21 January 2013

Rwanda: Do Our Kids Hold the Future?


Spain's La Liga dominance of the Fifa Team of the Year was the headline grabber in all sports dailies. Basing on outcome what does the future hold for Rwandan football.

What is true is that only a handful of nations worldwide can command this kind of talent power, a pool of talent has been Spain's greatest achievement.

Before 2008 when Spain won its first major title, they were referred to as world football's underachievers. However this has changed with the successful defence of the Euro title and winning of the 2010 World Cup.

In the book; BARCA: THE MAKING OF THE GREATEST TEAM IN THE WORLD, author, Graham Hunter tells of a story of how there would be no Pep Guardiola, no Leo Messi, no Xavi and no Andres Iniesta if it wasn't of Dutch great, Johan Cruyff.

According to the book, the genius from Amsterdam created the conditions which allowed these incredible players to be recognised and to become central to FC Barcelona and eventually Spain's success story.

A story is told of how a 16-year-old Xavi was part of the Barca youth system and already had five years of La Masia training under his belt.

Iniesta was being scouted. Victor Valdes had already spent four years in the youth system at the Camp Nou, and a 17-year-old called Carles Puyol had just been scouted and signed - to play as a winger.

Hunter goes on to say that Cruyff's system was not only able to train players brilliantly once the right ones were selected, but the criteria they used while scouting had changed.

As a result, the club was now consistently choosing the best young players, or certainly the most appropriate for their philosophy, who would one day provide the spine of the greatest team in the world.

From this, I want to ask: 'Is our football environment conducive to groom the next Jimmy Gatete, Rwanda's most influential player in recent years?

No doubt, Gatete, at his prime was a goalscoring machine for both the national team and club. His intelligence, pace, and ability to beat off markers deserves a mention.

Referred to as 'god of goals' by the local fans, Gatete is believed to be the most prolific striker Rwanda's football has ever known. He scored crucial goals during the 2004 African Cup of Nations qualifications which saw Amavubi reach its first ever finals.

The generation of players that followed has proved nothing on the international level.

Haruna Niyonzima, Jean Baptiste Mugiraneza and Jean Claude Ndoli still have a lot to prove at international level, so they shouldn't be held up as the standard for upcoming players to look to as role model s.

I fear for the future of Rwandan football. There are plenty of technically superb young players; APR FC and Amavubi Stars defender Emery Bayisenge, Solomon Nirisarike Michel Rusheshangoga, Andrew Buteera and Charles Tibingana hold the future of Rwanda's football.

The U-17 national team that came to be known as Kagame's kids led Rwanda to the second place in the 2011 Africa Youth Championship finals played in Kigali before leading the same team at the FIFA U-17 World Cup finals held in Mexico.

This generation fits the bill.

Let's not forget these players have seen first-team action this season in the national football league.

The talent is there, but the senior team has been mismanaged by the football federation and the coaches.

However, with the right conditions and exposure results may take decades to show but will eventually appear. Barca it has taken close to 40 years to reap the benefits of the academy.

Through age tournaments, Rwanda will identify its next explosive talent but increasingly, football clubs and the national team seem to be turning to foreign players for success.

Togo used a spate of Brazilians in recent years while Rwanda, Burundi and Mauritania have also been accused of giving passports to ineligible players so that they can field them in international matches.

The football federation, under the pressure of the demanding fans, always tries to achieve excellent performances yet, in real sense; they have invested in eggs that can easily break without serving the nation for long.

The biggest problem for Rwanda's football has been quick fixation. Truth be told, you can't build a strong house on a weak foundation. Let's not be fooled into thinking that we can achieve success without a strong base upon which this success must be founded.

On many occasions in the previous world or continental qualifiers, we have always missed out on qualifications without a clear reason.

Many will see it as being unlucky, others will point to poor preparations, others will say Juju but I strongly disagree.

It has been said over and over again that invest in youth structures and the end product will be there for all to see. Scores of such talents remain in Rwanda where there are no youth structures.

The biggest question is; what are we doing locally to grow the technical skills of our players?

What are we doing to improve the technical standards of our coaches in the leagues, youth structures (academies) who spend most of their time with these players before they are ready for national teams?

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