Fall-out in Flames
They sit on the same technical panel, seemingly working in harmony, but all is not well between Malawi national football team coach, Ronny van Geneudgen (RVG) and his assistants—Gerald Phiri senior and Deklerk Msakakuona— a situation that undermines the Flames’ progress.
A leaked e-mail, which Malawi News has seen, reveals that Phiri and Msakakuona have complained to Football Association of Malawi (Fam), through Technical Director, John Kaputa, that the Belgian is accusing them of sabotaging his work.
The letter, which Kaputa wrote to Fam General Secretary, Alfred Gunda, and copied to Fam Vice- President, James Mwenda, on September 12 2017, states that RVG is comfortable working with another assistant coach he converted from team manager, Peter Mponda.
“The coach RVG has shouted at Deklerk Msakakuona SHUT UP in front of Team Manager [Enos] Chatama, Goalkeeper Trainer [Heatherwin] Mkumbaleza and Assistant Coach Peter Mponda.
“The national coach said Gerald Phiri and Msakakuona are the ones making him and working for him to fail. The national coach instructed Team Manager [for the under-17 national team] Chatama to refer all matters to Peter Mponda and no one else in his absence,” reads the letter.
The incident happened when the Belgian joined camp in Blantyre to help Msakakuona coach the under-17 team, which eventually won bronze at Cosafa Youth Championship in Mauritius recently.
However, the Belgian yesterday said he has never shouted at Msakakuona and that the relationship with Phiri and all members of the panel was sound.
“For me, there is no problem. We do our job very well. We work very hard. From my side, I have an opportunity to work with all head coaches [for Super League teams]. They will join us. I want to have a good relationship with everybody. People want to disturb my work; this is a very big surprise,” Van Geneugden said.
“The main target is the improvement of the national team, and I hope that, for sure, these lies that are written are not something to talk about. Maybe, you can say I will as soon as possible, meet the technical panel [and have] a one-by-one, face-to-face conversation to solve the wrong information that is going in the world.”
Contacted during the week, Phiri simply said: “These are supposed to be in-house matters. If indeed the coach suspects that I am sabotaging his job then it is very unfortunate.”
Mwenda yesterday confirmed that Fam President,Walter Nyamilandu, was handling the matter which the two assistant coaches have reportedly referred to Malawi National Coaches Association Chairperson, Stuart Mbolembole.
However, sources said Fam was being indifferent on the matter as the two sides have not been brought together and the assistant coaches are suffering in silence, creating tension in camp and dividing players.
Nyamilandu yesterday said he sat down with the coach, Phiri and Msakakuona, advising them to bring their working relationship to normalcy. Nyamilandu admitted that he is yet to get to the bottom of the issue.
“I spoke to the coach this week, hopefully the matter will be sorted out. At the end of the day, the coach is the head coach. Every coach has rules on how to work. It is my expectation that they [the assistant coaches] will align to the expectations of the coach. In any work environment, people have to adapt. The source could be the understanding of the expectations of the coach,” Nyamilandu said, adding that the association imposed on the coach his assistants for the sake of transition.
Contacted yesterday, Mbolembole said: “One of the coaches approached me that there was an issue. He just mentioned this in passing and I will meet him.”
Mponda yesterday insisted that he was not in the coaching panel to snatch someone’s job.
“In any set-up, you need someone you can trust and if some feel the coach trusts me the most then it is normal. But let me state clearly that I am, basically in the coaching panel just to learn. I am not after someone’s position. I do not have all the coaching badges yet. My time to coach the national team will surely come, but not now,” he said.
Malawi News has established that the fall-out started mid this year when Msakakuona drafted into the under-17 team under-15 players from the Coca-Cola team that went to Lesotho recently.
According to the reports, RVG was unhappy with the player selection and felt that it was Kaputa and Msakakuona who were behind the inclusion of the under-15 players in the team.
Since that time, the coach has reportedly been sidelining Phiri and Msakakuona while working closely with Mponda. But RVG parried these allegations.
Reports also suggest that the Belgian and Phiri clashed on Saturday at Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam during a friendly game against Tanzania which ended 1-1.
During the game, Tanzanian referee Israel Mkongo red carded RVG for reacting angrily to being cautioned for stepping outside his technical area.
RVG also confronted his Tanzanian counterpart, Salum Mayanga, over the questionable officiation. After the red-card, RVG refused to leave the technical bench and the rest of the technical panel, save for Phiri, backed the coach’s stance.
Aware that the referee’s decision was irreversible, Phiri tried to reason with the coach to leave.
In reaction, RVG is reported to have accused Phiri of being the only Malawian that supported his sending off.
The issue of assistant coaches falling out with head coaches is not new in the national team set-up. This happens due to Fam’s tendency of imposing a backroom team on head coaches.
Fam imposed Phiri and Msakakuona on RVG when in actual fact, the head coach was supposed to choose his own backroom team.
In 2006, Fam also imposed Kinnah Phiri as assistant to Burkhard Ziese, now deceased, and the duo fell out with the Malawian legend claiming the German wanted “a yes bwana.”
In 2012, Kinnah, as head coach, also fell out with his then deputy Young Chimodzi who he suspected was also frustrating his efforts.
Fam has always insisted that it chooses assistant coaches because it is a requirement in Civil Service that people have to be picked through interviews.
The current wrangle undermines the progress of the Flames, who under the Belgian, have won twice, drawn five times and lost thrice.
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