With barely three weeks before the expiry of his two-year contract, Flames coach Ronny van Geneugden (RVG) says his romance with the national football team has been a “big success”.
The curtain to the Belgian tactician’s contract—which has seen him register two wins, eight losses and 10 draws—will be brought down on April 1.
Summarising his stint in an interview from Egypt on Friday, RVG said: “My contract is finishing on April 1 and in my report, I will write that we made very strong football development for Malawi football.
“Going back to the time I started work, my focus as directed by Fifa, was to groom coaches to be future national team coaches and also to come up with a strong development plan, strategy and philosophy for the future of Malawi football which I believe I have done successfully.”
Asked how he rates his chances of having his contract renewed, RVG said: “Whether my contract is renewed or not should not be an issue. All I am hoping for is that, whoever is hired should continue with the project other than abandoning it altogether. There should be continuity, that’s what is important.”
Commenting on his record, the Flames coach said: “Results do not just come overnight. The first step is to lay foundations which is what I have been doing for the past two years. I should be judged on the prioritised conditions that were set by FAM and Fifa which were centred on the areas I have mentioned.”
The Flames mentor said the takeoff was not easy as he was working in Africa for the first time.
“Being my first job [in Africa], I started on a blank page as an observer during the games against Madagascar [in the Championship of African Nations qualifier] and a friendly match against Kenya. I was also observing the Malawi culture,” he says.
Asked to cite some of his achievements, RVG singled out building a relatively new national team.
“The project started in June 2017 with an intensive player scouting exercise for the Under-17 Cosafa Championship. We assembled a group of 45 players from which we selected the best 25.
“A year later, about 12 to 14 of them graduated to the Under-20 team and two years down the line, some of them are with the Under-23 national team and about five or six are regulars in the senior team,” he said.
“And it is now the Under-23 team that will graduate to the Flames from now on where they will join other young senior players—Stanley Sanudi, Dennis Chembezi and Peter Cholopi—whom we deliberately included in the squad which camped in Belgium.”
RVG also said the foreign-based trio of Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango, Yamikani Chester and Binwell Katinji will be part of the “new Flames”, but he could not be drawn to state his position on the likes of captain Limbikani Mzava, Gerald Phiri Jnr, Charles Swini, Richard Mbulu, Frank and John Banda.
“What I can say though is that it is also possible to include one or two senior players,” he says.
However, football analyst Charles Nyirenda faulted Football Association of Malawi (FAM) for not coming out clearly about RVG’s terms of reference.
“They [FAM] were not straight-forward on what was expected of him, people were not given a clear picture of what he was supposed to do and even the way he was identified.
“Unfortunately coaches are judged by results and looking at the results and indications, we are not doing well to the extent that we struggle against weaker teams,” he said.
On the developmental side, Nyirenda said “it is also difficult to say that we are making strides because we include some players that are over-aged”.
He said football loving Malawians were expecting an improvement when RVG was hired, “but they have lost faith because they are not seeing what they expected and the results and rankings speak for themselves”.
Nyirenda suggested that if FAM considers retaining RVG, then it should be in a different role.
“Maybe they could appoint him as a coaching director or technical adviser because those seem to be his areas so that he can be working with the coaches and youth teams, but it would be a big mistake to continue with him as coach,” he said.
FAM president Walter Nyamilandu on Friday said FAM executive committee will meet at the end of the month to make a decision.
“So, we just have to wait,” he said.
However, Nyamilandu has all along backed RVG, saying: “Under him, the Flames now play with flair and panache which shows that despite not winning consistently, the team is making good progress in terms of style of play and it is only a matter of time before the much-needed goals start coming.
“They play a beautiful passing game and it has a tactical discipline where it knows when to freeze and pressurise opponents.”
Last month, the Parliamentary Committee on Social and Community Welfare asked FAM to consider firing RVG for failing to steer the Flames to success.
The committee, which oversees sports and social affairs, held the hearing aimed at investigating the Flames’ poor showing following a petition from some concerned football fans. n