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Jack of all free-kicks

Gerald Phiri Senior, who was in-charge of Malawi Under-23 National Football Team that faced Guangzhou FC of China recently, could surely be a great fan of Dwangwa United midfielder Jack Chiona.

Despite Phiri’s not-so palatable manner in which he might have come to love the Dwangwa’s attacking midfielder, the Azam Tigers’ coach would have convincing reasons on why he included Chiona into the Flames’ squad that went into camp in readiness for the game against the Chinese club.

Phiri would perhaps take you back few months ago when he had a bad day in office at Tigers.

Phiri was left depressed one Saturday afternoon when he could not easily come to terms with the painful reality of losing to Dwangwa in the dying minutes of a TNM Super League game last season at Kamuzu Stadium.

No team is invincible in the league but what must have hurt Tigers was that they were playing at home and leading 1-0 only to give away two goals in the last 20 minutes of the game to a less fancied team like Dwangwa.

Phiri’s frustration was understandable. Two minutes into the added time of the game that looked destined for a one-all draw, Dwangwa got a free-kick just outside the 18-yard box and it was Chiona who stood in front of the ball to expertly take it.

He scored in the same manner to the opener. He powerfully bended the ball around the human wall and past goalkeeper William Thole to stun Tigers.

Chiona was the talk of the day after his brace both from free kicks won the game for Dwangwa.

But, such is a beautiful game of football that coaches do not have books to record players whose skills inflict pain on them but rather it is the desire of every coach to attract best players in his camp.

No wonder that Chiona’s top form last season caught the attention of Phiri who eventually drafted him into the national team.

Born 21 years ago, Chiona is currently Dwangwa’s most rated player.

He started his football career in 2004 with an Illovo Estate League’s Under-14 team, Mushale Rangers in Dwangwa.

Two years later, Chiona moved to the club’s Under-16 side, before joining the Estate’s Leagues’ main team, Factory Football Club.

It was while playing for Factory in 2011 that he was spotted by the then Dwangwa United coach Washington Malata who included Chiona in the team which was playing in the Chipiku Premier Division.

Chiona, who in the same year took part in the Copa Coca-cola Schools competition, caught the eyes of Benjamin Kumwenda who was Head Coach of Mponela United.

Chiona then joined Mponela where he played for a season in the Super League before rejoining Dwangwa after the Dowa based side’s relegation.

Chiona played for Dwangwa in the Chipiku league and helped the team earn Super League promotion in 2015.

Playing in the Super League for the second time, Chiona has shown prospects of a bright future if he is to guard himself against off-field distractions that have spoiled most promising footballers.

In Chiona, Dwangwa have an attacking midfielder who defends and scores.

He scored nine goals last season to help Dwangwa remain in the league.

He has also discovered himself as Dwangwa’s master in taking free -kicks.

“Azam Tigers’ game remains my favourite so far,” he said. “Many people did not give us a chance to beat Tigers at their home but I am always happy that my goals won the game for Dwangwa,” said Chiona, adding that he does individual training to perfect his free-kick skill.

“I have always liked taking free kicks and my coaches have been giving me tips on how to become the best at free kicks. I am pleased that my individual effort is also paying dividends.”

Chiona, whose father is an employee of Illovo Sugar Company, counts himself lucky to be playing at Dwangwa where sports infrastructure and football development is much ahead.

“We have the estate league here which enjoys good sponsorship from Illovo. You talk of good football grounds and most importantly teams here are sponsored by companies which are operating within the area and all these factors have been working to our advantage,”Chiona said.

Dwangwa have been known for supplying the country’s football industry with fantastic talent and according to Chiona, the secret is the proper player-development channel that players in the area undergo.

“We have Under-12 up to Under-16 teams that have their own leagues and if a player graduates from these teams, he joins main estate teams where he stands a chance of playing for Dwangwa United,” he added.

“Competition in the estate league is very high since it is a combination of talent from different areas. Players in the league come from different districts so everyone works hard to make it to Dwangwa United.”

If Chiona’s observation is anything to go by, it is not a surprise that Illovo Estate League has produced players such as Esau Kanyenda, Jafali Chande, Sankhani Mkandawire, Trust Lunda and George Nyirenda.

“These players have been a great inspiration to most us here. When young stars like me look at what the estate league has produced, we are compelled to work hard so that we can reach the heights where our colleagues reached,” said Chiona who owes his success in football career to his father.

“My father has been very supportive and continues to do so. I will work hard so that one day he should be a proud father of a most successful footballer.”

In his second season with Dwangwa having avoided relegation last year, Chiona anticipates another tough season.

“We are still under dogs in the league despite surviving the chop and looking at the newly promoted teams, they are not pushovers and we have to engage an extra gear because competition will be tough as well,” he said.

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