Like a sneak thief, he caught his marker off-guard to intercept a back pass. Then, an assured touch gave Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango full control of the ball.
In a flash, he dropped his shoulders as if he was aiming at the near post and the goalkeeper fell for his trick and Mhango clipped the ball, with the deftest of touches, to give it flight and just enough power, for it to nestle into the middle of the goal.
No fuss, job done. And just like that, the Flames forward announced his arrival at Orlando Pirates, scoring in his official debut against Bloemfontein Celtic in their opening 2019/20 South African Absa Premiership match to seal a sweet 3-1 victory in August last year.
He had just signed from Bidvest Wits.
The beauty of it all was that Mhango had just been on the pitch for six minutes after being thrown in as a substitute. Time appeared to stand still, frozen in the beauty of the occasion as he flashed the ghost sign to the Pirates fans, who could not help but give him a standing ovation.
“For me, it was a dream start. I needed to make an instant impression because it is not easy to break into a big team like Pirates,” he said in an interview after the match.
Mhango went on to prove that his strike was no fluke by scoring consecutively against their sworn rivals Kaizer Chiefs in Telkom Knockout Cup and Premier Soccer League (PSL) contests, respectively although they lost both games.
To add extra spice, Mhango accorded new Pirates German coach Josef Zinnbauer a special welcome with a brace when they saw-off his compatriot Robert Ng’ambi’s Black Leopards just a few days before Christmas.
“We needed to win to send a message to our new coach about our capability. First impressions are crucial when you have a new coach,” he said.
The diminutive forward now has seven league goals, just two behind leading scorer Peter Shalulile of Highlands Park. The latest was against his former team Bloemfontein Celtic on Saturday which ended one-all. He has eight goals in all competitions so far this season.
Mhango wasn’t the only Malawian player who switched clubs abroad.
Defender Limbikani Mzava also made a switch within the PSL by signing a two-year deal with Highlands Park from Golden Arrows.
His move was, however, marred by an injury that saw him being reduced to a sideshow for nearly two months and, in the process, missed the MTN8 final against SuperSport United which they lost.
Mzava has since bounced back into action and has reclaimed his position.
It was also the year that Flames winger Gerald Phiri Jnr and forward Richard Mbulu secured deals with Baroka FC in the PSL.
Phiri was signed from National First Division (NFD) side Ajax Cape Town while Mbulu was roped in from Mozambican side Costa Do Sol.
The gangly Phiri made an instant impression at the Polokwane-based side and has already scored three goals, two of them from his trademark deadballs.
He was also named the captain of the side only in his debut season.
Ng’ambi, meanwhile, is still making an impression at Leopards where his experience has been vital and has netted two league goals this far.
On-and-off Flames striker Chawanangwa Kawonga’s sheer quality shone like a flare when he helped Costa Do Sol to win the Mozambican top-flight Mocambola League title, a feat that opened an opportunity for him to clinch a one-and-a half-year deal with South African NFD side TS Sporting last month.
Another Mozambicue-based Flames midfielder John ‘CJ’ Banda also moved from Ferroviario de Nampula to UD Songo in Mozambique. He was also offered an outright deal by TS Sporting, but his parent club Blue Eagles turned it down, preferring that the Malawi national team stand-in captain remains at UD Songo, who finished as runners-up to Costa Do Sol.
And while John and his brother Frank Banda enjoyed game time at UD Songo, their compatriot was reduced to peripheral figure last year. US-based midfielder Yamikani Chester, who was loaned to United Soccer League (USL) Championship side North Carolina by Czech third-tier league side MFK Vyskov, has again been loaned out to another USL side Vegas Lights