Eric Nshimiyimana is one of the most famous names in Rwandan football. He has played a pivotal role in the rise of the spot both as a player and coach over the last 20 years.
Football has been part of his life since childhood. “I remember when I was about 10 years old I stole money from parents to buy a (foot) ball and organised a competition at school. That is something I will never forget for the rest of my life,” Nshimiyimana recall how his long journey as a player and coach started.
As a towering midfielder, Nshimiyimana says he always dominated his smaller opponents and played crucial roles for his school teams both in primary and secondary school.
At the age of 14, a friend, Wilson ‘Rudifu’ Byusa introduced Nshimiyimana to Dynamo FC youth team in Burundi. A few months later the young Nshimiyimana was already playing in the second division league. The team was later promoted to topflight division team in 1986.
However, after just one season (1986/1987) playing for Dynamo FC, the team was closed shop due to financial problems and he switched to Prince Louis Rwagasore FC.
Nshimiyimana spent the next two seasons (1987/1988 and 1988/1999) at Prince Louis but in September 1999, team coach Bodouex Ibakure signed senior players, who included current Musanze FC coach Godfroid Okoko to lift the team.
Two years later, Prince Louis FC was one of the most competitive teams in Burundi and the side went on to win the Burundi Cup during the 1991/1992 season.
Due to the civil war in 1993, the 1992/1993 season was not held and he neither featured in the 1993/1994 season before returning to Rwanda with his family in August 1994.
In 1991, Nshimiyimana was named on the Burundi national team but fell sick and played no official match for Intamba ku Rugamba.
“Falling sick and missing out on playing for Burundi was maybe a blessing in disguise because had I played for them, I could not have played for my country Rwanda,” he stated.
Career in Rwanda
On arrival in Rwanda in 1994, he joined APR FC and helped the army side to win the 1994/1995 league title and reached the final of Cecafa Kagame cup. He also led the military side to league titles in 1996, 2001 and 2002 plus Peace Cup title in 2002 respectively.
Former APR skipper Nshimiyimana suffered a thigh injury in 1997 which kept him on the sideline for the 1997/1998 and half of 1998/1999 season.
Back from injury, he moved to Kiyovu SC and featured for the Nyamirambo-based outfit until the end of 1999/2000 season before returning to APR FC where he played until his retirement in June 2004.
In 2003, he helped APR reach the semi-finals of Caf Winners Cup but lost to Nigeria’s Julius Berger whom they beat 2-0 in the second leg in Kigali having lost 3-0 in the first leg.
A decade as Amavubi stars player
For a decade from 1995-2004, Nshimiyimana played for the national team as a regular starter in the midfield. He was part of the Amavubi team that qualified for the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations-Tunisia on the expense of Ghana’s Black Stars.
Debutants Rwanda were in the same pool with hosts Tunisia, Republic of Guinea and DR Congo but Ratomir DujkoviÃâ¡’s team were eliminated in the group stages with four points.
Amavubi registered one win against DR Congo, drew in Guinea and lost to Tunisia.
It’s been ten years of coaching for Nshimiyimana but still feels he hasn’t done anything yet or reached where he wants to be.
“I have a long journey waiting for me ahead. I’m not taking ten years in coaching for granted but I still have a lot to do to be recognised in the region and beyond. I will keep working as hard as I possibly can to build my own legacy as a top coach,” he says.
In the last ten years, he has coached various teams and is regarded as one of Rwanda’s top trainers at club and national team level.
He was Jean Marie Ntagwabira’s assistant coach at APR (2004-2006), national U-17 team (2005-2007), Amavubi Stars assistant coach (2007-2013) and APR FC again for the 2010/2011 season.
AS Kigali (2008-2010), Isonga FC (2011), APR FC (2012), Amavubi Stars from March 2013 to April 2014 and again AS Kigali where he returned in July this year.
As assistant coach, he has won two Cecafa Kagame Cups in 2004 and 2010 with APR FC as well as three league titles in 2005, 2006 and 2011. He also led Amavubi to the final of the 2009 Cecafa Senior Challenge in Nairobi and lost to Uganda, but he is yet to win any silverware as a head coach.
Who is Eric Nshimiyimana?
Born on May 4, 1972 in Ngagara, Bujumbura, Burundi to Augustin Kajugiro (RIP) and Gaudance Mukankaka in a family of six siblings- two girls and four boys, Nshimiyimana has committed his whole life to football and he doesn’t have any regrets for choosing this path.
His father passed away in 1985, leaving him and his siblings in the single hands of their mother, Mukankaka. Nshimiyimana is married to Elizabeth and together they have five children—three boys and two girls.
Nshimiyimana attended Ecole Primaire Laïc Ngagara up to grade four and then moved to ETENI Primaire also based in Bujumbura for his primary education, before switching to Ecole Technique de Comptabilité where he majored in Accounting in A’ level but was forced quit to school in senior five in 1993.
Nshimiyimana idolises former France international Zinedine Zidane as the man he looked up to during his playing career. He also considers FC Barcelona forward Lionel Messi as the best player in the world and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as the best coach.
Dream international team:
Goalie - Thibaut Courtois, right back- Pablo Zabaleta, central defenders- Vincent Company and Tiago da Silva, left back: Marcos Rojo, midfielders; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Mezut Ozil and Thomas Müller with Lionnel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the attack.