Olivier Niyonzima’s rise to stardom

Few people had heard of Olivier Sefu Niyonzima when he joined Rayon Sports from Isonga FC at the end of the 2014-15 season on a free transfer.

The midfielder went on to play a key role in the blues’ run that saw them become the first Rwandan club to reach the quarterfinals of the CAF Confederation Cup this year.

Three years on, the 25-year old’s tenacious attitude has increasingly become far more obvious. His pace, athleticism and agility to take on defenders as well as his vision and passing capability make him a complete midfielder.

This week, Saturday Sportcaught up with the Rayon Sports and Amavubi midfielder to talk about his promising career ahead of his 25th birthday anniversary on December 20.

Who is Niyonzima?

Born and raised in Gasabo District, in the capital Kigali, to Papias Niyonzima and Mediatrice Mukarwego (RIP), Niyonzima is the only child of his parents.

He is married to Donatha Nishimwe, with whom they have one son — Nolan Niyonzima.

The former Isonga midfielder attended Remera Catholic Primary School and later switched to Kimihurura GS before going to APACE where he did his entire secondary school studies, earning a certificate of completion in computer science in 2014.

He is yet to enroll to university.

A fan of English premier league side Chelsea, Niyonzima says his football idol is Germany international and Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos.

Early days

Just like most other ambitious kids, Niyonzima’s dream was to be a star professional footballer, and started chasing that dream at a young age, playing street football with boyhood friends and featuring for his schools’ teams on concrete pitches.

“I started having great interest in football when I was barely seven years but it got really serious during my second year in secondary school when I started playing for both my school teams,” Niyonzima recalls.

In 2012, while he was in senior four at APACE, he was spotted, courted and signed by second division side Pepiniere where he spent one season before crossing to rivals Sorwathe in 2013 on a one-year deal.

At the beginning of the 2014/2015 season, the midfield sensation moved to Isonga and the youthful side were instantly lifted by his arrival as he inspired them to a quick return to topflight league in July 2015.

After his impressive season with Isonga, it was just a matter of time for top clubs to add him to their wishlist. Despite strong interest from several Azam Rwanda Premier League teams, Niyonzima was determined to join Rayon Sports.

“Living the dream” at Rayon

Since joining Rayon Sports a little over three years ago, Niyonzima has made around 60 appearances for the club in all competitions helping them to win the 2016 Peace Cup title, the 2016/2017 Azam Rwanda Premier League and the annual Agaciro Development Fund tournament’s trophy in 2017 and 2018.

But that’s not all.

The soft-spoken midfielder played an instrumental role as the eight-time domestic champions braved the odds to reach the last eight in this year’s CAF Confederation Cup, becoming the first Rwandan team to reach that stage in any continental competition.

He was signed on a two-year deal in 2015 before extending it by another two years in 2017.

“I love it here and I will play for the club for as long as I am still needed. Rayon Sports have always been my team of choice, wearing their shirt feels like I am living my childhood dream,” he confessed.

His current contract will expire with the end of the 2018-19 season.

No consistency in national teams

On different occasions – but, inconsistently – Niyonzima has featured for national teams of different set-ups, the U20, U23 and the senior team.

He received his first call-up for the senior Amavubi team in 2016 during qualifiers for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON finals tournament.

The former Pepiniere FC midfielder was part of Amavubi that played out a 2-all draw with Central African Republic (CAR) at Huye Stadium last month, and the team that held Guinea to a 1-1 draw at Kigali Stadium in October.

How he is described

Currently serving as the Amavubi head coach, Vincent Mashami is the one who signed Niyonzima for Isonga FC back in 2014.

When asked about his admiration for the midfielder, Mashami did not hesitate to say that, “Niyonzima is a talented, responsible and disciplined player. He has earned his way up through hard work and his relentless effort to learn and improve every day.”