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Gabadinho Mhango’s boisterous rise

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STIRRED HONEST’S NEST—Ncikazi

Malawi National Football Team’s outing in Cameroon for the recently concluded African Cup of Nations finals, though a brief one, will linger in the minds of many people for years to come after the boys made to the tournament’s Round of 16 before being booted out 2-1 by Morocco.

Due to the exploits of the team, which have divided opinion, people have all the reasons to make the necessary noise in applauding the brilliance of some of the Flames players such as goalkeeper Charles Thom, defenders Gomezgani Chirwa and Lawrence Chaziya, winger Francisco Madinga and now red-hot striker Frank Gabadinho Mhango.

It is no surprise that Chaziya has already been snapped up by a Jordanian team.

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Coming to Mhango, not so long ago was Gaba caught up in a mess off the field of play in South Africa where he turns out for Orlando Pirates Football Club, and for a moment, many had feared the worst since the forward found himself frozen out of Pirates’ starting 11.

But somehow, after days in the wilderness, Gaba kept a level head and continued to push harder and his charm offensive seems to have worked as, before long, he was back in training with his Orlando Pirates teammates though his game time was still limited.

Enter the African Cup of Nations tournament and Gaba would soon explode on the scene in Cameroon, scoring crucial and memorable goals for Malawi, a feat that did not escape the attention of his employers in South Africa.

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Having missed Malawi’s first game in Cameroon against Guinea due to Covid, Mhango was thrown into the thick of things in the next game against Zimbabwe and boy did he shine! He scored both two goals for Malawi, to give the Flames their first and only win at the tournament. He was again at his usual best as Malawi lost 2-1 to Morocco in the Round of 16, but not without leaving an indelible mark as he scored a stunner; a long range shot that skyrocketed into the roof of the Moroccan goalie’s net.

No doubt Mhango has managed to rise above any criticism and shake off the distractions that had threatened to derail his blossoming career. What we witnessed during the Afcon in Cameroon was certainly a renewed Gaba.

It was, therefore, shocking for most people to hear Orlando Pirates co-coach Mandla Ncikazi trying to water down Mhango’s impressive run at the Afcon. This was after soccer fans, South Africans inclusive, had questioned the Orlando Pirates gaffer’s rationale of continuing to omit Gaba from his team’s line-up.

“The choice [dilemma] at Pirates where others have been preparing for the past weeks and Mhango just c a m e back. We know that he is a good [striker]; it is just [about] competition. Currently, we choose to go with Peprah and Lepasa. He will get his opportunity in due course,” he is quoted as saying.

It did not end there. Ncikazi went as far as to belittle the Afcon tournament.

“He just has to work hard. So Mhango will work just like all other players. We recognised and acknowledged his performance in the Afcon. May be the league in South Africa is bigger than Afcon; that is a question for another day,” he said.

This has not gone down well with several critics, who feel the coach should have toned down and given the Malawian striker a chance.

Least amused was former Orlando Pirates striker Andries Sebola, who spoke to the Sowetan on the subject.

“Mhango is supposed to play because he’s on fire. You can’t say a scoring striker must wait for his turn. As I am speaking to you, I am watching the highlights of that game [Pirates versus AmaZulu] and I can tell you Mhango would have scored if he was selected,’’ Sebola said.

Sebola had no kind words for the Pirates coach.

“Mhango is Pirates’ best striker at the moment, so he must start games. Mandla is losing the plot. When he says the PSL is bigger than Afcon, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. When he’s bored with coaching Pirates, he must pack his bags and go back to Arrows (where he coached last season).’’

He pointed out that Ncikazi was losing the plot if he indeed feels that the PSL was bigger than Afcon.

“How can the best players in the world in Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah play at Afcon if it’s not a big tournament? The PSL is smaller than Afcon… Riyad Mahrez won’t come from Manchester City to play for Algeria if Afcon was a small competition,’’ Sebola added.

It is no surprise that local football experts are equally rallying behind Gaba while urging him to remain focused on his game.

“He must not challenge the coach but continue working hard. It will be good if he can switch teams. It is unfortunate that the coach is belittling Afcon when South Africa didn’t qualify,” Flames coach Meck Mwase told The Daily Times.

Others have gone outright to suggest that perhaps now would be the ideal time for Gaba to consider exploring his options, with a view of making a move away from the club since he currently does not have a long term contract with Pirates.

At this point, the one thing Gaba needs to do is to keep a level head and continue working hard. Whenever a chance arises for him to be on the field of play, be it at his club or for the Flames where he was undoubtedly our beacon of hope, he should grab it with both hands and continue from where he left of during the Afcon.

By confining Gaba to the bench or leaving him out completely from his squad, the Orlando Pirates coach is only doing his team a disservice as they could do with Mhango’s prowess, which he has already proven at the club during the season he was named joint top goal-scorer with Peter Shalulile in the 2019-20 PSL season.

For now, Malawians and soccer fans are happy to watch Gaba’s boisterous rise.

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