Foreign players in Malawi
As the 2017 TNM Super League is underway, the 16 competing teams are banking on their players to achieve success.
The norm for all sides in the top-flight has been to sign local talent, as if to stick to the Best Buy Malawian campaign.
There have been some exceptions though in some seasons, where arch-rivals, Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers have bolstered their squads with foreign expertise.
If history is anything to go by, these foreign players have not had any significant impact on the local game as they have not managed to catch up with their local counterparts in competitiveness.
One exception could be that of former Be Forward Wanderers Ghanaian goalkeeper, Tom Aidu, who took the local soccer scene by storm in the late 1990s.
His ball catching skills were so acrobatic and breathtaking that even fans from other teams became admirers of the West African.
Other quarters were even planning to grant him a Malawian passport to enable him become a Flames player.
But Aidu unceremoniously left the country after it was reported that Immigration Department officials were trying to track him down on issues to do with his entry into the country.
That marked the end of a chapter for one footballer who changed the art of goalkeeping in Malawi.
The era of foreign players in local football seemed to have ended until last season when Wanderers signed four Nigerian players and one Cameroonian.
Of the four, only one— striker Amos Bello—made the grade and is still with the team. The Cameroonian, Etoga Hamza, who is a goalkeeper, was also signed.
Japanese attacker Genki Nakamura also returned home after struggling at Wanderers last season.
This season, two other clubs have followed the Nomads’ lead by also recruiting their own foreign players.
Silver Strikers have Nigerian defender Yinusa Sheriff and Mike Tetteh of Ghana.
Super League debutants Masters Security Services have also signed Nigerian, Abiodun Akanji and Ezekiel Olasunkanmi.
Silver Coach, Lovemore Fazili, believes time is right for Malawi football to accept foreigners as clubs aim at becoming more professional.
Fazili said the arrival of the two foreigners at Area 47 has boosted morale and competition among players as they are all fighting for places.
“The local players are excited to have been joined by foreign players. They are working hard to prove that they are better than the foreigners while the foreigners are also doing their best to show us that they are worth it,” Fazili observed recently.
He said bringing foreign players will help the local game to become organised as club administrators will be serious when dealing with their players.
Masters Security Coach, Benjamin Kumwenda, recently said he only recommended the signing of Akanji while Olasunkanmi was sent back.
“If you look at Abbie (Akanji), he has the right physical structure which is good for modern football. He will help us win aerial balls as a striker,” Kumwenda said.
But he noted that several foreigners who came for trials during the offseason were not technically good at dribbling.
He, however, maintained that the coming of foreign players to Malawi is a sign of growth for local football.
“Football is a professional game all over the world. This means that anyone who is good will be signed by clubs—whether in their own country or abroad. The only challenge with most of our clubs here in Malawi is that they cannot sustain the foreigners. It is not easy for a club that runs in an amateurish fashion to recruit foreign players,” Kumwenda explained.
Locally-based players’ scout, Kondi Msungama, concurred with Kumwenda on the need to bring foreigners into the local game to make it more competitive.
Msungama said it is common practice all over the world for big clubs to sign players from other countries because they bring a positive impact on the game.
“But in our case, we cannot feel that impact because the players join our clubs on a try and error basis. Our clubs should learn from what happens in countries such as South Africa and United Kingdom where they do not recruit players anyhow. They need to follow the proper procedures,” Msungama said, claiming that most players that come on their own are rejects in their countries of origin.
He advised the clubs to link up with players through their managers who should first submit necessary documents such as curriculum vitae and video clips before being invited for trials.
The former Big Bullets chairperson suggested that there should be a restriction on the number of foreign players signed by local clubs.
“Foreign players should be hired not just for the sake of it. They should be hired only when it is necessary. Too many foreign players will not be good for the careers of local players. So we should be careful here,” Msungama concluded.
Football Association of Malawi does not place a quota on foreign players so a club can sign as many expatriate players as possible.
It seems there is need to strike a balance between hiring foreign players and having only locals in our league. However, there is no denying the fact that foreign players the world over help uplift league standards.
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