Introducing Aldo Kalulu: Rwanda's first footballing superstar?


In the long list of African footballing superstars, it's fair to say that there aren't too many Rwandan players who feature highly.

Diminutive APR great Haruna Niyonzima deserves immense credit for his consistency and his vigour, while the Nations Cup team of 2004 included heroes aplenty in the likes of Hamad Katauti Ndikumana, Léandre Bizagwira and Eric Nshimiyimana.

However, the nation has never produced a player who has played a starring role in one of Europe's major leagues or for one of the world's major clubs.

That all could be about to change with the emergence of Aldo Kalulu. It's not a name that's familiar to too many football fans at the moment, but the 20-year-old has the quality to become a big star.

The youngster was born in Lyon in 1996 and broke into the first team last season -- making his debut in a 0-0 home draw against LOSC Lille in September 2015 -- after working his way through the club's academy having began with local minnows Saint-Fons.

In recent years, OL have become something of a product line for versatile, speedy forwards and Kalulu fits the mould, following in the footsteps of the likes of Alexandre Lacazette, Nabil Fekir and Rachid Ghezzal.

He represented Les Gones 10 times last term -- his breakout campaign -- finding the net twice and impressing with his first touch, his passing and his confidence.

Kalulu's movement off the ball is that of a much more mature player -- belying his intelligence -- while his speed and technique also set him apart from rivals.

Perhaps his biggest impact came on his first start for the club -- at home against SC Bastia -- when the youngster latched onto a Steed Malbranque pass, controlled the ball deftly and then flicked the ball calmly over the advancing stopper before finishing with aplomb.

Kalulu offers more creatively than many young strikers at the beginning of their careers, chiefly because he began his career in the hole and thus established himself as a lethal passer in the final third rather than, primarily, a finisher.

However, his menacing presence in attacking areas as posed problems for Ligue 1 defences, and he added to his Ligue 1 tally with a sweet finish against Girondins de Bordeaux in February.

It wasn't a flawless and trouble-free breakout campaign for the youngster, even if he did make the most of the opportunity afforded him by a long-term injury to Fekir.

He was injured in October 2015 after a collision with teammate Mapou Yanga Mbiwa in training and subsequently spent two months on the sidelines, and arguably struggled to rediscover the previous explosiveness he'd shown at the start of the campaign.

Kalulu, who is yet to feature in Ligue 1 this term, signed a contract extension last term which should keep him at OL until at least 2019 although he will surely need time to rediscover his rhythm with the first team and show the talent that made him such an irresistible prospect a year ago.

There's room for improvement -- mainly with his strength and his stamina -- while it remains to be seen whether Kalulu's future will be as a striker rather than reverting to another supporting role and if he can shake off his niggling injuries.

It will be fascinating to see how Kalulu develops and just how close he can get to emulating Lacazette and Fekir, while the question of his international future is intriguing.

The youngster represented France at U-18 level, but is yet to take the step up.

While he will be a hot contender to feature for the U-21s over the coming 12 months, the intense competition among France's youthful offensive options means that there are no guarantees that Kalulu will make his mark with Les Bleus or opt for an international future with Rwanda.

Even if he isn't tempted by Amavubi, surely one of his brothers -- he has three in the Lyon academy (Gedeon, Pierre et Joseph) -- will feature for the Wasps one day!