Flames coach Ernest Mtawali will recall some experienced foreign-based players for the coming 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifying Group L double-header against Guinea in March next year. This may mean that Mtawali has technically suspended his national team rebuilding exercise.
After taking over from Young Chimodzi mid this year, Mtawali’s squads have been dominated by locally-based up-and-coming, in particular players from the Under-20 national side that he built, in what has been dubbed as team building.
Speaking in an interview on Monday, Mtawali said after watching his side struggle at the Cecafa Challenge Cup in Ethiopia, where it was eliminated in the quarter-finals, he has decided to recall more experienced players.
With a predominantly inexperienced squad, Flames were also booted out of the 2018 World Cup after losing to Tanzania 2-1 on aggregate recently.
Said Mtawali: “Some of the up-and-coming players are not yet ready to play in high profile matches on their own. This is the lesson I learned from Cecafa and that was the essence of us taking part in the tournament. I think the team needs a few more experienced players.”
Some critics have been questioning Mtawali’s move to drop a majority of experienced players in his rebuilding mission, saying it could cost Flames’ Afcon qualification chances.
But the coach said he had not made the decision to recall experienced players because he is under pressure from critics.
“Let me also add that I am not abandoning the team rebuilding. Recalling more experienced players is also part of that process because in the end the young ones will learn from the old guard.
“I have said it repeatedly that although my emphasis is on rebuilding, the door is not closed for anyone. However, players need to earn a place in the national team through form, game time, attitude and commitment,” he said.
Among players under consideration, according to Mtawali, are Greece-based midfielder Tawonga Chimodzi, South Africa resident Atusaye Nyondo, Joseph Kamwendo who plies his trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mozambique-based Zicco Mkanda.
“We are monitoring these players on television or through the information we get from their clubs and their respective coaches,” Mtawali said.
Former Flames defender Ojukwu Malunga, who was one of those that had reservations on Mtawali’s project, said: “Ernest’s idea was not bad. In fact the rebuilding exercise had been long overdue, but the manner in which he was executing it, was faulty as he appeared to be in a hurry. It is supposed to be a gradual process.”
Kamwendo yesterday said he is excited with the prospect of being offered another stint with the national team.
“I spoke to the coach yesterday [Monday] and he encouraged me to keep working hard. It will be nice to fight for places with the young players who are doing well and I realise that I will have to sweat hard to earn a place.
“I still feel that I have a lot to offer to my motherland and I miss playing for the Flames,” said Kamwendo, who is now enjoying game time having been loaned to Don Bosco from TP Mazembe.
“I am now playing in every match and I have helped the team to move up to second position. I have also scored three goals from five appearances which is not bad.”
On his part, Nyondo said he was ready to return to the national team fold, insisting he does not harbour any ill feelings against Mtawali.
“I think the coach is doing a great job by bringing in young blood into the team. I earned my first national team call up while I was only aged 17 years. If youths were not given a chance I could not have been a professional footballer today,” he said. n