FAUSTIN Usengimana is one of those football stars who had the opportunity to hit the limelight at a very young age, being part the legendary Rwanda U-17 national team that competed at the 2011 U-17 Fifa World Cup in Mexico.
The 26-year-old has gone on to have a fairly colourful career. He managed to play for clubs out of Rwanda, in addition to featuring for a number of big clubs in the country and the senior national football team Amavubi.
Last week, the towering defender joined Police on a two-year deal – reportedly for Rwf12 million – after serving out his one-year stint with Zambian side Buildcon.
This week, Saturday Sport’s Damas Sikubwabo had a one-on-one interview with the celebrated centre-back about his football career and the future prospects.
What really pushed you into playing football?
Nothing so special other than the love of the game – it was my own idea to play football. No one in my family inspired me because none of them played it.
“From a young age I tried many sports like volleyball, basketball and football but with time, it became so clear to me that football was my game. Ever since, I have been living my dream.”
Apart from living his dream as a footballer, the soft spoken Usengimana is also an avid football fan and supports Manchester United and Barcelona in English Premier League and Spanish La Liga, respectively.
“I was inspired to play in central defence by former Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic and Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid.”
You rose to stardom at a young age, what can you tell us about your early days in football?
I have the football talent since I was young, but that was not just it. I also worked hard and always felt really bad when my team lost. That competitive spirit earned me a starting position – at times as a captain – with every team I played for.
I was the team captain of Rugando Secondary School for two years from 2007 to 2009, and won the 2011 national inter-schools championship with APE Rugunga.
Barely aged 15, Usengimana caught the attention of Rayon Sports and was signed by the club’s junior team in 2009 and he was promoted to the first team after just one year, in July 2010.
“I will forever be grateful to coach Baptiste Kayiranga for instilling in me the confidence to be a good player when I was with the junior team. It helped me a lot in my journey.”
Only aged 16, how did you handle the pressure of playing for a big club like Rayon Sports?
To be honest, football is a game of pressure and a good player knows how to handle big games, being nervous is natural but when the game starts there’s no room for that. I apply coolness or toughness where necessary and boost my confidence because I hate to lose a game.
Usengimana played the 2010/11 season at Rayon but he was loaned to then newly formed side Isonga FC for the 2011/12 campaign where he helped them to a stunning sixth position.
He immediately rejoined his parent club for the 2012/13 and inspired the Blues to their seventh league title, the first championship in nine years.
Only in that very season, the skillful defense kingpin and Rayon, then coached by Frenchman Didier Gomez da Rosa, clinched three titles – the League title, the inaugural Genocide Memorial Tournament and Agaciro Development Fund tournament.
The then Nyanza-based side also reached the semi-finals of the 2013 Cecafa Kagame Cup in Darfur, Sudan.
“The 2012/13 season was massive; we won everything but the Peace Cup on the local scene. I would say I returned to Rayon at the right time. What amazes me most is that I was a regular in the starting team.”
However, Usengimana spent the following campaign in the sickbay after picking a career-threatening injury in the opening league match against Gicumbi FC, a game the latter lost 1-0.
“I can never forget that injury because I was not sure if I could ever walk again,” he recalls.
The 2016 move to APR and quick U-turn
After seven years with Rayon, Usengimana, who was one of the best centre-backs in domestic football, joined rivals APR. He was expected to be a lead defender to fill the vacuum left by Emery Bayisenge who had just left for professional career in Morocco.
But, he had a difficult spell at the army side after struggling with inconsistency and failing to earn a starting position, and consequently returned to Rayon after just one season.
Going Pro and future
He was part of the Rayon squad that reached the quarter-finals of the 2018 Caf Confederation Cup, but he left the club during the group stage to join Kuwaiti side Khaitan Sporting Club. After one season with Khaitan, he was signed by Zambia’s Builcon FC in February 2019.
“Playing abroad is a great experience,” he says. “You get to learn a lot, beyond football and I have been lucky to play in Kuwait and Zambia over the last two years.”
He added: “I am back to Rwanda, and I look forward to playing for Police. But, I am always on the lookout for professional football in advanced leagues, and I am confident the better days lie ahead.”
Usengimana plays for the men’s senior national team, Amavubi, since March 2013 and also represented the country with the U-17, U-20 and U-23 teams.Follow https://twitter.com/NkotanyiDamas