Northern Irishman Johnny McKinstry admitted surprised and disappointed by the decision taken by the Ministry of Sports and Culture to terminate his contract as the Amavubi head coach on Thursday.
In his official statement, McKinstry said, “It has been an honour to be Head Coach of the Rwanda National Team for the past year and a half,”
“Leading Rwanda to their best ever tournament performance – the last eight of the CAF Nations Championship 2016 – is naturally the stand out moment; but also that our CAF Nations Cup and CECAFA Challenge Cup performances have each only been bettered once before by any Rwandan team in history.
“Being named ’Coach of the Tournament’ following our CECAFA Challenge Cup 2015 performance also underlined the good progress the team were making through our work together,”
“Despite the successes, some point to a fall in the FIFA ranking. However, it was agreed when I arrived that we would target match wins in CHAN, and improvements for the long term… We not only delivered our best ever performance in CHAN, but also matched or exceeded almost all past performances in CECAFA and AFCON.
“The specific reasons behind the decision have not been made fully clear to me – so given our performance to date I am therefore both surprised and disappointed by the announcement today, and that myself and the team will not be able to finish what we started. Had we been able to do so this young team, assembled since the decision to dispense with the use of foreign naturalised players just prior to my appointment, would certainly go on to achieve even greater success than it has already done,”
“Given what I and this team have achieved in just 17 months, I know that history will look back upon this period of time as one of the most progressive and successful in Rwandan football,”
“I wish to thank the players, support staff, wider colleagues and all the Rwandans whom I had great pleasure to meet with. Overall, my time as Head Coach of Rwanda is one that I will always look back on with fondness and pride.”
Coach McKinstry was first appointed as Head Coach of the Rwanda National team in March 2015. On appointment, Coach McKinstry became for the second time the youngest active coach in international football (29 at the time).
In March 2016, he was re-appointed on a further 2-year contract as Head Coach of the Rwanda National team, after a strong first year in charge.
In just 17 months under his leadership as Head Coach, the Rwanda National team have achieved a number of performance milestones – in a number of cases exceeding or setting new benchmarks for Rwandan football.
CAF Nations Cup (AFCON):
At time of writing Rwanda are 2nd in Group H (with 6 points) behind group winners Ghana with 1 game left to play.
Not only is this exceeding their Group H seeding (they were drawn as 3rd seeds in the group), but current performance under McKinstry’s reign matches or exceeds that achieved in ALL of Rwanda’s past AFCON final qualification phases with the exception of 2004 (when Rwanda qualified with 7 points).
As part of this AFCON qualifying group, Rwanda, under his leadership have established new benchmarks.
They have recorded their first competitive away victory, after four years without a competitive away win (1-0 vs. Mozambique); and registered their biggest ever victory in a FIFA/AFCON qualifying match (5-0 vs. Mauritius)
CAF Nations Championship (CHAN):
In January 2016, McKinstry helped Rwanda reach the Quarter-Final stage of the 2016 CAF Nations Championship.
This represents Rwanda’s best performance ever in a major competition, having never previously advanced past the group phase of competition in any major competition.
In addition to this, it was the first time Rwanda had finished 1st in the group phase of any major tournament.
CECAFA Challenge Cup:
In December 2015, McKinstry helped Rwanda finish as Runners-up at the 2015 CECAFA Challenge Cup
This matches or exceeds the performance achieved in all past CECAFA Challenge Cup competitions with the exception of 1999 (when a Rwanda ‘B’ team won the competition as hosts).
En-route to the final Rwanda defeated hosts Ethiopia, reigning champions Kenya, and the previous competition Runners-up, Sudan and Coach McKinstry was awarded ‘Coach of the Tournament’ for his efforts.
These milestones are all the more impressive given the decisions by the relevant authorities just before his arrival to cease the practice of using ‘naturalised players’ for the Rwanda National Football Senior Team – fundamentally changing the player pool that had formed the core of the squad until that point.