Following what happened to APR last season when they finished in third place in the league for first time since 2008, common sense would point to them doing everything, like they have always done, to improve the squad in preparation for the battle to reclaim the title next season.
Alas, instead of doing what their fans would ideally expect, which is to dive deep into the market for new players to improve a squad that did not only struggle for goals but also put on average performances in most games, they are playing catch-up to their rivals; Rayon Sports, Police and AS Kigali
The army club have never gone two years without winning the league title in 20 years since that happened to them in 1997 and 1998—in short, APR, who have won the Rwandan league a record 15 times in 22 years, have always been known for going into every new season as the front-runners.
APR have won the league title in 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016 as well as 8 Rwandan Cup (Peace Cup) in 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 in addition to being CECAFA Kagame Cup champions thrice; 2004, 2007, 2010.
No other Rwandan club comes even close to rivaling that record, albeit APR being just 24-years old and only started competing in the topflight division in 1995, while the likes of Rayon Sports, Kiyovu, Mukura and many other mediocre clubs in the national league have been in existence for over 50 years.
These records and many other good things that APR have done over the years to make Rwandans happy, regardless of whether you support them or not, are proof of how dominant the ‘Black and Whites’ have been.
Inevitably, that has created ‘bitter enmity’ between them and Rayon Sports, who regard themselves as the giants of Rwandan football, for which they can’t be faulted given their status as the club with biggest fan base across the country.
Reigning national league champions Rayon Sports, who have, over the years, been at the forefront in the ‘struggle’ to stop APR’s supremacy, have only won the league 8 times in 1975, 1981, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2004, 2013, 2017 and CECAFA Kagame Cup (1998).
However, the club, which is 49-years old, have won the Peace Cup a record 9 times; 1976, 1979, 1982, 1989, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2005, 2016—and are threatening to give APR a real run for their money, having shown that intent last season when they ran away with the league title, winning it with four games to spare.
They finished a whopping 16 points ahead of APR, who were the defending champions, and could only end in third place, which is the first time in nine years, that the military had not finished in the top two.
This and a lack of activities in the transfer market to strengthen the squad, has to be a cause for concern for their fans, who are used to seeing their team dominate local opposition almost effortlessly.
What was served to them last season, under the guiding hands of head coach Jimmy Mulisa, showed that APR need to spend some good money on a really good striker or two as well as a scoring midfielder.
In the last campaign, APR scored 39 goals in 30 league matches, Police FC, who finished in second place, managed 50, thanks to their striking partnership of Danny Usengimana, who ended the league top scorer with 19 goals and Justin Micho who had 15—league champions Rayon scored 62 goals.
But, while Rayon Sports, who only lost once all season (against APR), had three players in double figures, APR didn’t even one in the top ten—their top scorer Issa Bigirimana managed only seven goals, which nowhere near good enough for a striker supposed to lead the line for a club chasing trophies.
Last week, they moved faster than their rivals and signed free agent Ernest Sugira, who had been released from his two-year contract from DR Congo side AS Vita Club, but the Rwandan international suffered a broken tibia in the left leg, and is expected to be out for up to six months.
Injury to a player that had been brought in as the answer to the team’s lack of firepower upfront leaves the club in a dilemma regarding their options in the transfer market, especially going into a season when their direct rivals; Rayon Sports, Police and AS Kigali have been busier in terms of signing new players.
Unless the APR management acts and does what they have been doing all these years, which is signing the best talent in the land, a strategy that has served them well, one fears that their team may find themselves playing catch-up for a second year in a row and, or even more.