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Super League newcomers prepare for survival

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THE country’s soccer fraternity was left agitated for a good part of the off season period when the kickoff date for the 2017 Super League became unclear.

Super League of Malawi (Sulom) initially announced that the elite league would commence on April 8, only to express doubts later when sponsor, TNM, stopped the procurement process of items for the new season.

The mobile network provider was discontented with a determination from the Competitions and Fair Trading Commission that frowned on some of the terms and conditions of the Super League contract.

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TNM later pulled out of the league’s sponsorship after bankrolling the competition since 2006. But government intervened and convinced the company to reverse its decision, and it complied. The news was met with excitement as the soccer fraternity was, once again, assured of another competitive league.

Sulom later followed with the news that the topflight league was due for kickoff on May 6, with a grand launch in Lilongwe.

While all the 16 teams are anxiously waiting for this big day, there are two that will be most excited to play their first ever game in the Super League.

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These are Northern Region Football Association League champions, Chitipa United, and Masters Security Services FC who triumphed in the Central Region Football Association League. Unlike Blantyre United who will be making a comeback to the elite league after three seasons in the wilderness, the two teams are total strangers to the Super League.

This may be the only common denominator between the pair, as their levels of preparedness and resource base are quite varied. The Central Region champions look the betterprepared of the two as they unveiled a budget of K120 million for the new season.

To drive their point home, the team emerged top of the list of the biggest buyers on the transfer market after recruiting 22 players, that included former internationals Simplex Nthala and Robin Ngalande.

They even had the audacity to attempt to lure a big fish from its waters in Be Forward Wanderers’ seasoned midfielder, Joseph Kamwendo, who almost signed. Not many would doubt Masters Security’s financial muscle as they are owned by an ambitious businessman who also bankrolls the Southern Region Football Association League.

The team claims to have enough resources to withstand the heat in the Super League, with a good and experienced coach in Benjamin Kumwenda. But one question which boggles the mind is why assistant coach Oscar Kaunda left even before the league commenced.

The other question which needs answers is how Silver Strikers invaded the Masters camp and snatched former Karonga United midfielder, Hygiene Mwandepeka, right under their nose when all seemed to be well. Now there are strong reports that Khumbo Msowoya, formerly of Karonga United and Nthala have left despite the team claiming the two are still around as they have running contracts.

This could be a sign that administratively, the team is not well and may stumble in the elite league. The team’s General Secretary, Zachariah Nyirenda, said his team has a strong squad that will survive the heat in the elite league.

“We have invested in our maiden appearance in the league so that we do not get relegated at the first attempt. We want to be a permanent member of the Super League,” Nyirenda said.

In contrast, Chitipa plan to spend K70 million in their maiden Super League sojourn but made it clear that they do not have the money with them.

Chairman Rodger Kamodzi said the team thrived on the support of the community around Chitipa Boma to emerge regional champions. He expressed optimism that sons and daughters of Chitipa elsewhere will come forward to support their home team for it to represent the district in the national league.

“We are a team thriving on goodwill. We are hopeful that the support we got from the community will continue pouring in as we represent the district in the Super League,” Kamodzi said.

Chitipa United will surely be the most disadvantaged of all teams in the league as they be required to travel long distances for all their matches. Their nearest match venue will be Karonga Stadium, which is 100 kilometres down the road.

As if this is not enough, the scrappy stadium is still undergoing construction with two weeks to go before the league’s kickoff. This means Chitipa United will incur the most expenses of all the teams in the league as they will essentially be playing all matches away from home.

The other options of Mzuzu and Rumphi stadiums are more than thrice the distance to Karonga. Long distance travel has also been known to affect players’ performances as they arrive at match venues exhausted. Karonga United can bear testimony to this scenario as they were relegated on the two occasions of their romance with the Super League.

Chitipa United have also not bought any player worth mentioning and will be forced to make do with the inexperienced stars that campaigned in the regional league.

Their most recognisable move has been the roping in of former Karonga United coach, Kondwani Mwalweni. The team’s General Secretary, Marshal Mwenechanya, has never been shy to publicly announce that Chitipa United are in deep financial problems but still insisted that they will fulfill all their fixtures in the top flight.

It looks obvious that Chitipa United may be another Karonga United this season. In the Southern Region, Blantyre United returns into the elite league following their exit in 2014 under the management of the same coach, Leo Mpulula. Despite not buying high profile players, the team looks set for the elite league. Mpulula challenges that he is ready to stay in the league based on the combination of youthful and experienced players in the team.

The enforcement of discipline in the team is one aspect that seems to make the team a favourite in the top flight league. A week ago the team suspended several players for indiscipline.

According to the team’s general secretary, Anthony Kafuwa, the players include Brown Mizeyi and Yamikani Tambala. He says the players were suspended because they absconded training and friendly games which disturbed the preparation process. With a week to the kickoff of the league, it is well-known fact that the three teams will struggle to maintain their stay in their elite league. Will they follow the path taken Max Bullets, Karonga United and Civo United last season? Only time will tell.

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