Theories will always abound to justify why 49 years after attaining self-rule, Malawian football cannot export a player decent enough for the taste of the aristocrats of European football.
Most southern African countries that matter in football have exported one or two players to European top leagues. So, why do Malawian football exports only go as far as South Africa and Mozambique?
There can never be a single answer to this football jigsaw puzzle. After all, there are many cases of Africans who never knew an academy, yet, left their footprints on Europe’s football fields.
But if you ask football scout-turned football consultant Felix Ngamanya-Sapao, the biggest setback in Malawi is the absence of football schools of excellence and academies.
Teams in Europe, Ngamanya argues, look for players from academies in Africa since sufficient football education is a prerequisite for professional football.
For example, Zambian Collins Mbesuma never came from any academy, but he was so good he earned a high-profile move to Tottenham Hotspur where he never made it largely due to indiscipline, including failing to keep his weight in check.
Football academies are a new phenomenon in Malawi football used to unearthing talent and disjointed youth football development structures.
So, what is a football academy? In an interview published on www.bbc.co.uk, Paul Holder, former assistant academy director at Crystal Palace, explained what academies are all about.
“Academies are special training schemes set up by clubs to help them develop young players. All Premiership clubs have them. Other league clubs run either academies or centres of excellence, which are run along the same lines. Many non-league clubs also run their own development schemes or community projects,” he said.
To register for an academy, players must be young, with some as young as eight. The academies group players in their age brackets, teach and drill them the rudiments of a professional football career.
“A player must be at least nine years old to join an academy, but many clubs—such as Arsenal—have development groups which cater for even younger players.
Once you are 16, the club will then decide whether it wants you to stay on and join its Youth Training Scheme,” Holder explained.
Since children under academies also go to school, some academies double as primary and secondary schools. In other cases, academy players go to nearby schools situated within walking distances for them to manage both commitments.
Academy players learn not only the fundamentals of football, but also a particular football playing philosophy for a senior club for which they are being groomed to play in future.
Most Barcelona players go through La Masia Academy which teaches them the distinct playing philosophy that is the Catalans’ trademark.
Academies do not compromise ones’ future, according to Surestream Youth League head coach Andy Dell.
“By the time they reach 17, it is possible to establish whether they have a career in football or let them go and concentrate on education,” Dell noted in a recent interview at the Chilomoni Township facility.
Since the academy concept is new in Malawi, all eyes should be on what products would the Surestream produce. The academy has an ambitious plan to build a school to meet education and school needs of youngsters.
Surestream opened its doors last October at refurbished Surestream Stadium, formerly MDC Stadium, at a colourful ceremony graced by the projects founder Christopher Pitman who will pump in $200 000.
Pitman said his dream was to offer Malawian young players an opportunity to develop their talent and play football in the English Premier and Serie A leagues, among others.
Sharing this vision is the academy’s technical director Peter Mponda who warned that unless Malawi paid attention to detail on youth football, the Flames will never become a big football force.