Timau: Political football on the road to Morocco AFCON 2015

It’s always the same in Malawi. Boos and cheers at the stadium followed by criticism of players and coaches by armchair pundits in bars, offices and homes across the land.

On 20 July 2015 Malawi will take on Benin in a decisive first leg game in the 2015 Africa cup of nations. The second leg will be played on August 2 in Blantyre, Malawi. The winner will qualify for the group stages which will comprise recent World Cup battle hardened Algeria alongside Mali and Ethiopia of which the best two will qualify for the finals to be played in Morocco.

Malawi began their campaign to reach the 2015 AFCON finals with a 2-0 win over Chad in Blantyre but were thrashed 3-1 in Chad only to qualify by an away goals rule.

Is Malawi ready? Madaliso Phiri, a sports journalist with Capital Radio FM expressed doubts when talking to MBC’s Radio 1 Sports Drive programme on July 11: “I don’t see Malawi winning but maybe we should do what I call ‘damage control’ in Benin and that’s forcing a draw or conceding fewer goals”.

Flames technical panel during national anthem.....Photo Jeromy Kadewere
Flames technical panel during national anthem…..Photo Jeromy Kadewere

Even those who try to maintain optimism about the Malawi national team’s chances against Benin might be astonished by some recent facts thrown up by an examination of the team’s performance of late. The Flames were humiliated by Zimbabwe in a friendly in Blantyre when they were beaten 4-0, lost to Tanzania 1-0, beaten by Chad 3-1 and failed to beat Mozambique on July 6 when the game ended up in a 1-1 draw. Is this a team to rely on? Young Chimodzi, the team’s head coach is optimistic that his charges can excel. He has called 20 players for the Benin game and unlike his predecessor, Young has 12 local players and 8 professionals. Names like veteran Moses Chavula do not appear on his list. Just like Roy Hodgson, the England Manager, Young would like to build his own team on up and coming talent.

Building a new team

The unfortunate part of Malawi football is that the story does not change. “Building a new team” is the headline. Teams that win have played together for some time. Let us take the German team: Their success is a product of players working together with each other for several years who now have an almost telepathic connection as well as superior ball skills.

Young Chimodzi is lucky that Malawi is not North Korea – When the national team of this reclusive state performed badly at the 2010 World Cup “the entire squad was forced onto a stage at the people’s palace of culture and subjected to criticism from Park Mvoro-chol, the sports minister, as 400 government officials, students and journalists watched” writes Barney Henderson of the UK Daily Telegraph.

Political football

Whatever your voting opinions, the phenomenon of football unites entire countries. The irony of the subheading is that polarised partisan politicians miss this trick.

The relationship between football and politicians is unique. Football and politics share more similarities than some may at first assume. As Steve Rotherom, MP for Liverpool (England) writes, “Both have audiences of millions. Both generate extreme tribalism. Both share expectation, revel in triumph, and, yes, in rivals’ defeats. Like in all teams there is infighting and disagreement along the way. There are tantrums and disciplinary proceedings along the way. Some ‘players’ reach their sell by date quickly, whilst others have a longevity that is admired the nation over”

Therefore politics has a role to play in football. For the national team to perform it needs the goodwill of the government.

In Malawi, the national team is under-sponsored while billions of kwachas are wasted on white elephants, examples of which I leave for the reader to recall.  Maybe our politicians should be told that football temporarily plasters over political division. Even family problems come to a standstill if the national team is winning games and qualifying for major tournaments. Fortunately for Malawi now, our President, Peter Mutharika, loves football having gained so much grass roots popularity for his personal investment in the Southern Region Football league, providing a mechanism to feed the national team with good players. The Minister of Finance, Godall Gondwe, is himself an adamant soccer fan.

If the political will is there as it was in the 70s and 80s, the private sector now has the opportunity to promote football in the country and by extension the national team as is evident watching any European game on television. It becomes newsworthy when a government takes sports development seriously. For example Ivory Coast is planning hire former Chelsea manager Avram Grant. This is what we hope our government will do rather than merely covering expenses in the short term.


The bumpy road to Morocco

The road to Morocco 2015 Africa Cup of nations is not too bumpy and it is not too late for Malawi. All we need is the political will. The first game against Benin is on July 20 and the second leg is on August 2.

There is time enough for the nation to prepare the boys. With a unified political will, together we can arrive in Morocco with only cheers of our fans echoing in the stadium!!

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