers; for instance, English professional footballer Ravel Morrison (once a Man Utd wunderkind), Moroccan Adel Taarabt (Genoa, Italy) and Italian Mario Balotelli to mention a few.

The trio has enormous talent but has failed to fulfill their full potential despite moving from one club to another in hope of reviving their careers.

In countries like Rwanda where football is still at the amateur level, it is easy to spot young talented kids. However, once such kids lose their form at a time they were just starting to get noticed, it is hard to pick up gain.

A few can pull off. Police FC striker Justin Mico is one of them. The 22-year year old was first spotted in the lead-up to the 2011 Africa U-17 Youth Championship that was staged in Kigali during which he featured as the lead striker, eventually helping Rwanda to qualify for the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup finals in Mexico.

However, after Mexico, Mico got off the radar and struggled to rediscover his form, first with Isonga FC and later AS Kigali, and this led many to start wondering whether indeed the young forward would ever fulfill his potential.

However, since joining Police FC at the start of this season, the youngster has managed to show a glimpse of what he’s capable of doing.

He has so far netted 11 league goals for the third-placed cops and is just two goals behind top scorer and teammate Danny Usengimana.

This week, Saturday Sport’s GEOFFREY ASIIMWE caught up with the former Rwanda U-20 international and the two discussed the latter’s highs and lows and how he has managed to revive what had looked like a lost career.

Early days

Born on December 21, 1994 in Rubavu District, Western Province to Gasirimu Byakunda and Bukuane Nyiramana, Mico is the second born in the family of seven – four boys and three girls.

His elder brother, Olivier Ndayisaba, is the first team goal keeper for the national league side Musanze FC.

He attended Ecole Episcopale du Rwanda (E.E.R), located in Musanze District, for all of his primary education. In 2009, he joined Groupe Scolaire Kigombe (G.S.K), also in Musanze, for one year before switching to Groupe Scolaire APE Rugunga in Nyarugenge District until senior six.

At APE Rugunga, Mico majored in History, Economics and Geography (HEG) for his Advanced Level but by the time he sat his final senior six exams in 2015, he had switched to College George Fox Kagarama (CGFK) in Kicukiro District.

 He is yet to join the University but he plans to in the near future.

The soft-spoken striker says that, for a role model, he looks up to Juventus and Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuaín and is a fan of English Premier League side, Arsenal.

Mico said that football is embedded in his genes and he remembers that in his childhood, he escaped school several times to play football and he will not forget the multiple times he was punished by his father for preferring football to school.

“As a young kid, I loved football so much, I could spend all night watching soccer on TV when everyone else at home was asleep,” he recalled.

He added: “Due to this obsession, I would wake up early every morning to go to school but, along the way, I would divert to Musanze Stadium (Ubworoherane) to play football with my friends.”

“Because of that, I would always be in trouble whenever my dad realised that I didn’t go to school until 2008 when he decided to support my passion instead of fighting me, and bought me whatever I needed to be able to play.”

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In national colours with the U-17 side. (File)

In 2008, Musanze FC started a reserve team and Mico was among the first intake spending there one year before Rwanda Football Federation (Ferwafa) started a talent detection campaign around the country looking for kids that would go into the national academy.

The first selection was held in Musanze at Ubworoherane stadium and was conducted by Aloys Kanamugire (current SC Kiyovu head coach), who was then the national technical director.

Only three players; Mico, Kabes Hategekimana and a one Aimable were selected from Musanze. “In Kigali, we were about 100 kids vying for only 25 spots that were available, they conducted trials for several days and I was among the 25 selected,” said Mico.

Mico started his career as a holding midfielder until 2010 when Kanamugire, together with the then U17 national team head coach, French Richard Tardy, converted him into a striker, mostly playing as a number 10, a position he has grown to master quite well.

In 2011, Rwanda hosted Africa U-17 Youth Championship reaching the final which they lost to Burkina Faso 2-1. Mico had scored the lone goal in the semi-finals against Ivory Coast to send the Junior Wasps to the final.

Later that year, the Junior Wasps also debuted at FIFA U-17 World Cup that took place in Mexico. However, Mico didn’t score any goal at the finals tournament as Rwanda crashed out in the group stages.

Playing career

After the 2011 U-17 FIFA World Cup, several of these youngsters joined different top flight teams –defenders Emery Bayisenge and Michel Rusheshangonga as well as midfielder Andrew Buteera signed for APR FC.

But Mico wasn’t fortunate enough to get a top team and instead joined the newly formed Isonga FC, which had been established by Ferwafa specifically for these players that were part of the World Cup team.

Unfortunately, in his first season (2012/13) with Isonga FC, Mico suffered a severe knee injury that kept him out of action for the whole season but that didn’t stop AS Kigali, who were then under Andre Casa Mbugo, to sign him on a two-year contract.

“I was really excited after signing for AS Kigali; unfortunately, I never got a chance to play enough for them because my injury had not fully healed and it kept me out in the first season but in 2015/16 season I began to pick up pace and was playing regularly before joining Police this season,” he said.

Blessed with skill, awareness and vision in front goal that most players could only dream of, Mico has finally found a ‘home’ at Police FC under Innocent Seninga. 

“I think recovering fully has been essential in rediscovering my form but the belief that the coach has instilled in me is another big factor. You can say that I have finally revived my career and hopefully I can improve further and start playing for the senior national team.”

Best and worst moments

“The best moment so far was competing at the FIFA U17 World Cup, it was like a dream to all of us, while my worst moment was the knee injury that almost ended my career.”

Future plans

“I am still young and I want to go abroad, somewhere where I can play professional football. That is my main objective before I retire.”

Appreciation

“First and foremost, I thank my parents, who have supported me and been on my side in everything. Others are coaches Kanamugire, Vincent Mashami, Tardy and Seninga; they have really played a big part in making me the player that I am today.”

 

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