The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Has the Foreign Influx Helped in Anyway?

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Recently Fifa president, Sepp Blatter said that England will stay in the shadow of Europe's elite until the influx of foreign players to the Barclays Premier League is brought under control.

According to British media, Blatter is impressed with how the Premier League has been marketed and sold around the world, he is adamant the national team will fail to develop if club managers keep looking abroad for players.

Blatter believes England are significantly in the shadow of Spain, Italy and Germany.

'I don't think the Premier League is too global (but) you have too many foreigners and not (enough) English players, so your national team is not yet at the level of these national teams.

'If you look to Spain, Italy and Germany, you realise 80 per cent or even more of the players of the national team play in their own league.'

The winds of change should blow through youth football in Rwanda and, it should point the game's development heads in a new direction with kids at the helm.

Following repeated failures by the national football team in major championships and the inevitable calls for action that follow, the local football federation should review its development plans with positive recommendations that should have implications for the game from top to bottom but central to the proposals should be changes to youth football at grassroots level.

The proposals should put in mind the people involved the kids and the youth who play the game.

Youth clubs, grassroots coaches and youth leagues should be encouraged.

All of this should aim to make football fun and enjoyable for kids, particularly at the youngest ages, to aid the development process and reduce the chances of kids dropping out of the game.

The federation should help clubs link-up with local schools in order to help young players get the best out of their football education as well as the academic side.

Professionalise the league

In the 80s and the best part of the 1990s, Uganda's national football league, the Super League was where every footballer wanted to show his skills before finally heading off to places like Oman and Asia for a hefty retirement package.

Uganda's clubs; Sc Villa, KCC and Express were competing on the continent with fair success. Villa reached two successive continental finals in 1991 and 1992.

Several former players made their mark in the then popular Super league; James Kayimba, Manfred Kizito and Said Abedi Makasi first made their names in the Ugandan league.

Abedi featured for the Ugandan big three (Sc Villa, KCC and Express) before his Rayon Sport stop-over as he was heading to Europe.

Other regional teams like Kenya Breweries (Tusker), AFC Leopards, Gor Mahia (Africa Winners Cup champions-1987), Simba and Young Africans (Yanga) completed the big ones' list in East Africa.

However, all that changed mainly due to the advent of digital television that brought with it the Premiership craze.

One of the reasons that the regional football leagues have fallen on hard times is the crowd violence that has turned away numerous fans from the stadiums.

The region has seen a massive drop in attendances with only as few as 100 fans even less attending matches in the 30,000-seater national stadiums across the East African region.

One main factor to blame is the growing popularity of foreign leagues relayed via satellite. The popularity of the English premiership, French, Italian and Spanish leagues has affected the interest in local football and is likely to bury the game of football.

However, Rwanda's football seems to be sailing astray of some of the troubles that have faced its neighbours.

Though there is the English league storm that has covered the whole country, Rwandans should take pride in the fact that national football league is still a hot topic on the streets across the country.

Teams still have fans following them for their up country engagements and though attendance figures show a different picture for the so called small clubs there is hope for the big ones.

When Rayon takes on APR, the match can be the talk of town for weeks.

The attendance in such games can't be disappointing. Amahoro can fill to its capacity which isn't the case in other regional countries save for Tanzania when Yanga takes on Simba.

The national league has in the past attracted some of the region's best players and coaches.

David Otti, Sam Ssimbwa, Jackson Mayanja, and Abu Koroma have all coached local clubs.

The league has attracted budding regional talent; national teams' players like Titus Malama, Hassan Mubiru, Phillip Ssozi and many others who have all traded their skills in the Rwandan football league, mainly with APR.

Being able to attract regional stars weighs tones

Leave alone attracting players in their twilight like Ibrahim Kongo who featured for Kibuye recently, the league has continued to appeal to regional stars; Abubaker Tabula, Vincent Kayizi, Alimansi Kadogo, Shaka Okello and Johnson Bagoole among others have all featured in the local league.

To maintain this appeal the local football's governing body Ferwafa should professionalise the league in order for all stakeholders to cash in on the benefits.

Creating a company to run the league should be looked into.

The running of the national league should be separated from other factions of the larger than life clones at the Fifa backed national football federation.

Ferwafa should use their good reputation in Fifa to brand the league in order to have a regional appeal.

This will help the local league to draw sponsors, attract more crowds and improve competition among the clubs.

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