Do they have a skin thick enough to survive in the Super League? That is a familiar, if not tired question, confronting the elite league rookies Mzuni United, Dedza Young Soccer Stars and Surestream FC ahead of the season starting on April 18 2015.
The question does not come due to sheer pessimism or brutal competitiveness of the 15-member league.
Such serious doubts stem from the unenviable habits which every rooky has, over the years, failed to shake off—that of sabotaging own Super League honeymoon with a cocktail of logistical naivety, boardroom squabbles, ill-preparedness and a thread-bare playing squad with neither experience nor quality.
And 18 days before the start of the season, Mzuni, Stars and Surestream have not done enough, consciously or otherwise, to suggest they are determined to quell lingering questions on their survival prospects.
Before the latest new comers can get a fair slice of the blame for their ill-preparedness, it just seems the league associations for the North, Centre and South are always the first to sow relegation seeds.
Up North, Mzuni are after a decade rebounding onto the top football stage. However, there is controversy on Mzuni’s eligibility after the Northern Region Football Association (NRFA), which was so confused—it hardly produced even a log table last season—presided over a cocktail of fixtures’ mess.
There are many who feel Chilumba Barracks, leaders for a good stretch of the season in the Premier Division, were robbed of the championship by a big invisible hand.
Some theorise that the ‘forces’ did not just want another Army team to swell the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) foot print in the league to six after Red Lions, Moyale Barracks, Kamuzu Barracks, Airborne Rangers and Mafco. Mzuni argue that having finished second in two consecutive seasons, being champions was always going to be a matter of time.
But if it is not only about maintaining the Northern Region Super League quota to two when replacing relegated Karonga United, what are Mzuni bringing to the Super League? They need a big budget, a big coach and a big squad to even begin to toy with the idea of competing. And they are lacking in most of the areas.
NRFA general secretary Alfred Gunda recently shared the relegation worry and promised a strategy would be devised to ensure a team survives this season. However, the seeds of Mzuni’s relegation have already been sown with the squabbles.
In the Chipiku Central Region Football Association (CRFA), Dedza Young Soccer Stars have in two days lost and welcomed back coach Milias Pofera. In the process, his supposed replacement Abbas Makawa, who jumped off Karonga United sinking ship last season, was forced to accept an assistant coach’s role.
Has Pofera, in two days recovered from the chronic bad health that made him resign? Sportsxtra has it on authority that Pofera stepped on some toes over reported claims that he owns the team. If not power struggle with Makawa, then expect the bad blood with Dedza owner Andrew Bunya to, as speculated, continue.
On the pitch, Dedza, fired up by fine talent, needed the very last game to shake off close pursuers Support Battalion, another MDF outfit. And the fact that teams hardly lose at home in the Central Region league, means the champions, like all teams, must have gotten a free ride on refereeing decisions.
But Dedza can take comfort in that, save for the 2013 edition when Mponela United got the drop, all recent promotion candidates such as Airborne Rangers, Kamuzu Barracks, Mafco and Epac have survived in the top league.
CRFA general secretary Bernard Harawa recently attributed the survival instincts to the three streams which the league boasts.
In the South, Surestream FC have arguable a good stadium, best motivated squad and biggest sponsorship (their budget for next season is K400 million against K30 million which most Super League teams survive on). And oh, these Peter Mponda boys play sexy football even Arsene Wenger can marvel at.
But let us face it, do they know why Chikwawa United, Evirom, Bvumbwe and Escom United before them, are back in the second tier league? Home town refereeing decisions spoil Premier Division champions. Second, Surestream, noted on commentator “do not have strikers, but more of attacking midfielders”.
But Mponda does not see any problem with his strike force which Bernard Chimaimba, Peter Msowoya and Alick Mkwate leads, but agrees that the defence needs reinforcements. Save for that Mponda insists bringing in too many recruits could tamper with “our football playing style.”
However, the Surestream squad is too raw and inexperienced. The massive player motivation alone might not be enough. They need a key defender, key midfielder and key striker worth the name. Can they beef up inside three weeks and get the project going?
In the final analysis, it will be a tall order for the rookies this season, who will survive? n