The Flames 2018 World Cup campaign began in smoke on Wednesday when they were humbled 2-0 by Taifa Stars away in Tanzania. However, there is a chance to salvage the situation tomorrow, if the Flames do their homework well in the return match.
Coach Ernest Mtawali has been the subject of wide and wild condemnation for fielding under-experienced players. Not that the criticism is not deserved, but it is misplaced because this is what is expected when you change coaches.
When Football Association of Malawi (FAM) fired Young Chimodzi, I said it was a wrong decision because Chimodzi had been in the process of building a team and the fruits of which were beginning to manifest at the Cosafa tournament where, although Malawi lost the main tournament, we got a glimpse of up-and-coming young talent playing good attacking football with a purpose. However, he was fired after losing to Zimbabwe here at home. It was an emotional decision.
Now Mtawali is doing what every new coach does; building his own team. Perhaps what we can point out as flaws from Mtawali’s project is the contemptuous disregard of experienced players from his squad.
I believe this is a mistake. These players have matured to a point where Malawi must now begin to yield from their maturity. Players, just like any other individual, make mistakes and learn from their mistakes to become better. But the new coach has given these players no second chance.
Instead, he has opted for Under-20 rookies such as Miracle Gabeya, Stanely Sanudi and others. Funny enough Gabeya is not even a first-choice player at Big Bullets. This means we have to wait for these young players to go through development process that cost Malawi the game in Tanzania before they mature.
Mtawali reminds me of the way Andre Villas Boas handled reform at Chelsea in his ill-fated term at Stamford Bridge. His goal was to make Chelsea a team playing some crisp attacking football. His diagnosis, which was on-point, was that the team had some old legs that needed freshening up. However, AVB just removed all the old players at once and replaced them with rookies and that was the end of him.
Once again, Flames conceded through a goalkeeping blunder and this has been the case for the past five or so games for the Flames. Macdonald Harawa was disregarded at the Cosafa Cup for Charles Swini because of these blunders. But after Swini won Malawi the Cosafa Plate, the next match against Zimbabwe, Harawa was back in goal again only to gift Zimbabwe easy goals. After that, we saw Richard Chipuwa in goals against Swaziland and we are told he also gifted manna to Swaziland with needless blunders.
To change the situation, Mtawali brought back Simplex Nthala, once a very trusted man in goals and a new goalkeeper trainer in Swadick Sanudi. But nothing has changed. The same goalkeeping blunders are recurring.
Despite all these problems, I am willing to give Mtawali the benefit of the doubt to develop his under-20 project into a senior team to start winning matches. I wish Flames the best in the return match against Tanzania.