The history of soccer is littered with stories of incredible young players who, for whatever reason, never reached their full potential. In many cases, media hype and enormous pressure are just too much for some teenagers to handle.
However, according to Edson Arantes Nascimento, best known as Pele, who is widely regarded as the greatest footballer of all time, “Success is no accident, it is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and, most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”
With that in mind, Saturday Sport profiles Mukura Victory Sports young midfielder Muhadjiri Hakizimana after his eye-catching performances propelled him to summit of top scoring charts with nine league goals at the half way stage of the season. His performances have since rewarded him with two international caps, both against Mauritius in the 2017 AFCON qualifiers last month.
Who is Hakizimana?
Born in Rubavu District, (formerly Gisenyi) on August 18, 1994 to Fadhil Hakizimana and Saidath Nyirabakara, Hakizimana is the last born in the family of 12 – four boys and eight girls.
The 21-year old comes from a family of well-known footballers such as Haruna Niyonzima, the current Amavubi and Young Africans (Tanzania) captain, Abdul Sibomana, a former APR FC and Amavubi midfielder, and Député Singirankabo, a former Etincelles player.
Hakizimana, a fan of Manchester United who says his football idol is Brazilian legend Ronaldinho Gaucho, is engaged to Judith Ingabire, the AS Kigali Women FC goalkeeper.
The soft spoken midfielder attended Giporoso Primary school in Remera, Kigali, before joining ESIG Gisenyi, an Islamic school based in Rubavu where he spent two years and then moved on to St. Baptiste for his Senior Three. But shortly after, he dropped out to concentrate on his passion: football.
“I didn’t proceed to A’ Level because by then I was very obsessed with football, fortunately after my O’ Level, I got the opportunity to play for Etincelles FC Junior team,” he narrates.
As mentioned above, the rising star comes from a family of famous footballers and grew up when his elder brothers Abdul Sibomana and Haruna Niyonzima had already made a name for themselves, something he also committed to achieving.
“I was a very big fan of my brothers and when I was in Primary Five Haruna gave me my first boots, since that day I fell in love with football and have always wanted to be like them (his elder brothers),” he tells Saturday Sport.
In 2009, APR held trials in Rubavu to scout for players to join the club’s academy team and Hakizimana was among the seven players selected to come to Kigali for further trials. However, just days before travelling to Kigali, he fell sick and the opportunity passed.
He failed the trials as a result. That left him frustrated.
But he remained optimistic about his future in football.
Hakizimana returned to his hometown and after a few days, a one Radjabu, started a football academy in Rubavu and the youngster was picked to join the academy and made the captain.
After only three months, he was picked by then Etincelles FC coach Hamissi Sogonya, but again things didn’t go as expected.
“I never got enough opportunity to play because there were a lot of more experienced players, I never played more than 20 minutes in a match,” he recalls.
In 2012, Hakizimana was signed by then SC Kiyovu head coach Jean Baptiste Kayiranga, famous for nurturing young talent.
In his first season with the Mumena-based side, things again looked to be same as they had been at Etincelles. “Honestly the first season turned out to be tougher than I had expected because I was playing in the same position with Djabil (Mutarambirwa) and I had no chance because he was better.”
“But I never gave up, instead I trained harder and had to be patient because I was positive that one day I would be a regular player, if not for Kiyovu, at least at another club.”
But the second season was a successful one after the club appointed Gilbert Yaounde Kanyankore as the head coach, replacing Kayiranga.
“That season was one of my best because at the end I had offers from such teams as Rayon Sports and Mukura, and Kiyovu wanted to renew my contract but in the end I decided to join Mukura, who offered me a better deal.”
Upon joining Mukura in 2014, his first days were blighted by a hamstring injury he suffered at beginning of the season, which kept him on the sidelines for several weeks.
“I thank the coach (Godfroid Okoko) because despite spending some time lacking in form even after returning from injury, he encouraged me to work hard and gave me time to play and now here I am.”
Best and worst moments
“My best moment so far was when my club (Mukura) was top of the national league table for the first time in a long time, and also to be the league top scorer thus far.”
“The worst moment was when I was at Kiyovu in 2013 and we played against Rayon Sports, it was my first derby and I was in the starting team, but we lost that game 3-0. It still hurts me to this day.”
“Well, like any player, my dream is to become one of the best players in my country, and becoming a regular in the national team and possibly join a professional club in Europe.”
“My appreciation goes to my brother Haruna because I think the ignited my career when he gave me my first playing boots. I am also grateful to coach Kanyankore because he helped me to love football as he always told me ‘go on the pitch and play the way you feel like’ and that has helped me to develop into the player I am today.”
How his coach views him
Mukura’s head coach Okoko of the youngster, “He is probably the most talented player I have worked with in a while and I think he has a bright future ahead of him if he maintains his discipline, his future lies in football.”