Just as night follows day, it is well known that the performance of players in the elite domestic league is a yardstick for the national team technical panel when selecting local-based players.
Surprisingly, though, five of the six players that won awards during the TNM Super League gala night last week do not play for the Flames.
The best goalkeeper Brightone Munthali, of Silver Strikers, is the only one who features for the Flames while Player of the Season Joseph Kamwendo, best midfielder Alfred Manyozo Jnr (Be Forward Wanderers), best defender Emmanuel Zoya (Nyasa Big Bullets), golden boot winner Matthews Sibale (Silver) and Most Improved Player Jack Chiona (Dwangwa United) are not part of the team.
In the just-ended season, Kamwendo has been the hub of Wanderers’ success that ended their 11-year wait for league glory—scoring eight goals and providing over 10 assists. He combined well in midfield with Manyozo Jnr.
“I have played for the national team for over 15 years. I have achieved a lot with the Flames and I thank the nation for that. I should also mention here that I have not retired. Regardless of how many times I have represented the nation, as long as I can still perform, I deserve a national team call-up,” said Kamwendo.
“But there are some people behind this selection process who influence the coach not to pick me. Some might argue that I am old, but my job is to play football and I should be called up as long as I am performing,” he added.
As for Zoya, he marshalled Bullets’ defence with valour and discipline; helping the team to concede the least goals (10). He put an icing on the cake by scoring six goals—the highest by a defender— and that is not a mean feat for a right-back.
Chiona is one of the reasons Dwangwa survived relegation while Sibale’s achievement as a top scorer, with 16 goals, can be said to be a guarantor for a national team slot.
But does this mean the criterion the national team technical panel use for selecting players is faulty or the Ronny van Geneugden-led panel is unable to notice talent? Maybe, should we say it is by sheer luck that the awardees, chosen by a panel of journalists and coaches, emerged as outstanding players?
Soccer analysts Charles Nyirenda and George Kaudza-Masina said the yardstick authorities use for selecting national team players appears inexplicable.
“My view is that authorities need to be more impartial when selecting the national team squad. There is no gain in leaving out players who have impacted positively on the league and picking the anonymous ones. Doing so basically means opting to fail by design,” Nyirenda said.
On his part, Kaudza-Masina said: “Selection of players into the national team leaves a lot to be desired. These Super League awardees deserved the accolades and national team slots. The problem with people entrusted with the selection of the national team is that they tend to lack resources to make themselves available at most Super League matches.
“On top of that, our football matches are hardly on television to give the technical team a chance to monitor the performance of the players in general.”
Nevertheless, Super League of Malawi (Sulom) president Innocent Bottomani and Wanderers coach Yasin Osman believe people differ on how they rate players for awards and national team engagements.
“We see a player in different angles. There are some players who win awards because they are fancy and good dribblers; hence, making football more entertaining. But it is different how a national coach might see that player. For example, a coach might look at a player to develop considering his age; one that has time ahead of him to play for a longer time. So, the panel might be looking at the long-term impact of the player,” Botomani said.
According to Osman, coaches use some players for particular responsibilities.
“People that came up with the names of the awardees were involved at Super League level. However, a player might have a place in the national team but not being a regular player at club level because a coach might need him for a particular responsibility.
“In spite of that, the latest development should give the Flames technical panel food for thought to critically assess these Super League awardees and see if they can be taken into the national team,” he said.
However, in an interview with Weekend Nation on Wednesday, RVG said they select players based on the technical panel’s game plan. He hinted on the possibility of ringing changes in the next few weeks to accommodate some of the awardees.
“The door is open for all Malawian players in the national team only that we cannot have 40 players in the squad at a time. It is also not right to say we neglect outstanding players in the Super League,” he said.
“For instance, we recently called up Manyozo and Sibale but they could not make it due to various reasons; then, Manyozo was serving a six-week suspension while Sibale did not have a travel document as we prepared to travel to Tanzania. We will make some changes and these players might be considered.”