It might not be a monumental task of converting biblical fishermen into disciples but transforming Malawi footballers into artisans has begun in earnest. And with it, giving hope to an otherwise demonised football career.
From bending it like David Beckham and dribbling like Lionel Messi, 35 past and present players are now learning to fix broken pipes, geysers and cars in designated Blantyre centres.
It is all thanks to an informal skills’ development programme which the Football Players Association, which represents past and present players, is running with the expertise of Teveta. Weekend Nation witnessed it all.
It is Tuesday morning. Inside a room tucked at Ndirande Trading Centre, Bantyre staffed with metals, Simeon Kapuza, Elia Kananji (Blantyre United coaches), Leo Mpulula (Azam Tigers), and ex-players Wilton Kaunda, Ganizani Malunga listen attentively.
Others take notes. Not about football tactics but learning plumbing under the tutorship of Question Chisiza. Malawi has a high number of destitution after a football career, hence greats such as Kinnah Phiri discourage their children from football.
“They are very dedicated students; part of the training involves taking them to do the actual repairs when we are called. The biggest challenge is that we have no learning materials and gear such as protective helmets, work suit and boots. The students actually improvised this chalk board,” Chisiza said as his students nodded.
Kaunda said the course has given Malawi football hope, noting that life after football is the harshest reality confronting footballers as “once you hung up your boots you are dumped, yet we have families.”
Among current Super League players, Mighty Wanderers has contributed the most, five, Alfred Manyozo Junior, Cuthbert Sinetre, Idriss Walesi, Victor Mpinganjira and Francis Mlimbika. Big Bullets have Richard Senti and Fundi Akidu. Osward Maonga (Blantyre United), Gilbert Chirwa and Reggie Karim (ex-footballer).
The crash programme runs for three months in trades such as electrical installation, business administration, motor vehicle mechanic and plumbing. Successful students will receive certificates making them instantly employable or empowered to become entreprenuers, Teveta senior training programme specialist Lucy Yekha said.
Teveta are running it through Southern Region Informal Sector Training Programme (Soristpa). Depending on proximity to the improvised training centres and preferred course, the footballers are learning in Blantyre centres of Maone, Ndirande, HHI, Chirimba and Kamba.
But like most local football projects, funding hitches threaten the initiative just two months after it rolled off, according to the Football Players Association chairperson Ojukwu Malunga.
“We would like to eventually roll out to the rest of the region and to do that we need K1.6 million. We have approached FAM and the Sports Council and we are waiting, otherwise Teveta are unhappy that we are not meeting our financial obligation as agreed in the memorandum of understanding,” Malunga noted on Tuesday.
Soristpa regional development chairperson Isaac Chitseko said the informal sector employs the bulk of labour force in Malawi, hence the footballers’ training is critical.
“Imagine of each of unemployed opened a shop and employed five people, would thereby unemployment? Footballers survive using their legs but empowering them to use their hands assures of a better life after retirement. Football is a short-term career,” Chitseko said on Tuesday.
Super League of Malawi (Sulom) general secretary Williams Banda on Wednesday said the matter was outside their jurisdiction “and we have not been appraised on any challenges or success of the programme.”
Sports Council executive director George Jana on Wednesday hailed the programme as noble that “should be pursued not only for the ex-footballers but even the current ones so that they do not end in situations like the old/former ones are now experiencing.”
But Jana said they suggested to the players’ association administrator Nelson Mphande that it was premature rolling out the programme until issues of sustainability, identification of beneficiaries, eligibility and classification of students were addressed.
“There was need before the kicking of the project, to study and identify a way of making it self-sustainable. One cannot start a project on the basis or strength of promised or anticipated donations,” Jana observed.
“Given the above, we at this stage would not be able to do anything to assist these people as in effect, the project did start without our involvement and was on assumption at least from our side that it (the project) would self-sustain. If any help would go to them from council, it would have to be under the blessing of FAM.”
FAM president Walter Nyamilandu on Wednesday said they have requested for the players’ body’s policy documents of the programme, constitution and accounting procedures “before we could consider their request.”