The 2013-14 Turbo national football league gets underway today with Rayon Sports looking to retain their title and keep closest challengers APR, Police and Kiyovu at bay.
The new campaign promises to be one of the most exciting and unpredictable seasons in years as all clubs have been very busy in the transfer market.
With several clubs under new coaches and all the 14 clubs signing many new players, it is hard to predict who would be champions come May 2014.
Football fans across the country are bracing for an intriguing title race, with AS Kigali and Mukura having closed the gap on the usual front-runners Rayon Sports, APR and Police.
Nyamirambo-based SC Kiyovu are also looking to be genuine contenders having invested heavily in new players and coaching staff as they bid to mount a serious challenge for the title they last won almost 20 years ago.
Defending champions Rayon Sports host newcomers Gicumbi FC, who are managed by former Blues player and coach Jean Baptist Kayiranga, at Amahoro national stadium on Saturday, while APR and Police will kick off their campaign on Sunday against Marines and Esperance, respectively.
Rayon look to defend title
After losing the inaugural Super Cup title to AS Kigali two weeks ago, Rayon Sports bounced back to wallop SC Kiyovu 3-0 to win the Rwanda Football Media tournament last weekend.
Didier Gomez da Rosa’s team, which signed two key strikers; Meddie Kagere and Ugandan Frasson Jakesh in close season, start the season as title favourites.
Police FC, runner-ups in last year’s season, have a new coach in experienced Ugandan tactician Sam Ssimbwa. The former Ugandan Cranes assistant coach has his work cut out as he seeks to better the achievements of his predecessor Goran Kopunovic.
“All (title contenders) teams have bought new players in order to win the league title and we are no different, but it’s too early to start talking about winning the title right now,” Ssimbwa told Saturday Sport.
He, however, said, “The players know our target for the season and the pressure that comes with trying to achieve it. We will play a collective game to ensure that Police finishes in a respectable position.”
APR still ambitious
Thirteen-time champions APR FC, with a youthful squad and a coach who is starting his first full season in charge, cannot be dismissed as genuine title contenders either.
The military side, under a new chairman, Maj. Gen. Jack Musemakweli, who replaced Maj. Gen. Alex Kagame, will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing campaign last season. The country’s most successful club ended the 2012/13 season trophy-less – the first year they had failed to win anything since 1996.
German coach Andreas Spier, who took over from Eric Nshimiyimana towards the end of last season, will be under immense pressure to avoid a second successive trophy-less season. APR finished third in the league, 11 points behind champions Rayon Sports.
The Black and White side was thrashed 4-0 by the Blues in the second round match but Spier believes this season will be different. “APR’s philosophy is to win trophies and the team is ready for the new season.”
They recently signed Michael Ndahinduka, Olivier Kwizera, Charles Tibingana Mwesigye, Ernest Sugira and Patrick ‘Pappy’ Sibomana.
SC Kiyovu, also under a new coach in Gilbert ‘Yaounde’ Kanyankole, is another side that can’t be ruled out of the league title running.
New-look Kiyovu buoyant
Fresh from guiding Burundian side Vital’O to this year’s regional Cecafa Kagame Cup title and knocking APR out of the Champions League first round, Kanyankole is keen to revive Kiyovu’s fortunes and win back their place among the country’s elite clubs.
Buoyed by the arrival of five first team players from Vital’O, Kanyankole says Kiyovu should not be written off.
“I came in a bit late which means we regrouped late and had little time to get to fully understand every player I found at the club, but with time, we shall get used to each other and I believe we are genuine title contenders,” he said.
Kanyankole added, “The league will be competitive, there are no more pushovers in the league. Every club looks to be in a good shape.”
Arguably the biggest signing of the transfer window, former Vital’O playmaker Christian Mbirizi is seen as a huge boost to Kiyovu’s ambitions.
A run for money
Having scooped the Peace Cup and Super Cup titles, everything seems to be going according to plan for AS Kigali and many say they are one of the teams to watch this season.
And they appreciate the challenge that awaits them.
“This season will be tougher than the previous one. APR have retained their youthful side and added a couple of new good players, Rayon Sports will be even stronger this season and Kiyovu have an experienced coach with key new players,” AS Kigali head coach Andrew Gasambungo said.
Huye-based Mukura, who retained their Burundian coach Cedric Kaze, are also raring to go. Mukura are also seen as a serious contender for a top four finish.
And Musanze, Amagaju, Etincelles, Espoir and newcomers Gicumbi and Esperance are all billed to give the big boys a run for their money.
Esperance coach Camarade Banamwana said: “We hope to finish the season in the top eight and it’s achievable.”