Last week, officials at Rwanda’s football governing body, Ferwafa, were dealt a blow when Stephen Constantine, a man they had trusted to deliver success with the national team suddenly resigned and opted to take up a role as India’s new national football team head coach.
It is believed that Constantine, who had only been in charge of Amavubi since last May, ditched his Rwandan employers in favour of a lucrative deal offered to him by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
In the interim, Ferwafa have appointed Lee Johnson who also doubles as the federation’s technical director to take over as they, yet again, scramble to find the Englishman’s permanent replacement to help the national side prepare for the upcoming African Nations Championship (Chan) due to take place next year here in Rwanda.
But as Ferwafa officials scout the world over for a suitable replacement, I am going to argue that Amavubi’s top job should be offered to a Rwandan coach because, like many football enthusiasts, over the years, I have struggled to understand why Ferwafa seem hell bent upon bringing in foreign coaches with mind-blowing contracts (Constantine’s $11,000 per month), when there are quite a few talented coaches in the country?
It is my belief that there are many up-and-coming young Rwandan coaches clearly destined for greater things, from APR’s youthful assistant coach Vincent Mashami who has a league title under his belt and has also previously acted as Amavubi caretaker, to AS Kigali’s Eric Nshimiyimana, to name but two.
But first, I acknowledge that of course Ferwafa are free to hire whomever they feel fits their bill to bring them success, after all, as part of the labour market, professional football can be characterised as one that is truly tied to free market – clubs and football associations are free to hire candidates irrespective of where their passports say they are from.
Also, a number of legitimate reasons render it acceptable for many African nations to hire European and sometimes South American managers to take them to the next level.
Chiefly among these arguments is that local coaches lack the technical know-how to coach at the highest level. This, perhaps, also explains why nearly all of Africa’s football heavyweights including Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Nigeria, have Europeans at the helm.
But, at the same time, I find it a weak argument to think that hiring glamorous foreign coaches can rectify decades of underachievement and the state of Rwandan football in general.
Let us be honest with ourselves; although Rwanda’s football standards have improved slightly over the years, we are still a nation that has only ever qualified once for the African Cup of Nations (eliminated in round one), we do not have a single player who plies his trade in one of the major football clubs around the world, and certainly, if nothing changes, only the hopeful can dream of ever seeing Amavubi forwards teasing defences at the World Cup any time soon.
But, why do I argue for a Rwandan coach to be hired? To begin with, apart from exorbitant salaries demanded by foreign coaches, a local coach has several advantages over a foreign coach because the familiarity with the local football culture and language can foster an appreciation of the national football history which can, in turn, lead to better communication between staff and players, seen as vital in football.
Also, local coaches are more likely to scout the country in search of talented young players because they know where to go, who to speak to, and given the right financial backing, great players can be discovered.
Similarly, I strongly believe that managing at international level should also be about patriotism. I simply fail to understand how a foreign manager would get patriotic considering that they are not representing their country the way players do.
Of course, when they win, it becomes a great professional achievement for them, however, the fact remains that the achievement is professional and nothing more. International football has a patriotic component, and a passion for playing or managing for your country, in theory, should be incomparable to club football where nationalities are diverse.
To put it simply, I don’t know how a German Amavubi coach would feel about beating Uganda Cranes in a tournament qualifier, but I certainly know how a Rwandan coach would feel about it!
To sum up, we can kick-start improving the state of football in this country by focusing on understanding the obstacles that inhibit our local coaches from realising their development goals while enhancing the abilities that will allow them to achieve measurable and sustainable results.
If football administrators want our coaches to get better, they should start by hiring them, supporting them, and giving them a chance to exhibit their talents which would inevitably strengthen their skills, competencies and abilities.
Notably, I am in no way criticising the commitment or managerial acumen of foreign managers; in fact, I recognise their efforts, in particular noting Constantine’s contribution in lifting Rwanda’s Fifa ranking from 134th position to 68th in a space of a few months.
However, if we want to replicate what has been achieved by Fifa’s current top ten ranked nations, all of whom have a countryman at the helm, we must buy into the phenomenon that is Rwanda’s home-grown solutions.