With a glittering 2015 Carlsberg Cup dangling on Wanderers Club shelves, it is ironic that Be Forward Wanderers coach, Elia Kananji, and his players are the most tormented on the domestic football stage.
Putting it mildly, Kananji is in a must-win situation going into today’s Standard Bank Knock- Out quarter-final match against Red Lions at Kamuzu Stadium.
Wanderers are, despite being the only top-flight team with a silverware so far this season, being haunted by fan trouble for apparent underperformance.
Yet, last season the team hit its league lowest finishing sixth and virtually empty-handed.
So, why is one cup on the shelf treated as failure? Wanderers technical committee head and general secretary, Mike Butao,is equally puzzled.
“We have lost just two consecutive second round games, but its like we have lost the entire season,” Butao sought to put matters into perspective.
In just under 14 days, the Carlsberg Cup heros have turned into villains not deserving a team bus ride for 50 metres from Kamuzu Stadium to the Lali Lubani Road.
The irate fans forced the players to walk to the club. on Saturday after 1-0 loss to Kamuzu Barracks.
Back-to-back identical 1-0 losses including to Mafco have swung the mood at Wanderers as they slipped to sixth on the standings with 26 points from 16 games.
In the wisdom of Wanderers Supporters Committee secretary, Paul Mphepo, they asked Southern Region Police to keep the bus at their regional office as a safety measure.
“They [fans] felt the players were not giving out their best, hence the defeats. So, the players had to walk to the club house as we didn’t want to irritate the supporters further,” Mphepo told The Daily Times of Monday.
Blame it on K14 million invested in 10 players, a lack of discernable starting XI, amplified expectations for a treble and Big Bullets’ relentless TNM Super League march towards title retention.
Wanderers have not won the league since 2007.
In the reasoning of Wanderers fans, there can only be one acceptable scenario: if Wanderers are winning, Bullets must be struggling.
Unfortunately, Bullets are, in the team’s technical director, Billy Tewesa’s words, flying “at a time when our counterparts are crying every day.”
And this is contrary to the gospel of a treble the likes of Wanderers vice-team manager, Steve Madeira and Butao were until weeks ago, preaching to Wanderers faithful.
“The league is no longer in our hands. We need other teams to stop the leaders [Bullets]. However, we will not lower down expectations,” Butao insisted.
“We still want the Standard Bank Knock-Out Cup. The focus was probably on the cups, but we also knew that having invested so much in players, expectations were high.”
Not that it was wrong for the officials to be ambitious, but if you have bought the whole team and hired a new coach, a treble dream might be far-fetched.
“In the first round, we expected to finish the first round strongly, but not start strongly as we have bought many players and we knew it would take time for them to gel,” Butao admitted.
A changing starting XI did not help matters either. Muhamad Sulumba was on fire scoring four league goals in six games before he left for a futile stint at Jomo Cosmos.
Sulumba left at Wanderers his strike-partner, Jimmy Zakazaka, who seemed to be striking a telepathic understanding with Lionel Asu.
The Cameroonian Asu, too, left and when Sulumba returned, Zakazaka packed his boots for greener pastures of BDF XI in Botswana. Ishmael Thindwa got injured before kicking ball, leaving the stage for late signing Victor Nyirenda and Luka Milanzi.
Result? Wanderers have not had a consistent starting XI in two consecutive games. Against, Mafco, Kamuzu Barracks and Civo, the squad was tampered with even in crucial areas such as central defence and striking force.
“We had to bring into striking force Luka who was playing as an attacking midfield. We lost the entire strike force,” Butao admitted.
Obviously, Wanderers paid the price of planning around players such as Zakazaka and Asu, whose deals were not conclusive. Failure to buy central defenders also only made matters worse.
Good as he is, Kondwani Lufeyo seems more of a holding midfielder. Enock Likoswe is still too raw for ‘a big team’ sweeper.
With Isaac Kaliyati, Stanley Sanudi and Rafik Musa able to create, Wanderers should be scoring for fun. But Nyirenda has never been a trusted scorer.
While he can displace defenders with his huge frame and force, he, in fact, a serial poor finisher. Against Civo, he had four clear chances, but so bad is his shooting technique he fired straight at goalkeeper, John Soko.
Before the game against Kamuzu Barracks, the Nomads team manager, Chiyembekezo Zidana, insisted that scoring problem was not only about strikers. Even midfielders were missing.
Milanzi is still work in progress after three wasted years at TP Mazembe in Congo. Wanderers just cannot score enough. Their joint top league scorers Sulumba and Mapopa Kaunda have four each.
“We are just going through a bad patch,” Madeira offered the only sober reaction to a second consecutive loss on Saturday.
The bad patch might be as a result of Carlsberg Cup hangover. Wanderers players felt they had reached their zenith.The energy to fight waned. They did not come back with the same zeal.
“After winning the cup, we gave them their bonuses and a one-week break. I was not comfortable with Mafco and Civo league games. I was worried that players would be like coming from off-season,” Butao admitted.
Wanderers need to calm down and realise that, while it is possible to win cups with just five straight wins, league title need time and a strong cohesive unit that has played together for a long time.
Chopping and changing has not been helping Wanderers matters and winning one cup should not be failure.
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