With a career spanning over ten years, Jean Baptiste Mugiraneza ranks highly among the best midfielders that Rwanda has ever produced.
A fortnight ago, he elegantly called time on his international football career to focus on club football. With 68 caps in national colours, the 36-year-old had a tremendous journey for the Amavubi, characterized with both the joy of success and the inevitable disappointment of loss.
Mugiraneza featured at several Cecafa Senior Challenge tournaments, various qualifiers for the World Cup, Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) and African Nations Championships (CHAN) campaigns, in addition to international friendly matches.
All this makes Mugiraneza one of the players that have something to be proud of, and, yes, he is proud. However, he also wishes more would have been achieved for the nation.
In an interview with Weekend Sport, he confessed that he had a dream featuring at the AFCON, or World Cup, before his retirement. He hopes the current generation can reach such goals.
“I retire a happy man. I gave everything I had for 14 years with the national team and I am proud of my contribution,” he said. “I had hoped Rwanda would feature at the AFCON and possibly the World Cup before I hang up my boots, but unfortunately were not able to. I only wish the best to younger players in that quest.”
‘Miggy’ as he is commonly referred to, the holding midfielder-cum-winger hails from the same generation with famous names such as Jean Claude Ndoli, Haruna Niyonzima and Jean Claude Iranzi, among others, who have played a pivotal part for the national team over the last 15 years.
Born to François Mbonyingabo (RIP) and Pascasie Banderembako in Nyamirambo, one of the busiest suburbs in Kigali, Mugiraneza is the fifth child from a family of nine – six boys and three girls.
His football journey can be traced way back during his boyhood days at Kivugiza Primary School. He played for the school, and remembers at one point in 2002 winning the City of Kigali’s inter-primary schools championship.
The following year, he was signed by La Jeunesse junior team where he played for one season before he was promoted to the club’s senior team.
The senior team, at the time, featured in the second division and helped them to earn promotion to the Rwanda Premier League at the end of the 2004/05 season.
Topflight league career
Mugiraneza played for La Jeunesse in the topflight for one season before Kiyovu came calling and, as he put it, “I couldn’t turn them down because they were a team I supported as a child.”
Kiyovu signed the then 22-year-old on a two-year contract. However, he only spent one season with the Green Baggies before crossing to APR at the end of the 2006/07 season.
During his first eight-year stint with APR, Mugiraneza helped the army side to two Cecafa Kagame Cups (2007 and 2010), six league titles (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015) as well as five Peace Cups of the years 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
“I had the best memories of my career at APR. And, the 2009/10 was my best season. We won the League-Peace Cup double on top of the Cecafa Kagame Cup.”
Mugiraneza was the league’s second best scorer with 14 goals in the 2009/10 season, only two goals behind top-scorer Meddie Kagere who played for Police FC.
Departing APR twice
After winning his sixth league title in eight seasons with APR, Mugiraneza was signed by Tanzanian side Azam FC at the beginning of the 2015/16 season at a USD 10,000 sign-on fee with a USD 3,000 monthly salary.
However, he did not serve out his three-year contract with Azam as he was snatched by Kenyan giants Gor Mahia the following year where he helped the club to their record-extending 16th league title.
In January 2018, he rejoined APR at a reported Rwf20 million fee but his second stint with the army side ended in a rather unceremonious manner just 18 months later.
After winning the 2017/18 league title, Mugiraneza assumed the club’s captaincy for the 2018/19 campaign that ended without winning a major title for the first time since 2013. The below-par performance saw 16 players, including Miggy, axed by the club.
“It was a difficult situation for me that I even considered retiring,” he recalls. “ I did not see it coming or imagined that I would be fired in such a manner after all I had done for and won with the club.”
But, before long, a new opportunity came up. It was Tanzania’s KMC that came looking for his services.
“Jackson Mayanja, the KMC head coach, was told about players that were released at APR and he immediately started looking for me. We talked on phone, and then arranged a meeting to discuss the nitty-gritty details, then I signed.”
This week, he extended his contract with the Tanzania Premier League side until August 2021.
Duties in national teams
Mugiraneza is one of the best midfielders of his generation and represented the country with national teams of different age brackets since 2004.
He earned his first call-up in the senior national team in 2005 but he was left out of the final squad that held Nigeria to a 1-all draw, in Kigali, during the qualifiers for the 2006 Fifa World Cup.
His debut came the following year at the 2006 Cecafa Kagame Cup but Rwanda lost 1-0 to Sudan in the final. He would go on to make 68 appearances, and scored 7 goals, in a career spanning 14 years.
Mugiraneza’s last international match was against Côte d’Ivoire in 2018 during the 2019 AFCON qualifiers. Rwanda lost the fixture 2-1 in Kigali.
In a recent interview, he told this publication: “representing my country for all this time (14 years) will forever be my greatest honour.”Follow https://twitter.com/NkotanyiDamas