By Wisdom Ngwira
For a record five consecutive years, various football teams from Malawi have failed to go past the preliminary rounds of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), tournaments (The CAF Champions league and the Confederations Winners Cup).
Malawi News Agency’s Wisdom Ngwira follows the five year fruitless journeys the country’s top teams have endured in CAF tournaments and draws lessons from that…
In 2018, Nyasa Big Bullets and Mighty Mukuru Wanderers registered for the CAF Champions league where they were paired against Gor Mahia of Kenya and AS Vita of the Democratic Republic of Congo respectively.
Bullets were booted out by the Kenyan football giants 4-3 on post match penalties after the teams tied 1-1 on aggregate in two legs. On the other hand, Wanderers were hammered 4-0 by AS Vita in the Democratic Republic of Congo before bowing out 1-2 in Malawi hence bowing out 5-2 on aggregate.
The following year, disbanded Masters Football Club ambitiously competed in the CAF Confederations Winners Cup where they were paired with Proline of Uganda. The Lilongwe side lost 3-0 away in Kampala before suffering a 0-2 defeat at home and eventually being booted out of the competetition 5-0 on aggregate.
In 2021, Big Bullets were at it again when they joined the CAF Champions league where they were lined up against Amazulu FC of South Africa. The People’s team gave false hopes in the first leg when they shocked the Premier Soccer League side with a 1-0 away win in Durban.
Many Malawians thought the away goal Bullets scored in South Africa would guarantee an easy second leg fixture at home, but to the surprise of everyone, the then Benni McCarthy side won 3-1 at the Bingu National Stadium ending Bullets hopes of going through the competetion’s next round 3-2 on aggregate.
Currently Bullets is smarting from a 4-0 aggregate loss to Tanzania’s Simba Sporting Club where they have lost 2-0 over two legs.
Nyasa Big Bullets chief administrative officer Albert Chigoga says despite bowing out in the early stages for three years in a row, the team is on the right track as each year it is drawing lessons which will be vital in future engagements.
“Being national champions, we need to aim higher by competing against the cream of the continent thereby exposing local talent,”says Chigoga.
Renowned local football pundit Higger Mkandawire believes the country’s football clubs need to relook into the whole idea of joining these international competitions.
“First, let’s congratulate the teams that have been taking bold steps to join these continental competetions.By joining, it shows the teams have the desire to compete at the highest football level in Africa which is good.
However, participating frequently in the competitions alone without bringing good results is nothing. Clubs need to do self examinations on why they have been perpetual failures in the competetions,”says Mkandawire.
Mkandawire says Bullets for example have failed in three CAF Champions league attempts to go past the preliminary round mainly due to poor preparations.
“If you take the Bullets team of 2004 which reached the CAF Champions league quarter finals, you will see that it had prepared very well such that by the time it was going into the league, the team was buoying from perfect preparations.
“The team went to the United Kingdom where they prepared well there and came back here where they played some international strength testing matches with strong teams like Jomo Cosmos of South Africa,” he said.
Mkandwire said even the quality of players that were in the triumphant Bullets team of 2004 can not be compared with the current Nyasa Big Bullets crop of players.
“Remember the 2004 Bullets team boasted quality players who immediately after the 2004 CAF campaign got outright international deals.
I am talking of quality players like Peter Mponda, Fischer Kondowe, Grant Lungu, Robert Baggio Ng’ambi, Wisdom Ndhlovu, Swadyck Sanudi, Maupo Msowoya, Jimmy Zakazaka and Dick Malidadi among others,” narrates Mkandawire.
Apparently, many of the players in the 2004 team signed for international clubs like Mponda who signed for Zimbabwe’s Monomotapa FC, Kondowe, Ng’ambi and Lungu for South Africa’s Black Leopards while Ndhlovu played for Tanzanian giants Young Africans.
Mkandawire who once served as Bullets General secretary says Malawian teams need to first assemble strong squads that could compete fairly on the international scene before taking a go at CAF tourneys.
“You will agree with me that the team Bullets used for example this year was full of players promoted from their reserve side early this year.
You do not expect such players to bring you instant results from competitions like CAF where teams assemble squads from across the continent,” he says.
Another soccer analyst Charles Nyirenda thinks Malawian clubs poor showing at international competitions goes down to the level of competition in the local top flight league.
Nyirenda says standards in the local league have drastically gone down such that one does not expect teams from the super league to do well on the continental level.
“Currently, I can only talk of Nyasa Big Bullets who at least are taking positive steps to improve their game in the local league. Many teams in the local leagues are just operating like “socials” teams whereby they play football as a pastime activity.
We need to have strong teams in the super league which would give Bullets for example tough competition. You do not expect a team that always plays with “socials” teams locally to do well when they face tough assignments on the international scène, “says Nyirenda.
The former Football Association of Malawi secretary general says if the local league was competitive enough; it would have made teams taking part in CAF assignments stronger as they would have been built with quality players.
“When you just look at the level of players that are playing in the CAF tournaments, you will see that these are very professional players. You have a league that has over 20 international players and you expect it to compete with a Malawian team?
Simba for example had Moses Phiri from Zambia, Konate from Senegal, Peter Banda from Malawi and others from Ivory Coast,” reasons Nyirenda.
He then advises local teams to do proper home work by among others making sure that they have sound financial power, good administrative set up, strong technical panels and squads before joining CAF assignments.
“Let all concerned stakeholders like FAM, football clubs and others come together and build strong football foundations so that our local league is strong making teams ready to compete on the international stage,” he says.
In an earlier interview, FAM club licensing manager Casper Jangale said his organization allows teams to join CAF and other international competitions only if they have met minimum set requirements.