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Spare the rod and spoil Gaba?

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NYAMILANDU—We need team chaplains

Malawi football has for many years produced jaw-dropping talent, such that, had it been that our land was ranked among the finest soccer nations, we would have been singing a different tune by now in as far as football is concerned.

Just the other day, we heard that the Malawi National Football Team, which recently suffered back-to-back losses at the hands of West African giants Ivory Coast, has dropped on the latest Fifa ranking from position 115 to 120.

Surprisingly, against the odds Malawi has managed to produce and nurture footballers of note even in the absence of vibrant grassroot structures such as soccer academies, which are only springing up now, championed by some individuals.

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Former players such as Ernest ‘Livewire’ Mtawali, Chancy ‘Vinny’ Gondwe, Esau ‘Black Mamba’ Kanyenda, Joseph ‘Shakira’ Kamwendo, John Maduka, Holman Malunga, Robert Ng’ambi, Peter Mponda and Fisher Kondowe have had illustrious careers on the field of play that have taken them beyond the country’s borders.

These great sons of the soil rightly earned praises from fans around the continent until they called time on their illustrious careers.

And then there is the new generation of top players such as Gerald Phiri Junior, Richard Mbulu, Charles Petro, Limbikani Mzava, Francisco Madinga and Robin Ngalande, just to mention a few. These stars are a marvel to watch both at club and national team levels.

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We can go on and on with listing names of Malawian players who have dazzled many a fan at soccer stadia with bewitching skills that have left many wondering as to why the country has not scaled the top heights or, better yet, exported most of its talent to top flight leagues in Europe.

One of the top players that most people pinned their hopes on, and still believe will most likely break that jinx, is Frank Gabadinho Mhango.

The Orlando Pirates and Flames wonderkid was a marvel to watch while playing in the country’s lower leagues, scoring goals for fun.

He continued to delight many as he scaled his way up to the local top-flight league, albeit not without some controversy, especially after he had missed out on Junior Certificate of Education examinations while at Chichiri Secondary School at one point.

This led some into fearing that he would have no fall-back plan in case of injuries or retiring from the game.

Years later, Mhango would catch the eye of South Africa-based Premier Soccer League (PSL) side Bloemfontein Celtic whose franchise was bought by the team that is now Royal AM.

Stints at the defunct Bidwest Wits and Golden Arrows followed before Orlando Pirates signed him.

Mhango’s star immediately rose to dizzying heights as he was 2019 PSL joint winner of the Golden Boot award with Namibian Peter Shalulile, who was then playing for Highlands Park.

But things somewhat appear to have taken a different turn for the former Nyasa Big Bullets player, who has been missing from the Pirates’ line-up for a good part of the season.

Pirates seem to be punishing him after stories emerged regarding his off-the-pitch behaviour.

In a recent interview with one of the country’s newspapers, an agent of the firm that is managing Mhango said: “We are working closely with the club [Pirates] and Gaba and feel positive that we will overcome this difficult period.”

The Flames striker has not featured for Orlando Pirates following reports that he was allegedly detained briefly by an upmarket social joint in Pretoria, South Africa, over a R26,000 (about K1.6 million) bill.

However, owners of the drinking joint had dismissed the reports linking Mhango to the incident.

“We have never experienced negative challenges whatsoever from the above-mentioned guest. Our relationship remains healthy, intact. We look forward to continuous hosting of our esteemed guest and countless visitors from all walks of life,” the joint stated in a press release.

Be that as it may, what is coming out clear is that the player could be somehow trekking down the path of self-destruction and, if he does not quickly change course, it could spell doom for his illustrious career.

Football Association of Malawi President Walter Nyamilandu said last month that most players require spiritual guidance to handle themselves better.

“Most players nowadays are under pressure on how to spiritually take care of their lives and, if they don’t handle their situations properly, the future becomes compromised.

“We need team chaplains to offer guidance and counselling on how players can behave and handle themselves. The devil thrives on pleasure and where there is power,” he said during the closing ceremony of a 21-day sport chaplaincy workshop.

Perhaps in Mhango’s case, not all is lost. This could be his best time to grab a copy of former Flames midfield dynamo Chancy ‘Vinny’ Gondwe’s book The Lost History of Malawi Football.

This would help him appreciate how his fellow countryman struggled in the same Rainbow Nation. Such a book would probably help him to avoid making costly mistakes.

It is very important for players to maintain discipline and mind their lifestyle, especially when they attain fortune and fame, which can turn a flourishing career upside down.

Fame and fortune should not get into Mhango’s head. He has a whole career to nurture.

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