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Perennial football disaster called Flames

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Malawi national football team, the Flames, has over the decades, successfully turned into some sort of a perennial national football disaster—-never mind who is in charge and donning the black, red and green strips.

The football disaster struck once again on Tuesday at Kamuzu Stadium when, having achieved the desirable goalless draw away in Conarky, the Flames returned home to surrender the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) race at the feet of visiting Guinea.

Not that it is something new, but Malawians cannot just get used to such shambolic and diabolic displays that border on sheer comedy. So, what is wrong with this team?

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Wrong coaches’ combinations

From the body language, assistant coach Nsanzwirimo Ramadhan does not seem on the same page with his Flames boss, Ernest Mtawali.

Mtawali has played at the highest level, is thoughtful, outgoing and straight forward in his approach to issues, whereby the celebrated former Nyasa Big Bullets coach Ramadhan is the sharp contrast—the type that would never speak out openly, but behind the scenes.

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“If he accepted to play under me, why should I not accept to work under him,” Ramadhan then insisted when being unveiled on August 1 2015 at Mpira Village in Blantyre.

It is an open secret that given a choice, Mtawali’s preferred right-hand man would be Gerald Phiri Snr, who he successfully worked with while serving Malawi Under-20 national team, and also in a caretaker role with the Flames. It is difficult appreciating Ramadhan’s input in the current Flames set-up.

Football Association of Malawi (Fam), as has been the case with previous combinations of Kinnah Phiri and Young Chimodzi, then Chimodzi and Jack Chamangwana, created problems by bulldozing a backroom team on a head coach.

Players’ attitude

The protest against Mtawali’s perceived lack of respect for senior players started from the early stages of his tenure when he benched a not-fully-fit Robert Ng’ambi last year during a Group L qualifier in Swaziland.

Reports suggest that Ng’ambi eventually refused to come on as a substitute because he felt undermined that Yamikani Chester was given the starting nod.

Watching the players, especially the senior players, you get hints that they are not playing for the coach, who does not believe in names. When they score, the players rush to celebrate in the east with the coach on the west.

Something is wrong. What is clear is that most players are spoilt brats who like to dictate matters. Joseph Kamwendo refused to be benched last year during a game against Zimbabwe. Mtawali needs his own trusted foot soldiers.

Defensive woes

Malawians are notorious for taking the easiest route–even when it comes to the blame-game, so much that everything about Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to Guinea has been heaped on youthful goalkeeper, Brighton Munthali.

The former Wizards keeper has in three senior team appearances, conceded three or an average of a goal per game.

How does that record compare to that of experienced keepers Simplex Nthala, Richard Chipuwa, Charles Swini and McDonald Harawa, who have been tried and tested from the tenure of Chimodzi?

With Harawa between the sticks, he conceded 15 goals in 11 games or 1.36 goals per game, Swini played only during 1-0 win over Zambia and a goalless draw against South Africa in 2015.

For Chipuwa, his record under Mtawali’s stewardship is four goals let in three games or 1.3 goals conceded in every game. For Nthala, his record is five goals leaked in five games or a goal per game.

All these statistics show that Malawi lacks quality goalkeepers, but generally, defending is problematic. The team lacks a leader at the back. Mtawali has limited options for goalkeepers and defenders.

Dying clubs, junior national teams

The Flames were inactive for three months, and playing mere training matches ahead of crucial games against Guinea was not enough considering that the opponents drew their best players from top teams in Europe.

Such training matches were rendered useless by the fact that most locally-based players are, just like those playing in Mozambique, inactive.

Additionally, inactive youth and junior national teams and club’s failure to compete in continental competitions has made the Flames player-catchment area so shallow and narrow.

Furthermore, the gulf in quality between local and foreign- based players in negligible. There is a lack of genuine professionals to grab a game by the scruff of its neck when chips are down.

Lack of a clear football agenda

Fam is largely at fault for emphasing on Flames results instead of development. Setting Africa Cup of Nations qualification as a benchmark for every coach hired is sheer short-termism.

Dreaming of Afcon finals when the Flames are not even good enough for regional Cosafa and Cecafa cups is being overzealous.

The strategic plans have always been there at Fam, but translating them into long-term development programmes has been a challenge. Youth and junior national teams’ projects are merely competition-oriented. Infrastructure is lacking, but generally, football administrators do not walk the talk.

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