Désiré Mbonabucya: The Rwandan legend who gave the Canaries a sting

With their current attack, it is unlikely that any Sint-Truiden striker will get close to the top of the sides all-time scorers charts. In order to do so, they would have to surpass Désiré Mbonabucya, the Rwandan international who is well and truly in control of the crown. Mbonabucya scored an impressive 62 goals for the Canaries in 158 games over a period of seven years.

Mbonabucya began his career with Birombe Sport in Rwanda, before another Belgian side spotted his clear talents. In the summer of 1995, Mbonabucya left Rwanda to join KV Mechelen. In two season for Malinwa, Mbonabucya played 44 games, scoring 11 goals in the Belgian first division. During that time he almost joined Club Brugge, but Mechelen asked for too much money for the Rwandan international.

In 1997 the striker left Belgium for a brief stint in Turkey with Gaziantepspor, where he continued to find the net as he racked up 23 goals in 71 games. Unfortunately, Gaziantepspor ran into financial trouble, so the striker returned to Belgium to join Sint-Truiden, where he would go on to make history.

In his first season with the Canaries, the 2000/2001 season, the Rwandan striker picked up 10 goals in 29 games, yet it was the following season he would really shine. He scored in all six of the opening games in the 2001/2002 season, with braces against Lommel SK and RWD Molenbeek to give him eight goals. Despite missing large chunk of games that season, he finished it with 17 goals in 26 games. The following season the striker once again hit double figures, grabbing 14 goals in 32.

The striker’s spell with the club almost resulted in a cup win. In 2003 the side made the cup final but lost to La Louvière 3-1. Mbonabucya never quite hit these heights again for Sint-Truiden as a knee injury began to hinder his performances. After scoring just nine goals in 2003/04 season he then spent a year away with Heusden-Zolder. Like his near miss in terms of joining Club Brugge, the player claimed that this injury cost him a move to Aston Villa.

However the time with Heusden-Zolder was just a brief release from Sint-Truiden, as the Amavubi international was once again back with the Canaries the following season. He would go on to play two more Pro League campaigns with the Canaries, with the 2005/06 season being the last he scored in as he grabbed nine goals in all competitions.

Mbonabucya is and remains a fan favourite. Even now when he returns the stadium puts on the song the fans would sign to him, titled Désirée by Gilbert Bécaud. This is even despite a bizarre situation in which the player was accused of human trafficking in 2004. He was jailed for three days, accused of trying to pass of a Rwandan child as his own. In the end, the striker was acquitted when it was revealed that a friend of his ex partner had brought a child over and claimed it was Mbonabucya’s daughter.

Sandwiched in between all this was an impressive international career as well. Rwanda are hardly a household name when it comes to African football, having only recently begun to qualify consistently for the unique African Nations Championships finals. Unlike the African Cup of Nations, this tournament features only players who play their football domestically. Mbonabucya was part of the only Rwandan side to qualify for an AFCON tournament when they made it to Tunisia in 2004. It was fitting that, a decade after a genocide that remains synonymous with the country, the side would qualify for their first AFCON.

Nicknamed Amavubi, which is the Kinyarwanda word for Wasps, Rwanda stung both Uganda and Ghana to win their group in qualification, which was a shock considering going into the final group match they were bottom. Their 1-0 win over Ghana in Kigali sparked wild scenes.

Mbonabucya played the full 90 minutes of the sides first ever match at an AFCON finals when they faced hosts Tunisia. The side narrowly lost 2-1 before drawing their second game 1-1 against Guinea. Unfortunately, despite a 1-0 win over the DRC, Rwanda fell just one point short of qualification. Mbonabucya was once again on the pitch for the entire clash with the Congolese in Bizerte.

Despite never making another AFCON since 2004, there have been more Rwandan footballers like Mbonabucya who have managed to forge themselves a career in Europe. Other Rwandan’s who have gone on to play in the Belgian Pro League include Djihad Bizimana, who left Rwandan side APR to join then Waasland-Beveren in 2018. The defensive midfielder currently plays for second tier side Deinze.

In the end his injuries caught up with Mbonabucya, with the player ending his career at provincial side Schaerbeek. He now runs a football academy in Rwanda known as The Dream Team Academy in Kigali. Mbonabucya will certainly remain a legend for both club and country, and it would be fitting if one day someone from the Academy he helps to run ends up playing for Sint-Truiden as well.

GBeNeFN | Ben Jackson

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