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A peek into Rwanda’s persistent failure in CAF competitions

For the umpteenth time, a club from Rwanda failed to get to the Group stage of either the CAF Champions League or the CAF Confederation Cup.

The last Rwandan club to achieve this feat was Rayon Sports in 2018 when they managed to get into the Group stage of the CAF Confederation Cup.

For half a decade now, it has been total failure on the part of Rwandan clubs as they fail to make the grade in Africa’s two glamorous club competitions.

The 2023/24 CAF Champions League saw APR FC humiliated by Pyramids FC as they lost 6-1 at the June 30 Stadium in Cairo on Friday, September 29 after the first leg in Kigali ended goalless.

Rayon Sports inadvertently benefited from the floods in Libya as Al Hilal Benghazi proposed that both legs be played in Rwanda at Kigali Pele Stadium and CAF agreed.

The first leg ended 1-1 with the second fixture also ending with the same score line. Al Hilal Benghazi sailed through winning the penalty shootout by 4-2.

This was a great chance for Rayon to qualify to the Group stage. In African club competitions, home advantage really counts. But they bottled things up and were eliminated.

-What is the problem with APR and Rayon?

This is a multi-million dollar question which needs to be answered.

For APR, after ending a decade of using only home grown players and deciding to bring in foreigners, one thought things would be better but it turned out to be the opposite.

In terms of money, APR have the financial muscle to flex and they can compete with any team on the continent for any player they want.

They brought in close to 10 foreign players in the 2023 June transfer window and out of the lot, only one in the person of Sudanese midfielder Sharaf Shaiboub has shown that he is at a top level.

Now, the phase of football in Africa is changing and every club wants to spend big in the transfer market by bringing in quality players so as to make an impact especially in Africa club competitions.

In the domestic league, if APR even plays with their eyes closed, they will still win the league as they have won it for four consecutive times and have been dominant. However, they repeatedly failed in Africa with their best ever run being the semi finals berth attained in the 2003 CAF Cup Winners Competition.

-Did APR use the right procedure to sign foreign players?

It is evident that APR did panic buying. With the exception of Shaiboub Sharaf, others including Victor Mbaoma, Apam Assongwe, and Salomon Bidjeme all failed.

TP Mazembe under the management of Moise Katumbi used a simple approach in signing foreign players and they ruled Africa for eight years (2009 to 2017) as they won the CAF Champions League thrice and the CAF Confederation Cup two times in that era. They also became the first African team to reach the FIFA Club World Cup finals in 2010.

Katumbi was very crafty. He got the best in terms of expatriate players. He had local representatives in Ghana, and Zambia. The scouts investigated the leagues in those nations and got TP Mazembe all the best players.

In Ghana, they signed as many as five players – Solomon Asante, Daniel Nii Adjei, Yaw Frimpong, Richard Kissi Boateng and Gladson Awako.

From Zambia, they brought in four players including the mercurial Rainford Kalaba and Stopilla Sunzu. All these foreign players were quality. They became the backbone of TP Mazembe in their glorious years.

APR can go on the same tangent. They can target two or three soccer nations on the continent whose leagues are vibrant and get local representatives. They will then sign all the top players in that league.

If APR are able to go on a new approach in getting good quality foreign players coupled with the best local ones, they will be able to compete at the top level.

Again, they must get a good coach who is well versed in continental campaigns and has a track record to show. For now, Thierry Froger is definitely not the man to lead the club to the promised land. He has failed.

Concerning Rayon Sports, one cannot fathom the actual problem since even with home advantage, they failed to glitter.

Up till now, they have not gotten a replacement for Cameroonian forward Leandre Onana who left for Simba in June when his contract expired.

The club signed so many foreign players especially from Uganda and Burundi but how many of them are at the level to compete with big clubs on the African continent.

Rayon must get things right and focus on team building.

Last season, Eric Ngendahimana and Rafael Osaluwe bossed their midfield as they won the Peace Cup. Ngendahimana was arguably the best defensive midfielder in the league and needed that continuity. But he has been relegated to the bench this season while Osaluwe’s contract was terminated for inexplicable reasons.

Rayon were banned by FIFA for not paying Tanzanian goalkeeper Ramadhani Kabwili. And, if they are able to pay him and they enter the market again, they should not sign just any player because that is what they have been doing for years.

After the exit of APR and Rayon Sports, the clubs now have to concentrate on the local league.

For the club which will win the 2023/24 Rwanda Premier League and the Peace Cup, it must learn from the disastrous campaign of APR and Rayon Sports and get things done right.

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