Reigning Azam Rwanda Premier League champions, Rayon Sports have confirmed that they have reached an agreement with Rwanda international Olivier Karekezi to replace Djuma Masudi as their new head coach on a two-year deal.
The 34-year-old is expected in the country after the team begins pre-season training on July 25.
The club president Denis Gacinya confirmed Karekezi’s appointment on Thursday. Gacinya also added that the ex-Amavubi captain will be assisted by his former Amavubi teammates Hamad ‘Katauti’ Ndikumana, who has been an assistant coach at Musanze FC and Ramadhan Nkuzingoma as the goalkeeping coach.
The trio will be joined by one member from Masudi’s coaching staff whom Gacinya did not reveal.
Gacinya noted that; “We believe he has the capacity to maintain the club on top level, he is currently the most qualified Rwandan coach with UEFA A License. He has been coaching in Sweden where in 2016 he was named the U-17 Coach of the year and above all he played football at the top level.”
For Karekezi, this will be his first senior managerial role in his career as will be for Nkuzingoma, who has actually never undertaken a coaching role since retiring from football. Ndikumana has been assistant coach to Sosthene Habimana at Musanze FC.
The trio had a very successful playing career at both club and national level—all the three were part of Amavubi team that featured at the 2004 Africa Nations Cup finals tournament in Tunisia.
Can Karekezi fit into Masudi’s shoes?
With high expectations awaiting them at Rwanda’s most popular club, the coaching trio will have a big mountain to climb. Critics are already asking if Karekezi is the right man to replace the former Burundian international Masudi, who had transformed Rayon Sports into genuine title challengers in a short time.
Masudi announced his departure from Rayon Sports after one and half seasons.
His resignation came three months after the club suspended him in April for a week following their exit from this season’s CAF Confederation Cup at the hands of Nigeria’s Rivers United over what the club described as ‘inappropriate conduct.’
The resignation was a heartbreaking moment for Rayon Sports fans because Masudi had transformed the club and helped it to claim the 2016/17 league title.
Masudi joined Rayon in November 2015 as an assistant coach under Belgian tactician Ivan Minneart, who ended his ties with the club in February 2016 and the former captain was named interim coach until the end of the season.
During his interim tenure, he guided the club to the Peace Cup title for a record 9th time, but the first in nearly 11 years, hence qualifying for the CAF Confederation Cup where they reached the playoff round for the first time in the club’s history.
Masudi was appointed full coach ahead of the start of the just concluded season signing a three-year contract until 2020.
However, the relationship between Masudi and his bosses got soar following Rayon Sports’ elimination from the CAF Confederation Cup by Nigeria’s River United.
The club took what was highly described as a bad decision, suspending him for two weeks over what they called inappropriate behavior.
Nonetheless, he led the Blues to the league title, with four games to spare before finishing the season with 73 points from 22 wins, seven draws, losing only one game- this was probably their best league record.
He had great qualities which were key in his short fairytale spell at Rayon Sports and his successor will have to dig deep to fill the big shoes.
Karekezi’s lack of experience
This will be Karekezi’s first senior coaching job and what a job to kick-start a post-playing career at a club where the fans are as demanding as you can get anywhere in the world.
One would say that, even Masudi, it was his first coaching job when he joined Rayon Sports but for him, at least he started as an assistant to Minnaert, something that allowed him to assess and analyze the strength and weaknesses of the team before taking over.
Karekezi has been a youth coach in Sweden, which responsibilities cannot be compared to the pressures of being in charge of a club of the status of Rayon Sport and its expectant fans every season.
Fortunately for Karekezi, he will be working with Ndikumana, who also played for Rayon Sports and has some experience coaching in the topflight league with Musanze FC.
Karekezi’s playing career
Karekezi began his playing career with APR junior team in 1999-2001 before he was promoted to the senior team where he played regularly until 2005 when he joined Swedish first division side Helsingborgs IF where he played 18 times and scored five goals in the first season.
In 2006, he scored 11 goals for Helsingborg and became their top scorer in Allsvenskan. In January 2008, he transferred to Hamarkameratene in Norwegian second division.
In March 2010, he returned to Sweden but this time joining second division club Östers IF on a two-year deal and he also played for Tunisian Ligue Professionnelle 1 club CA Bizertin and Swedish side Trelleborgs.
Karekezi made his international debut for Rwanda in 2000 and announced his retirement from international football in August 2013, after 13 years.
He scored 25 goals from 53 appearances for Amavubi and will always be remembered as one of the best football players that Rwanda has ever produced.