The football fraternity is still in shock following the death of former APR, Kiyovu, Rayon Sports and Amavubi coach, Jean Marie Ntagwabira. The 41-year-old succumbed to lung failure on Monday night at Kanombe military hospital where he was admitted three weeks ago.
In football circles, Ntagwabira was regarded as one of the best coaches the country has ever produced. The former Rwanda international served in the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), now Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) from 1990 to 2008 and held the rank of Captain.
He will be laid to rest on Thursday at Kanombe Military Cemetery.
“It is sad and shocking that Ntagwabira has died. He was a friend to everyone and has been Rwanda’s number one coach, we will miss him,” Sunrise FC president Fabrice Habanabakize told Times Sport.
By the time of his death, Ntagwabira was the technical director at Sunrise FC.
Habanabakize added that the football family has lost someone special; a loyal servant for both his country and the game (football).
“He was an honest man and he loved his job, he helped us a lot in the development of our team.”
To those who knew him, Ntagwabira was a hardworking Reserve Force Officer at the rank of Captain. He was among the founding members of APR FC in 1993, and he captained the military side before he was replaced by Didier Bizimana in 2000.
The APR FC secretary general, Adolphe Camarade Kalisa, said the death of Ntagwabira is a big loss not only for the clubs he coached but Rwandan football in general.
“He was our brother, our legend, we are sad as a family and we will always miss him…..APR will do everything possible to support his family because he served the country with highest degree of loyalty and we are proud of him,” Kalisa stated.
Ntagwabira started his playing career with Burundi’s Vital’O at the age of 15 in 1988.
He played for Vital’O from 1988 to 1990 before joining other Rwandans in the liberation struggle in 1990 and he rose to the rank of Captain.
Rwanda Football Association President Vincent Nzamwita said: “It is sad news, everyone is in shock but we will celebrate his life as he served his country so well. He was hard working, loved football and always fought for the win, he was a winner, courageous and one of the best coaches in Rwanda,” Nzamwita explained.
His last interview with Times Sport
The last time Times Sport talked to Ntagwabira, was in the second week of January: At the time he said that he was enjoying his work and loves football more than anything, “football is my passion, I am planning to raise the level of Sunrise FC, it is a new team, which is improving and I want to be part of its development.”
Ntagwabira also coached the military side APR, Atraco, SC Kiyovu, Rayon Sports and was the assistant coach of the national football team under Djukovic Ratomir in 2004 when Rwanda made its debut at the Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia. He also worked under Serbian coach Milutin ‘Micho” Sredojevic in 2011.
Former teammates react to Ntagwabira’s death
Former Amavubi skippers Eric Nshimiyimana, Olivier Karekezi as well as former APR captain Didier Bizimana have joined sports lovers to mourn their former teammate, Jean Marie Ntagwabira.
Eric Nshimiyimana, current AS Kigali head coach said: “It was his time, everyone will go, but for me as a Christian, I am happy because he was a Christian. He was baptized on Christmas day last year, and he was in good spirits. There was nothing to show he would be gone one month later. He was a friend since our secondary school days in Bujumbura, Burundi; we met many times and when we came back home (Rwanda) we played and worked together. He would exchange ideas. We talked a lot, he was a good friend, we lived like brothers, we shared, we helped each other, and he asked me to be his assistant when I retired in 2004 and I learnt a lot from him.”
For Karekezi, Ntagwabira was the best coach in Rwanda. “He did many good things for Rwandan football, he is the most successful coach, and he helped me in my career.
“He was a winner as player and coach, he could do everything to win the game, he worked hard for the game and he developed Rwandan football. We will miss someone special but that is life.”
APR second assistant coach Bizimana described the deceased as someone who was special in football and good coach.
“I played with him, he was a friend of mine. He was not a hypocrite, if he would not use you in a particular game, he would tell you beforehand, he was an honest man.”
Rayon Sports captain, Fuadi Ndayisenga, who was under Ntagwabira at SC Kiyovu and Rayon Sports, described him as "a good person who was exceptional in football.”
Who is Jean Marie Ntagwabira?
Name: Jean Marie Ntagwabira
Born: 11-July-1973 (age, 41)
Place of birth: Bujumbura, Burundi
Marital Status: Single
Military Background: Joined 1990 - captain
As a player, he started his ‘professional’ career with Burundian side Vital’O in 1988 until 1990 when he joined other Rwandans to liberate the country and he rose to the rank of Captain.
He is one of the founding member of APR FC. In 1993 he played for the military side until his retirement in 2000. Playing as a right winger, Ntagwabira earned 15 international caps with Amavubi between 1994 and 2000.
After hanging his playing boots, the Bujumbura-born midfielder immediately started a career in coaching; he was APR assistant coach from 2000-2002 before being head coach in 2002-2004. He was sacked before returning at the club in 2005-2007.
At the end of 2007, he joined the now defunct Atraco FC until 2011; he later coached SC Kiyovu briefly before joining Rayon Sports in 2011-2012.
Ntagwabira also served Amavubi Stars as assistant coach in 2001-2004 under Djukovic Ratomir. He also worked as Amavubi assistant coach under Serbian tactician Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic.
As a player, Ntagwabira won three league titles with APR—1995, 1996, 1999 and 2000, but it’s his achievements as a coach that the former Amavubi midfielder will be most remembered for. In 2003, he helped APR to reach the semi-finals of Africa Confederation Cup, and the following year (2004), he led the army side to 1/8 finals of Africa Champions League, after winning against Zamalek 2-3 on aggregates in the previous round. It was the first time for a Rwandan club to reach at that stage of a continental competition.
He won league title with APR in 2003-2004, 2004-2005, 2006-2007 and in 2007-2008. After, he joined Atraco and guided them to win the league title in 2009.
He also won Peace Cup with APR twice in 2002-2003 and 2006-2008 in addition to the Cecafa Kagame Cup title in 2004. His last piece of silverware was the Pre-season tournament cup with SC Kiyovu in 2010-2011.
Complied by Peter Kamasa