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The Benchwarmer: Moving in reverse


If there are football managers who have the most difficult of jobs right now, Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal is one.

As he admitted recently, he is at pains to imagine how lethal Anthony Martial will become especially because that will happen when van Gaal is gone.

Before him, David Moyes was brave enough to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson. Unlike van Gaal, Moyes had to do with the players he had. That is the reason his spending was a non-factor when criticism started pouring in.


In contrast, van Gaal has spent a fortune on new players – including Martial – yet the position the Manchester club is occupying is not what its reputation tells us. What hugely is omitted in this whole conversation is Ferguson’s role in the obscurity of Manchester United from the top of the table.

When mention is made about Moyes’ inheritance of an ageing squad, almost everyone argues that the same players won the league in Ferguson’s last season in-charge of United. Of course but what people should not ignore is that Tottenham Hotspurs and Leicester have reached stability levels challenging the traditional big four which is the reason United’s transition has not been smooth.

I rarely criticise van Gaal or Moyes. Ferguson’s greed, which he displayed to buy his last championship, is the reason United is struggling.


The transition will indeed be that painful for a team that is used to winning things. Yes it was an ageing squad but it is baffling that 17 of the first team players who played one or more games in the Premier League in the 2012-2013 have since left the club. Ferguson was determined to win the league at any cost to eclipse Liverpool’s record.

The purchase of Robin van Persie from Arsenal was a clear evidence just as was recalling Paul Scholes from retirement.

Whether Ferguson admits it or not – that he contributed to United’s downward spiral — van Gaal’s time at United is nearing its end and the noose around his neck is tightening. Everyone knew he was building a new team but football is a cruel sport with most its fans impatient while owners know nothing but immediate success.

At home, the same can be said about Ernest Mtawali.

He was brave enough to discard the ageing legs from Flames set-up. Those who are progressive admired Ernest’s vision that the likes of Fischer Kondowe, Joseph Kamwendo and indeed Robert Ng’ambi had little to offer and it was time to turn the page.

But few months into his new project, Mtawali has backtracked by recalling the likes of Kamwendo and Ng’ambi. While I admit that not many players locally can rival the two players’ talent, it is a huge blow to the rebuilding exercise that Ernest had started.

Once again, football is a game of results that makes rebuilding exercise both an expensive and costly exercise. I do not blame Ernest for the mess we are in right now. Our failure to build on the success of the Angola Afcon 2010 was a huge mistake. It could have been easier to integrate the young players that time.

Another mistake was to allow the Malawi Under 17 team that appeared at the World Championship in 2009 to disappear. It was nothing but lack of foresight.

If indeed the old players have been recalled because most local players are not active, I assume once the Super League kicks-off these old players will not return to the national team set-up. Just like van Gaal at United, Mtawali’s headache is to produce results while building a new team.

Just like no-one would blame Ferguson for United’s troubles, no-one would indeed blame Kinnah Phiri, Young Chimodzi and Fam for doing little to replace the tired legs when the opportunity had presented itself in 2009 and 2010.

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