Home NewsNational Exclusive: ‘It would Be An Honour for Me’ – Elijah Ani On Playing for Amavubi 

Exclusive: ‘It would Be An Honour for Me’ – Elijah Ani On Playing for Amavubi 

by Eddy Abayisenga
2:02 pm

Nigerian striker Elijah Ani has said that he is poised to represent Rwanda national football team ahead of World Cup Qualifiers games due in June.

“I would be honoured if a country like Rwanda would say Elijah come and play for us. It is something that would stay in my heart forever,” Elijah told KT Press in an exclusive interview.

The Bugesera player, who has yet to play for the Super Eagles, has been at the centre of speculations regarding the possibility of playing for Amavubi.

Speaking to KT Press, Elijah divulged that he began contemplating playing for Rwanda prior to joining Bugesera in the summer of 2023 with the help of his agent, Emmy Fire.

“A lot of things happened before I started playing for Bugesera. Every player would want to be where he’s wanted, and you can give everything when you feel you’re welcomed and appreciated,” he points out.

“I need to talk to my agent about it, we’re going to meet within the week, and he’s going to give me the complete details about everything,” Elijah on the negotiation with Rwanda Football Federation (FERWAFA).

During the recently-ended 2023-24 campaign, Elijah distinguished himself as one of the best men in front of the goal in the Rwanda Premier League. He finished the season levelled for the top scorer with his compatriot Victor Mbaoma of APR, having each netted 15 times.

He also proved to be Bugesera’s talisman despite a bunch of hurdles he faced in what was a rollercoaster season for Francis Haringingo’s side.

The Bugesera district-based outfit made history by reaching the Peace Cup final for the first time in the club’s history, following a mammoth display against 2022-23 victors Rayon Sports in the semifinals, though they fell short at the hands of Vincent Mashami’s Police.

However, it was an entirely different story in the league as they waited for the Rwanda Premier League’s final day to dodge relegation.

Elijah reckons that Bugesera’s subpar league performances are predominantly to blame for their financial distress.

“It was not easy for a player playing 3, 4, or 5 months without getting paid. You have people who look up to you and depend on you, it’s difficult but sometimes you have to sacrifice in life something, you go forward and you come back until you get stability. The structure also of the team which, I think, bows down to the financial aspect.”

He further questioned the team’s mentality and pointed out that there was no pressure at Bugesera which, he thinks, kept them from giving their all.

“Sometimes it is not about money every time, but mentality, what mentality are you giving players? Before a game, every club I’ve played for has something, you feel it, they make you feel that excitement and pressure (on the matchday) because every game matters and is different. So, you have to go on the pitch with a mind that this is it, and you need some people that they know about these things.”

“Playing for teams like Enugu Rangers and Lobi Stars, your mentality has to change because you go there you see there are big teams, they put you in some level that, in a condition and situation, you have to play for yourself and your future.”

Despite all these hitches along the way, Elijah managed to take the Rwandan league by storm and drew the attention of several local clubs. There were plenty of reports linking the Nigerian-born footballer to APR, Police, and Rayon Sports.

He admitted that he has already held talks with these clubs but insisted that there are a host of things to mull over before making a final decision on where he will ply his trade next season.

“We still have to weigh what is the best. I have a contract with Bugesera, one season left….of course, there is a release clause in my contract.”

“We have had options but we’re waiting, everybody wants to live a better life, if you get to be somewhere that it’s better for you in life, why wouldn’t you go? If I get an opportunity to play for a team in England, do you think I’m going to say NO, I can’t, but it’s one step at a time, we’re hoping for the best.”

How did Elijah come to Rwanda?

The lad, who had a dream to become a professional footballer, didn’t find it easy to make that dream come true as someone who was born in the most populated country on the continent, Nigeria.

From failing a trial at his home side Bendel Insurance in 2016 to signing a pro contract with a good salary with the then Nigeria Premier League side, Wikki Tourist, three months later, Elijah’s football career started so intriguingly.

The forward, who can finish with flair and handles defenders with poise, went overseas for the first time in 2018 in Beirut, Lebanon, but it was all spoiled by COVID-19 and he reverted to Nigeria.

Elijah had blueprints to join one of the best leagues on the continent, South African Premier Division, in the summer of 2023. Nonetheless, he suddenly found himself in Rwanda, a nation he had no clue about in terms of football, and he ended up signing for a mediocre Rwandan side, Bugesera.

“I came to Rwanda unexpectedly, I had other deals, I really got an invitation to go Chippa United in South Africa, but all of sudden I’m in Rwanda,” he said.

He stimulated the interest of most Rwandan football enthusiasts and established himself in Rwandan football during his debut season.

“The league here is similar to the league I’ve been used to playing in Nigeria before I came here. The weather is almost the same, a little bit different on the pitches, but it’s still almost the same. I think that can also count as the factor,” Elijah on what he would put down to his swift adaptability to Rwandan football.

Elijah also lauded Bugesera head coach Francis Haringingo for changing the team’s attitudes and mindset when he took over in the middle of the just-concluded season, claiming the former Rayon Sports coach was the vital element for Bugesera reaching the Peace Cup final and avoiding relegation amid club’s financial hurdles.

“Believe me, Francis is a good coach, he brought a certain kind of mentality to the guys. When he came, he saw that the mentality of some of the guys was wrong, and he tried so much to change that, pushing them to play until the last day. He was very influential.”

Despite the stick that has been directed to referees in Rwandan football, Elijah believes that referees ‘are doing everything possible to improve on their work and CVs’ and said he is happy with their relationship with players.

“I feel that there are very good referees in Rwanda. If some people are complaining, of course, no one is perfect, some people can have their flaws and bad days, and you can’t always perform well. The referees (in Rwanda) are trying their best and you cannot take that away.”

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