European demand for Malawi and other southern Africa footballers has significantly dropped as evidenced by the absence of the region’s players in powerful leagues—a sharp contrast to the 1990s when the continent’s southerners starred in big clubs.
Meanwhile, experts have blamed the situation on most southern Africa countries’ delay to implement player development programmes, poor performances in international tournaments and indiscipline among rising footballers.
The region’s only remaining successful footballer in the English Premier League (EPL) is South African midfielder Steven Pienaar. However, injuries have rendered him inactive at Everton.
Currently it is West Africa which is representing the continent in the top leagues and it is dominating in the individual awards too. Great names stand out: Yaya Toure, Sadio Mane, Andrew Ayew, Mikel John Obi, Pierre Aubameyang and Alex Song.
Meanwhile, football consultant Felix Ngamanya Sapao has attributed the southern Africa’s current fading Europe representation on lack of player development programmes.
“Clubs in Europe nowadays look for players who have gone through development programmes and most countries in southern Africa have only had their programmes for less than 10 years,” he says.
Sapao said West Africans introduced the player development programmes several years ago, a development that has made them the continental football superpowers.
“In any player development, the basics have to be taught at Under-13. We are talking about the first touch, ball control, passing and shooting,” he explains.
“Most players in Malawi, I have noted, are learning these at Under-15 or making it worse at Under-17. In such cases you expect such players to be making basic mistakes as they develop.”
Sharing his views, College of Medicine Sports Complex high performance officer Cathrew Chimimba said southern African players nowadays lack discipline when they are rising.
Chimimba further blamed the players of lacking mental toughness to withstand pressure at the top level of the game.
“There are a lot of Malawian footballers who have come back because they were not receiving enough money or were not being given game time,” he said.
Flames midfielder Joseph Kamwendo is among the players that terminated their contracts on financial grounds. He dumped Danish side Nordsjælland at the peak of his career claiming that he was not receiving enough money.
Chimimba said players that have became world stars put passion as a key priority.
“Yaya Toure and Cristiano Ronaldo will tell you that they faced financial hardships in the early stages of their careers but they kept playing because of passion,” he states. “They will tell you that they were ignored by some clubs but they moved on,” he said.
He said for southern Africa players to make it at the top level they need to be prepared psychologically while they are competing in youth leagues.
Some analysts have argued that poor Fifa rankings among southern Africa teams have led scouts to focus elsewhere.
According to England Premiership rules, players from countries that are above 50 on the rankings are not permitted. Malawi lies on position 99.
Meanwhile, Football Association of Malawi (FAM) president Walter Nyamilandu queries that lack of agents and scouts has affected the southern Africa player exports.
“The best players are not only found in top ranked countries. The reason we are ragging behind is that we have few scouts and agents,” he said.
Nyamilandu said his leadership is currently trying to make local football prominent by networking.
“southern Africa’s network is poor. This is the area we need to improve. For instance, if we see a skilled footballer, what do we do? Do we alert the agents and scouts? This is where I want us to improve.”
Last year Fifa launched a global football development plan to support youth domestic leagues with a pilot project underway in the country.
Nyamilandu hopes that the youth development project will unearth and gloom players that will be able to impress on the world stage.
In 1990s and early 2000s the top footballing nations England, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Netherlands had southern Africa footballers. Zimbabwe goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar and striker Peter Ndlovu played for Liverpool and Coventry respectively, South Africa defender Lucas Radebe starred at Leeds United while his compatriot Benni McCarthy won the Champions League with Porto.
In that bright era for the region’s football, Zambian striker Kalusha Bwalya helped Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven to two national league championship victories while Malawi’s attacking midfielder Ernest Mtawali played for Toulouse FC in France.
Other Malawians that played in top leagues oversees were Kennedy Malunga (Belgium), John Maduka (Norway), Esau Kanyenda (Russia) and Russell Mwafulirwa (Sweden) while the Chimodzi brothers Young and Tawonga are currently playing in Greece. n