When the Malawi National Football Team, the Flames, lost to Comoros 2-1 in their penultimate 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier in Moroni on November 17, calls for the team’s coach Ronny Van Geneugden (RVG) to step down intensified.
The coach has come under fire from soccer pundits and fans for the slump in the team’s performance while on the other hand, the Belgian tactician has been receiving passionate support from Football Association of Malawi (FAM) president Walter Nyamilandu.
The ‘RVG Must Go’ calls were evident when the Malawi Under-23 national team played Botswana in a return leg of the African Youth Championship-cum-2020 Tokyo Olympics qualifier.
Disgruntled fans were heard chanting achoke! achoke! when the senior Flames coach and his assistant Peter Mponda joined the Meke Mwase led Under-23 technical panel to oversee the junior Flames’ match against the Young Zebras.
Calls for RVG to step down as Flames coach or for FAM to fire him may be justifiable basing on results the Flames have had under his tutelage.
He has a poor record compared to previous Flames mentors and he compounded his poor record with a loss to lowly ranked Comoros.
But is he the problem to Malawi’s football?
Putting the blame solely on RVG and his backroom staff, the FAM president or the current crop of players will be like treating one of the symptoms of an illness that has paralysed our football for ages.
While RVG might be incompetent, inexperienced or having an undecorated curriculum vitae (CV) or whatever you may like to think of, the problem with Malawi football is not RVG alone.
Government through the Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development, the Malawi National Council of Sports and FAM are the three entities that have let our football dive into the doldrums.
The lack of a clear sports (or football) development plan, visionary thinking and poor administration of funds has left us admiring countries like Zambia and Uganda who are achieving feats which we have been dreaming of for a long time.
Zambia might have failed to qualify for the 2019 Afcon but be assured that is a crisis in their country and they will bounce back and qualify for the next tournament. The reason is because they have changed their way of doing things and have a clear plan and strategy on how they want their football to pan out in the next 10 or so years while here at home, we keep jumping from one idea to another without having a clear and sustainable plan of how we want our football to progress. The poor administration and lack of proper planning by the governing institutions translates into poor performances of our national football teams.
Before joining the bandwagon calling for RVG’s sacking, we should analyse how much our government invests in football, what is the Sports Council’s and Fam’s strategic plan for this country’s football.
When the English Football Association (FA) saw that they were behind in terms of player and coaching development, they came up with a strategic plan that aimed at revamping their player management and development system and the fruits have been evident with their Under-17 and 20 national teams winning Fifa tournaments which was unheard of in the past.
Their senior national team also reached the semi-finals of the 2018 Fifa World Cup. The FA set strict rules for their football clubs in terms of youth player development, set up an academy where players in all age groups are taught a similar football philosophy at St George’s park.
Here in Malawi, for example, if we sack RVG and get another coach, be it Pep Guardiola or Zinedine Zidane, the performances of our beloved Flames won’t change overnight. There is no such a thing as metamorphic results in football.