In 2004, a bunch of unknown footballers made history as Rwanda made her maiden appearance at the African Nation’s cup in Tunisia.
Players like Jimmy Gatete, Olivier Karekezi, Hamadi Ndikumana, Desire Mbonabucya, Rafael Manamana, Emeran Fritz, Eric Nshimiyimana and Jimmy Mulisa among others enjoyed a heroes’ welcome on their return to a grateful nation.
However much of the team disappeared in oblivion immediate after the 2004 showing, some of the players have disappeared without trace and the team’s fortunes have been mixed since.
Coaches have came and gone without achieving any success.
For now three qualification campaigns have passed, Rwanda has tried to relive the 2004 memories but without much success, and the tide seem will not change for a foreseeable future.
Rwanda is bottom of Group H with three points from four thanks to their win in Kigali against Burundi. Rwanda may not be one of the powerhouses of African football, but on many occasions they have proved more than capable against some of the continent’s top teams like Nigeria, Ghana and Morocco.
The basis of 2004 was not built on; many chances have passed, of the team that featured in Tunisia only Karekezi and Saidi Abedi still dons the national team colours. The team wasn’t followed up to ensure continuity.
The football administrators only looked at short time results without looking to the future. The clubs also have a hand in the decaying football standards.
Local clubs have failed to live with the country’s development pace and this has not been helped by the kind of management, club managers are exercising.
Youth development is on the lips of every football administrator, backed by thousands of dollars in Fifa grants and it has become a perquisite to take over football offices across the globe.
Rwandan football in the last years has not fared very well in this project and this mess solely rests with the clubs.
The local clubs want short term results not looking to the future and they have failed to explore the golden talents that lay to waste in the country.
This has also affected the National team’s set up thus witnessing lukewarm performances.
Being able to attract regional stars weighs tones, Rwanda football has moved a step further however this has suffocated the development of local talent.
Clubs were mandated to have juniors’ teams, but few have adhered to this. And those that have, they have don’t given the budding talent any chance to shine.
In 2007 APR fired almost the entire first team with a view of giving chance to Rwanda’s youngsters. However they have since failed on this promise, currently only two players; Jean Baptiste Mugiraneza and Haruna Niyonzima hold down regular team places.
And the club has not done any better by poaching talent from local clubs only to let them rot in the reserves or discard them seasons later.
A case in point is Sc Kiyovu’s Eric Serugaba; the striker had been tipped to be the next Jimmy Gatete following his exploits in the 2006-07 season.
After his big money move to APR, Serugaba disappeared from the radar, a thing that is attributed to his lack of games at the military side.
The striker was mishandled at APR, a thing that also affected the national team as it had to depend on old timers.
The same fate seems to have befallen, Arafat Serugendo, Hegman Ngoma, Vianney Rukundo and many more if the management situation at club levels doesn’t improve fast.
Rwandan soccer has struggled to bridge the gap left by a lost generation, with young players now coming through to fill the void, this group is not given all the chances at club level frustrating the development of the national team.
The national league has been dominated by Military side APR since 1995. Today there is no single local or regional trophy on which APR’s name is not inscribed overlapping Rayon Sport in the process but both teams have depended on regional stars for this success.
Rwanda is quite different with a lot of commitment from the senior leadership of the country; a President, who personally supports the beautiful game and sponsors a regional club tournament.
The creation of the Ferwafa Academy has driven other clubs and football promoters to create other academies and this has created competition and identification of very good youth talent. The future of Rwandan football lies in these academies which include APR, Sec, Vision, Kiyovu and Police.