Only investment in youth structures will change Rwanda’s football fortunes

At the start of every month, local newspapers are always awash with such headlines as ‘Rwanda falls in latest Fifa rankings’ or ‘Rwanda improves slightly in the latest Fifa rankings’.
Bonnie Mugabe
Bonnie Mugabe

At the start of every month, local newspapers are always awash with such headlines as ‘Rwanda falls in latest Fifa rankings’ or ‘Rwanda improves slightly in the latest Fifa rankings’.

Most of us are concerned with how the country keeps slipping in the monthly rankings.

We always look for whom to blame; whether it’s the coach, the players, the league, the federation, the government….you name it. However, what we always overlook is that in the midst of all these ups and downs in the Fifa rankings our football structures are practically nowhere.

Most of the countries that prosper in football worldwide have profound youth structures. Structures that make it possible for youngsters to be noticed and nurtured early in their tender years.

In most countries, there are always youth leagues that run concurrently as the top tier leagues. Most of the times, youth teams are entitled to play curtain-raisers before their senior counterparts play.

In Rwanda, several years ago, we used to have a reserved teams league but it died a natural death and what we now have is a situation where the youth teams as well as their technical staff are usually assembled ‘when need arises’.

This year saw two very important youth tournaments in the country; the Airtel Rising Star and the Copa Coca-Cola Under-15 tournament. I watched both tournaments and was wowed by the sheer talent among the young boys.

But who is there to tap these talents and nurture them?

Comparing now and a few years back, we have tried as a country, but trying is not enough. We must double our efforts to ensure permanent youth football structures that help identify and nurture talent from a tender age.

There is nothing much that Amavubi coach Eric Nshimiyimana can do with players when they reach the national level; he only works with them for a few days, at best weeks ahead of each game.

His job is only to polish and align the players to his tactics.

To expect him to turn individuals into great players is like expecting a university lecturer to teach his students BODMAS (Brackets, Of, Division, Multiplication, Addition and Subtraction).

If these players are taught well from a tender age, they will get to club level as good players.

The onus is on the club coaches to do most of the dirty work in instilling skills in them to make them better players.

And once they get to the national team level, what do you expect? Your guess is as good as mine. This is just like a school.

Every stage is a learning stage so that by the time you get to the highest level your brains are sharp enough.

Rwanda needs that approach; otherwise hit-and-run style of play will never win us any silverware, not even the regional Cecafa Senior challenge Cup.

Ferwafa should instruct all topflight division clubs to have youth teams that are funded by sponsors.

Ferwafa should not negotiate with Bralirwa any sponsorship deal that does not cover youth football component; that way, the country will have a large pool of players to pick from for international competitions at all levels.

Once this is implemented for three seasons or so, then the national team coach will only worry about the tactics to be deployed during a particular game instead of losing invaluable time teaching players how to pass and control the ball.

It’s not solely a good coach that will make Amavubi a winning side, but a combination of both – players and coach.

Coaches should also be empowered with annual coaching courses and sent on refresher courses in Germany or Spain. They should also be given room and all the support to showcase their skills.

If the clubs can maintain youth teams in their structures and Ferwafa organises a division league for U-17 players, then our football will be elevated to another level.

But let us not expect this to work like magic. It is a process that will take time. It requires a little patience.

If we can start getting it right now, five years or so are enough for us to start enjoying the fruits.


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