Walter Nyamilandu and his bed of thorns at FAM

Football Association of Malawi (FAM) president, Walter Nyamilandu Manda seeks a third term. Writer Patrick Zgambo Woyera crudely looks at the man. From his Kung-fu, his genius to his vices. Wires.

When one of the leading Sports Analysts for Nyasa Times casually asked me last week over tea to do an objective, no-hordes-barred piece on one Walter Mcmillan Nyamilandu Manda in light of whether he deserves a third term for the FAM presidency, I was hesitant.

That was despite the analyst asking me to do same for his possible challengers.

I was hesitant because I once worked with Mr. Nyamilandu directly and I must confess that I, and I hate to admit it, developed a soft spot for his clumsy nature  and his philosophy for leadership.

“Why me?” I asked the analyst. Am not in the mainstream media anymore and have somehow lost my writing bearings, I protested.

FAM President Walter Nyamilandu (L)

The man they sent is an old (not as in age) acquaintance of mine said his boss had heard it from high places “that I could do the job best because he heard I am a pendulum on Mr Nyamilandu and that am no cheer leader and he had reason to suspect I would give no quarter in my assessment having worked with Mr. Nyamilandu on a birth certificates campaign”.

These were a lot of huge words. I was flattered.

So truthfully put, am not sure whether I am so objective in this piece but I tried to write the truth as best as I can.

I can say I have heard of, met and negotiated with a Walter Nyamilandu Manda.

I first saw Walter (he was Macmillan Nyamilandu then) as a bullish but intelligent University Football Club  (UFC) sweeper. The first time I saw him in football action was at Moneymen Ground, Manase Blantyre where he stupidly condemned himself to an early shower for show-boating when he arrogantly sat on a match ball while play was on. UFC was winning. It was disrespect to the opponent. Forget it. He was a college boy. He didn’t have to look presidential then. For FAM or otherwise.

At UFC, he was a classy defender. Stoic. A tough customer. Never took prisoners. Uncompromising. Always willing to hit the self distruct button (according to his teammates). A breath of fresh air. Strong in the air and on the ground.

His UFC with Grant Kankhulungo, Philip Madinga, Mike Gladstone, Alick Tahuna and Hannock Ng’oma was one team of obscene quality of skill and football brains…and arrogance.

Mr. Nyamilandu ended up at Mighty Wanderers FC where albeit a few moments of madness, he starred and shone as a beacon of strength and stability for both club and country. His highlight being a solid shift against Bafana Bafana. He even had trials in England.

 

After a few years, he kept on losing a yard or two in pace. Physically, there was also more to look at on his frame. The jersey was also beginning to get dumped within the first quarter of an hour.

Then came the Maseru debacle in the CAF Cup Winners Cup against minnows, Roma Rovers. Nomads were thoroughly thumped 5-1. No footage is available but many a journalist suggested the man at the back was not at his best and put in a wrong foot a lot of times.

It became clear then, he was destined to concentrate on office work than his football. Just like Madinga, Kankhulongo, Gladstone and Ng’oma.

It is a good thing Mr. Nyamilandu is a sore loser (not a bad thing. You can’t like losing).

I remember Mr. Nyamilandu when he famously reorganised the face of my nosy good friend, England-based journalist Thom Chiumia for taking a picture of the then Nomads Libero after his club had just been clipped by rivals Bullets in a Chombe Tea Cup Final in ’96 courtesy of a pair of goals from Andrew Chikhosi and Afiki Sikelo.

To his dignity and maturity, Nyamilandu ate humble pie and apologised. Chiumia accepted the star’s remorse through personal and media contact. Chiumia seemed to enjoy the moment of fame more and the embarassing Kung-fu incident went.

Nyamilandu followed his playing career with bizarre position at Nomads one of which was as Team Manager where he was instrumental in bringing Joseph Kamwendo and Gift Makoloni to Lali Lubani in a player heist that involved ‘smash and grab’ players around Blue Bird Motel. Most suspect he doesn’t want to talk about it. He prevailed off course.

He also still showed up at back pages in the media. This time often with tight-short-wearing bikers. He was with Illovo.

I finally met Nyamilandu in 2007 when as a naïve, self righteous and arrogant advocacy media and communications expert for an international NGO. I had been tasked by my employer to flip Nyamilandu and persuade him to bring football and FAM to support the National Registration Bill (NRB), a national campaign for compulsory birth registration, certificates and identity cards.

The negotiation was typical high stakes poker. In an afternoon of tough negotiations at Mpira House, we thrashed out an accord for the same to the nitty gritty. It was a compromise deal. He gave in the game to the campaign. He put is cards on the table. His intentions were clear. He wanted to root out age cheating in football. Strangely, he never admitted there was any. So we did have the first Charity Shield in Malawi and we were able to bring him, FAM officials, players, coaches to media to support the bill and football was an official partner of the NRB.

We agreed on most things in principal but haggled on how best to make the Charity Shield credible and representative and not just a charade and publicity stunt. The creative Steve Gwaza, Harold Takomana and Felix Ngamanya Sapao did the donkey work.

Well, the NRB, is law now and Nyamilandu’s role cannot be over emphasised.

 

In the end, FAM (you wouldn’t believe this) without fanfare donated proceeds of the Charity Shield to a ‘Race Against Hunger’ Campaign in Kasungu. That was besides submitting to an independent audit for the same endeavour which they passed apart from the insignificant pocket change missing.

On a scale of 1-10, I gave his overall leadership an overall 7 from 10 after NRB.

Off course, I have retrieved my one since. He was simply a much better improvement from his predecessors.

From the people in football I talked to, Nyamilandu is a smart man. Dapper off course. Has his bling. Sadly not very eloquent. The right height to  exude authority and earn respect, the right tone of voice. Not very charismatic  but just good enough charm to walk both the corridors of Wall Street and FIFAs Zurich Power Base.

He has a good education. A mild fuse yet has a tendency ‘to hold on to things. So don’t cross him’, according to a Central Region Football Administrator.

Some football officials say he is a diplomat. Especially  when he is a bearer of bad news. His critics say he talks less and listens more but does not necessarily take dissenting views. He is thought to avoid confrontation and sugar coats the bitter pill.

The above traits and how they come out of a football leader are important. They are factors not on election day but the running of the game. These are essentials for discourse of strategy and interaction.

Former power brokers at FAM argue that FAM elections are not won or lost through the ballot or vision, manifesto, traits, potential programs personality or popularity.

“Mr. Nyamilandu is particularly difficult position because the executive will not vote and that’s where he has power. In his quest to run football, he may have stepped on a few toes in the electorate. They may be some baying for blood,” said a former Fam GS.

Nyamilandu’s programs have always gone down well with his executive which is his base. However he is hugely popular with some affiliates.

The vote swing, educated me a former president of FAM, is done through deals behind the scenes. Most times these deals have nothing to do with football.

“That is why the votes come by block. For instance CRFL will vote uniform and so SRFL. Most times the delegates don’t even read the manifestos,” he laughed.

Seasoned football administrator George Kaudza Masina, a former General Secretary at FAM echoed similar sentiments in local press last week.

“You may have good ideas. Its not always a deal maker. You need a base to go through these elections,” he told Sunday Times.

In spite of critics’ sentiments, many of football’s administrators agreed that Nyamilandu is generally impatient with getting results especially with youth football.

 

A Blantyre based lawyer and firm critique said “Its not enough just to turn up at tournaments. How we prepare should be the measure of our commitment. Mr. Nyamilandu doesn’t want the labour pains but just the baby from youth football. Does he do enough for youth football? He gives in 35 percent. That is not good enough if he knows what’s good for him”.

His argument was that Nyamilandu’s leadership concentrates on what he called a ‘quick fix’ by supporting and concentrating mainly on the senior national football team but has dragged feet on the most important dose for curing Malawi football-youth football.

He said Nyamilandu’s leadership  has no clear vision for Under -17, 20 and 23.

“Show me the calendar, program, back room staff, squad list for junior teams…don’t worry, I will wait for an answer,” he challenged me.

“Look at Botswana. Why are they better today? Consistency. Organisation. Clear and living plans. Their main team today has come through the ranks. The players have been together at least 8 years and the junior teams train and play regularly. They play locally, travel by bus. In our case, they regroup when there is a competition and always under a different coach. They don’t have clear programs,” said a member of staff at FAM secretariat who like most respondents refused to be named.

“Look at the Under-17 that went to World Cup in Nigeria. When did they last meet?…maybe this morning on Facebook!,” he said.

I thought of Gastin Simkonda and Robin Ngalande. Where do the young men belong? Are they Under-17, 20, 23 or the senior national team?

All the above. The FAM official assured me.

Across the divide, Nyamilandu comes out as a ‘visionary’ but most of it comes in short bursts, is reactive and not widely circulated and poorly communicated. This is a general belief in most media and football watchers.

He means well, his detractors and believers, mostly agree. He is known to have friends in high and low places. You may wonder.

Nyamilandu is not a football terrorist. An opportunist perhaps. He clearly tries to drive a hard bargain in the interest of football but communication out of Chiwembe is shocking and/or non existent.

At times, he sheds off his Mr. Nice Guy image by playing hard ball. Especially when it comes to negotiation for revenue and ethos for supporting charity and his ‘daggers drawn’ relations with media people who do not sugar coat and those alledgedly been supported to accuse FAM

In this area things have certainly not always gone well.

(1)    Government financial support

One area Nyamilandu has earned full marks is the ability to solicit support from government and the Malawi National Council of Sport.

We don’t know who he is molesting but certainly this is a brilliant job and it is paying off for football.

Previous FAM executives used to receive government support but it is clear Nyamilandu is getting an enormously huge cake from Capital Hill to finance football.

The biggest beneficiary is the senior national football team and the Presidential Cup. Full marks on this one. Maybe a 15 out of 10.

A word of caution (pardon my pessimism). Nyamilandu and his executive have to manage and cement this relationship. My concern it that the Presidential Cup should be a strictly football jamboree. It is fine if the fine ladies and men in blue can dance around but this is a professional game and lines have to be clear.

Nyamilandu must also lobby Capital Hill and the Chamber to institutionalise  Football Programs and Presidential programs in National Budget. It must be clear what FAM wants. A clear budget line and not just ‘sports’. The country needs football programs Budget and not just competition partcipation budget and the Presidential Cup. Most importantly Introduce a National Youth Program (most of us don’t know yet who these people are, what they have done what they do and what they intend to do) and Massa implemented schools program focussing on skills development (coaching and play and equipment and competitions). Draw up a budget and maybe there may be takers on line items.

If Nyamilandu seeks re-election with these among ‘his unfinished business’, I will be willing to listen and maybe give him back the percentage I took back.

The reason we are seeking institutionalisation of support is sustainability of what Nyamilandu and his team have achieved. Most people agree government is responding but are not sure whether it is individuals in government warming up to  Nyamilandu and FAM so they need securities. For a good reason too. Remember Bakili Muluzi Cup?

A good initiative that died young when it had just started bearing fruit.

Caution also needs to be exercised not to mix FAM, individuals and Capital Hill. That, observers say, has always been C4 and a detonator flirting.

A few years ago Nyamilandu disturbingly went into tantrums when his deputy Moses Mkandawire, who is an employee of a faith based civil rights organisation, signed off in the press a statement critical of a government policy that had nothing to do football. Mkandawire had apparently done so in his role as Director of the civil rights organisation.

It was zero out of ten for Nyamilandu. Most officials close to him say it was clear some one had pressed buttons in Nyamilandu. Mkandawire has gone into self hibernation since and rarely makes public comment.

Mkandawire won that second term only because first, he is a moderate and ditching him on non football issues would have been suicide, reason commentators.

 

The man is a closed book. No one’s blue eyed boy. At least on face value. From journalists based in Mzuzu, the man has NRFC, MDFL in his pocket and key Bowl Weevil votes in Referees, womens football, coaches, SULOM sub committees.

Chances are he will again go unopposed unless some candidate wants to get a hiding, agreed a Mr. Nyamilandu insider this week.

(2)The game on the pitch: Bed of thorns

When it comes to football on the pitch, Nyamilandu has seen the best of best worlds.

From the nearly men in COSAFA to the his two highs. First the qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola 2010 and the Under 17 World Cup.

Nyamilandu and his team are the most successful team at FAM in history so he certainly has achieved something by managing to lie in a bed of thorns (achieving results on the pitch) and surviving brutal critics.

Could he sustain it? Not for long.

Nyamilandu could have if he and his team had built on the success in 2010 with thorough preparation. Instead, we were caught with our pants down like Rabbits in a glare of light.

On the final hurdle Malawi failed to qualify for AFCON when it was easier to qualify, we couldn’t hold the Bladder. Extra Time syndrome turned up in Chad drew 2-2.

Malawi strangely failed to qualify yet never lost a qualifying match in the group.

At least, Nyamilandu did his part well. He paid the bills and gave the Flames friendlies and a budget.

On this one its fair to give him 7.

3)FIFA Projects

Football gurus questioned agree. Nyamilandu has had rather positive and constructive overzealousness with FIFA projects.

A few critics suggested pockets of micro management but the general feeling is that Nyamilandu simply wants structures to point out as his legacy if and when he goes.

“Its natural, most FIFA projects are structural thus physical and can be seen and pointed at. They easily show progress and are good for someone wanting to stay or leave,” pointed out the Blantyre lawyer.

He was quick to point out that both the decision to leave Mpira House and setup Chiwembe Technical Centre we sound management decisions for FAM and that the FIFA projects seem to have been implemented with a master stroke.

 

“Mr. Nyamilandu is not a bad president. But I think we needed to see more action from him on the missing FIFA sports equipment which remains a mystery. I expected him to act with the same urgency as he did with the tax issue on the Goal 1 projects, the Sulom accounts saga,” he said.

Indeed Nyamilandu’s administration has seemed rather bored with the whole equipment issue. Unnecessarily jumping to defence thereby glorifying the whole episode fuelling unnecessary Yadayada. To be fair, his administration was being put under unnecessary pressure on the sports equipment most of it which seemed malicious rather than objective.

“Demanding an explanation was not bad. But demanding the press was out of line and malicious. I wish the Super League Clubs had same transparency in running their own clubs,” he punned.

(4) Corporate Sponsorship

While it has been clear  that government has pulled its weight on sponsoring the national teams, the same cannot be said of corporate sponsors who have found it fashionable to move away from the game.

The reasons from corporate sponsors are wide ranging. They don’t get mileage, they don’t want their brands to be associated with negative publicity (politics, hooligans and corruption) and they don’t want their sponsorship buying Martinis and holidays for football executives.

The explanation by the corporate sponsors is justified.

That is why we have poor sponsorship for a sport supposedly followed by millions.

Tanzania have produced bad results on the pitch over the years yet they get all the sponsors. For clubs and country. Why?

The answer is simple. They have strategic programs that have made communities and fans feel part of the game and corporate sponsors want to tap into that.

In every adversity lies opportunity, they say. In Malawi football case, the opportunity from it is that teams can now be built as trusts or private companies and build fan bases and seek sustainable means of survival like sponsors.

Dwasco, Tigers, Nchalo, Bullets and Nomads are on right path as entities that can be built around communities.

Off course we do not expect Nyamilandu and Casper Jangale or whoever takes over the reigns to go fetching sponsorship for Bullets or Nchalo United. We expect them to be clear and strategic and stimulate all of us through a football revolution program that makes us all attracted to the game. We have a pool of talent and a sexy national to build on.

The real task for Nyamilandu and his executive is to make us enjoy the game again. The rest will take care of itself.

 

For Mr. Jangale I expect robust actions that go beyond selling match tickets, nice pictures in the press and SMSs. We expect creative ideas outside the box. Mr. Nyamilandu and his team needs to shake that tree to bring money into the game using creative methods.

Am afraid, Big walks and dinner balls will not do. That’s too simplistic.

For starters, most Super League Clubs argue, Nyamilandu and his FAM must squeeze some of its affiliates to get rid of a clause that ties clubs from branding merchandise with other sponsors apart from league sponsor.

This is an obsolete law that is completely disconnected to reality and limits clubs’ potential,  most watcher agreed.

Some have blamed the privatisation of companies for the drying up of sponsorship. It is not the case. Its a myriad of factors as explained above and the global economic down turn.

(4)Public game

Most agree that what really drove that what really drove down the numbers at Stadia is not Television. Its two things. Hooliganism and bad results.

We seem to have come to our senses on stadium brawls and looting. We have also cut down on clobbering bent referees. Well, apart from Nomads and their unwillingness to let old habits die, I thing Nyamilandu and team should deserve to have crowds back.

Its time families watched the game again and the whole question of sponsorship may not be relevant at all.

(5)Media and Communication

Another grey area for Nyamilandu’s FAM is the media and communications machinery. That is both the crisis communication and the day to day media and communication outlets.

How much is FAM using ICT to advance football or make football happen?

Jangale did a fantastic job with the Red Campaign and the SMSs fundraising. There is way more that can be done here.

Mayi a Hope, my tomato saleswoman from Mtandire has a Mobile and can even MMS. Am sure Mr. Jangale can reach her if he wanted persuade her to go to CIVO.

Then there is the dinosaur website. Disgusting, out of touch, un interactive, uninspiring and disconnected to reality.

It neither has information on FAM strategic direction, recent material or interactive service to reach out to the fan.

 

 

And who is the point person for media at FAM? I am asking this because I have seen so many times the CEO releasing the squad!

By all means the squabbling in the press will never die until FAM learn to have their dirty linen ironed and put away

(6)Strategic Plan

I am dying to see the strategic plan for FAM. Not the national football team strategic plan by the coach.

I want to see the codes our Maestro Nyamilandu will instruct in this Malawi football orchestra.

My bottomline position is that I have always believed in change. I have never wanted to be dead wood, a dinasaur, a geriatric or a long-service-award opportunist. Not change for the sake of it.

If it aint broken, don’t fix it. You may repair it. Shake the tree to jerk action. Just don’t be a cheer leader

If Walter and his team listen, we can have another deal. We need to deal with the ifs and buts first.

May be that way, football may just happen for Malawi.

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