WHEN APR Football Club took the bold decision to offload foreign players last season and instead use only Rwandan players, it was received with mixed reactions from both their supporters and football enthusiasts in the country.
The move was aimed at using only domestic players in bid to considerably change Rwandan football forever and propel the club to greater heights.
Last season’s league and cup winners had 11 foreign players including three Brazilians in their first team.
They included Lionel St. Preux, Dan Wagaluka, Johnson Bagoole, Habib Kavuma, Papy Faty, Seleman Ndikumana, Alex De Avila Peixoto, Oliviero Alves, Logbo Landry, Kabange Twite and Douglas Lopes Carneirn.
The 13-time Rwandan national league champions used the move to reduce the massive wage bill, which was way beyond what they could afford for the longer term. Majority of them earned over US$1000 (about Rwf0.66m) or more a month plus bonuses, housing allowances and signing on fees.
The same policy was adopted by Police FC, who finished second in the Primus National Football League and were knocked out of the Peace Cup against Malaria in the quarter-final.
The Rwandan football governing body, Ferwafa, also passed a law requiring all local clubs to use only four foreign players in their respective squads and that number will be reduced to three for next season.
It is only APR FC and Police FC that focused fully on having a team made up of only Rwandans 100 per cent, and Rayon Sports took full advantage to dominate the league with a mixture of Rwandan and foreign players, mostly Burundians.
The first season has just ended since the policy was implemented and the club has not won any silverware, having lost the Primus league title to arch rivals Rayon Sports and knocked out of the Peace Cup in the semi-final.
Although the military side still have the Cecafa/Kagame Cup Club Championships to play before the end of the season in the Sudanese city of Darfur, it will be a tough battle against Simba SC, Tusker, Express FC, regional champions Yanga, all set to line up strong squads for the title.
Winning silverware on domestic soil has failed but there is still a chance, however small, for the youthful APR team to win the regional championships on foreign soil, a feat that has been managed by rivals Rayon Sport in 1998 and Atraco FC in 2009.
Having ended the season with no silverware, it is only patience, determination and good preparations that are needed once again for Rwanda’s most successful football club to get back to winning ways.
It is upon the club management to stick to their policy and ensure that these youngsters are kept together and given all the needed support to achieve the needed success in future.
The club also needs to sign three to five excellent Rwandan players and beef up the technical squad ahead of next season which starts in September.
The current crop of players, including Nova Bayama, Emery Bayisenge, Michel Rusheshangonga, Andrew Buteera, Tumaine Ntamuhanga, Jean Claude Iranzi, Jean Claude Ndoli and Jean Baptist Mugiraneza are good foundation for the club to make improvements next season and even become a dominant force again.