If you don’t value your time, neither will others. Stop giving away your time and talents. Value what you know and start charging for it.– Kim Garst
Nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance, not even talent and the life of one of the country’s talented players Tony Chitsulo, who died on Friday after a long illness, seems to augur well with the adage.
The vastly talented player was buried yesterday at a cemetery just a few metres from the football pitch he honed his skills in Bangwe, popularly known as ‘Desert Ground’ as if to remind the township dwellers of what he could have achieved in the beautiful game.
Those that know little about Chitsulo might think winning the 2009/10 TNM Super League golden boot with 18 goals was the player’s biggest achievement.
Some might think his contribution in Under-17 national football team’s school of 2009 team that qualified for the Algeria Africa Youth Championship and Nigeria Under-17 Fifa World Cup, was the best he could have achieved.
But those that saw the player sprouting from the slums of Bangwe Township through Bangwe Madrid, know that if Chitsulo’s career was a story, we could say only half of it has been told. Who said short players can never be good strikers?
What Chitsulo lacked in height, was compensated in his vast dribbling skills, good positioning, lightning speed and a power-parked shot that even bold men in goals shivered to stop.
Yet so many theories have often been presented to explain why the promising player’s talent failed to blossom to its highest potential.
Some blame the player’s wayward behaviour as the major contributing factor, while others blame the system. Born in 1993, Chitsulo’s exceptional talent was noted while playing for amateur Under-14 street team called Barcelona FC.
He also helped his school team, Bangwe Primary, lift the Dairyboard Malawi schools competition. In 2005, Enos Chatama, swayed by the player’s predatory instincts in front of goal, coaxed the youngster to join Bangwe Madrid.
His stay at Bangwe Madrid was short-lived as he was spotted by Capital City giants Silver Strikers while playing in Presidential Cup in 2008/09.
The bankers signed the player outright and treated him as a prince. Apart from an enviable signing-on fee and being the highest paid player at that time, Chitsulo was also accorded the best accommodation at the club’s chairperson McDonald MafutaMwale’s guest wing all this done to ensure the teenager had a guardian while away from home.
He proved he deserved all he was getting within a short period and led the bankers to win the TNM Super League championship. That was the season that he also clinched the Golden Boot Award.
By this time, Chitsulo had graduated to Under-20, alongside Limbikani Mzava, Stanley Sanudi, Robin Ngalande, Kelvin Hanganda, Luke Milanzi, Bongani Kaipa, Peter Mselema, Kondwani Lufeyo, Dalitso Sailesi, Pilirani Zonda, Mike Kaziputa and Gastin Simkonda.
Chitsulo’s exploits attracted the attention of then national football team coach Kinnah Phiri, who handed him a first Flames call-up.
Surprisingly, Chitsulo turned down the offer, saying he was not ready for a bigger platform. His off-pitch behaviour would later take a toll on the player as he was in constant conflict with his coaches due to absenteeism during training.
At times he would disappear for weeks even while at Under-20 national team camp, just to enjoy the fast life of Bangwe Township. The then Football Association of Malawi (FAM) general secretary Suzgo Nyirenda confessed inviting experts to counsel Chitsulo, but in vain.
His club, Silver, never gave up on him. Even when, in 2012, Wanderers started chasing for the player, the Bankers were adamant to let him go.
But after the player insisted on returning to Blantyre, Silver decided to let go, thinking being close to his parents would help the player deal with his issues. Unfortunately, a bounced K1.9 million cheque Wanderers issued as the player’s transfer fee, led to a prolonged wrangle between the two sides that left the player idle for over a season.
When FAM finally ruled that the player should return to his parent club, it was too late for Chitsulo to pick up the pieces.
He returned to Silver before the start of the 2014/15 season, but fate had another chapter for him. A year of booze and some run-ins with the law at a shabeen owned by his girlfriend, had taken away the talent and health he enjoyed while he was a teenager.
The pint-sized forward was given sick leave after complaining of tiredness and chest pains during training sessions—which he could hardly complete.
“We have given him some months to rest so that he can access medical attention. We are monitoring his progress but it will be tough to predict when he will return to action because he has not recovered,” Silver chairperson Mafuta-Mwale told the media in 2015.
Chitsulo, last played for Silver in the Carlsberg Cup Round of 16 against Azam Tigers at Kamuzu Stadium— little did people know this would be the last they would watch him play elite football. He was on-and-off while receiving medication, but still promising to bounce back.
“I am ready to play to the expectations of soccer lovers. At the moment, I am doing my road works and I feel good. I am not going back to the Capital City because I want to remain here in Blantyre,” said a smiling Chitsulo last year.
But a few months ago he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, which claimed his life at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Friday evening, where he was receiving treatment. He was just 24-years-old.
Former Big Bullets player Panganeni Ndovi upon learning of Chitsulo death recalled what the lad jokingly said to him.
He said: “I woke up to the sad news that Tony Chitsulo has passed on one of the most creative strikers Malawi football has seen.
The young man that told me “Pa moyo wamunthu sipafunika kuzipanikiza’ (Live life as you can afford to).
But perhaps, as Chitsulo finally rests on the touchline of Desert Ground, a lesson drawn from his career is that in life accept responsibility for your actions, knowing that it is you who will get you where you want to go, no one else.