Under-20 national team players broke into uncontrollable tears when the technical panel broke the news that their teammate Portugal-based striker Abel Mwakilama had passed on after cerebral malaria attack.
All seemed well as the team was preparing for this afternoon’s Under-20 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) second leg against the host, The Kingdom of Eswatini, formerly Swaziland.
But when news filtered in from Portugal of the Sporting Clube de Esmoriz player’s demise, the shocked technical panel was left in a dilemma on how to convey the sad news to the teenagers.
The challenge was whether to break the sad news to the boys, most of them in their early teens, before or after the final training session.
After deliberations, the technical panel and leader of delegation Siveria Chalira, decided to tell the boys the sad news after their last training session, according to team manager Aubrey Nankhuni.
“When we heard the sad news, we were all shocked beyond belief. No one was aware that the player had been sick. We were only told that the player was not able to join us due to club commitments. Then came the shocking news.
“We decided not to tell the players until the last training session because we knew if we had told them before, it would have been difficult for them to concentrate. Luckily, we had already confiscated their mobile phones so there was no way any of them could have picked up the news from social media. After the training we gathered them around and broke the sad news. Many of the players cried and had to be consoled by the technical panel. Abel death has had a big impact on the team.”
Asked if the death of Mwakilama will have an impact on the team’s performance, Nankhuni said they can only pay tribute to the player by winning the match.
“If I say it will not have an impact, then I am lying. These are young boys who might not find it easy to deal with such sad news. But we have told them that for the sake of Abel’s soul we need to win this match. We will also have prayers to help them cope,” said Nankhuni.
Details of the player’s death have started trickling in with the player’s manager Venancio Patrick suggesting the player did not take anti malaria when returning home after the first leg two weeks ago.
Dr Kaponda Masiye from Kamuzu Central Hospital also had the same opinion.
He said: “Normally, when coming from a country where there is no malaria you are supposed to take anti-malaria. The same when you are going back, you also need to take the anti-malaria. It’s a must. In this case the boy has been in Portugal since Januray which has no malaria. His body had no antibodies to fight malaria parasites. That’s why he had to take the anti-malaria drugs. It is different from someone like you and me who are living here and our bodies already have the antibodies for malaria parasite.”
But this has also left the football fraternity angry, with many asking who was responsible for the ensuring that the player had anti-malaria before returning to Europe.
Questions have also been raised on how the player flew to Portugal with his health passport showing he had no anti-malaria and other tropical disease vaccines.
Soccer analyst Charles Nyirenda described the death of Mwakilama as a great loss to Malawi football.
He said: “It was very clear that this young man was destined for greatness considering how he was developing as a player but all that is now just conjecture. The mystery of death and the state of shock plus numbness it has cast on Malawi. What crime have we committed to deserve this?”
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) general secretary Alfred Gunda said they had been told about he player’s death by his agent.
“As of now, there has been no official communication from Portugal FA. Once we get that official communication we will have full details of what exactly happened and we will issue a press release on the funeral arrangements and other logistics.”