Flames coach Ronny van Geneugden (RVG) says the Flames’ continued downward plunge, which has seen the national team register only two wins from 19 matches under his tutelage, is partly due to FAM technical director’s (TD) office’s failure to identify and develop talent for the past decade.
He was reacting to the Flames’ continued slump on Fifa rankings despite his promise when he was unveiled as coach in April last year that the team’s ranking would improve.
Over a year down the line, the team has dropped 16 steps and is now ranked 130 in the world which is just eight slots better than it’s worst ranking of 138 in March 2008.
“It has been hard because the technical director’s office has not been doing enough to identify and nurture talent to the desired level of quality,” he said.
The last time the Flames reached over the 130 mark was in July 2016, when they tumbled 26 steps to 133. Their highest ranking was 53, a feat attained in December 1992.
Over the years, Flames performance has continued to tumble as they struggle to score while conceding avoidable goals, leading to their recent elimination from the 2019 African Cup of Nations (Afcon).
Said RVG: “There has been no proper development programme since German technical advisor [Manfred] Hoener left. Since the generation of the likes of Peter [Mponda], Swadick Sanudi, [Esau] Kanyenda, [Peter] Mgangira, fizzled out, there has been no deliberate plan in place to ensure continuity.
“That is why when I took over, we came up with a development programme covering all junior teams up to the senior team. We came up with a group of 45 players for the Under-17 and with time, some of them have graduated to the Under-20 and then Under-23.”
He said some of the players such as Precious Sambani, Patrick Phiri, Levison Maganizo, Dennis Chembezi and Felix Zulu have graduated to the senior team, “while others like Chimwemwe Idana and Peter Banda are drafted to train with the senior team now and again as a learning process because they are knocking on the door”.
Said RVG: “The most important thing in football is to have a strong strategy and development plan other than prioritising the national team because it is the future that matters.”
He said that is one of the reasons that his salary is paid by world football governing body Fifa and not government..
“I am paid by Fifa to work on a development programme. It was a condition which they [Fifa] put forward,” said the Flames mentor.
FAM TD John Kaputa said he could not comment on the matter as he is with the Under-17 national team in Kitwe, Zambia for the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region Five Youth Games.
But FAM general secretary Alfred Gunda defended the TD’s office, saying the recent lapse in players’ development was not anybody’s fault as everything hinges on the availability of resources.
“The TD’s office could have excellent plans for youth development, but nothing could come into fruition in the absence of resources. We did well to nurture talent that qualified for Afcon in 2010 because the youth development programme under expatriate TD Manfred Hoener was fully supported by the Germany Government,” he said.
“It has been a challenge to have such a set-up in recent years because the support we get from our financiers has specific targets, which have to be adhered to. It took FAM to evaluate ourselves and realise that the perpetuation of a succession plan was a problem. This is why we embraced the Under-15 League, to be a reliable feeder to the senior teams.”
Soccer analyst George Kaudza Masina argued that much as FAM has not done much on grassroots football, youth football has in recent years been the back bone of the senior national team.
“RVG’s assertions are not true. The bulk of our current players, both at national teams and Super League, are the product of youth football through competitions such as the First Capital Bank Under-20 League and Copa Coca-Cola schools trophy, which are under the TD’s office. RVG might be a good coach, but a very unlucky one,” he said.
“With the scarcity ofresources, FAM has been advocating for youth football through the various youthleagues in the country and the office of FAM TD has always been active in thisregard.”