Malawi footballers: prophets without honour in their homeland

Asked if Chelsea represented the most negative visitors to Anfield this season, the Liverpool manager replied:

“I can’t fault the players, we just didn’t find the breakthrough. Credit to Chelsea for that, they sat in really deep. There were probably two buses parked today instead of one.” Brendan Rodgers 

The rise of Thom Aidoo:

Back in the good old days, when the BAT Ground was Blantyre’s football Mecca and when the then formidable Bata Bullets and the Mighty Limbe Leaf Wanderers were indeed the teams to watch if one cared about tradition, consistency, football artistry and drama; the Nomads (Wanderers’ nickname), like the magician of the folklore story, pulled a rabbit out of a hat.

This was in the mid-nineties.

Nomads, tired of playing second-fiddle to the Bullets, sorted out all their problems with the ingenuity of a master magician. They found the clue to the ultimate football puzzle which, to date, remains elusive even to the grand masters of the game including one Jose Mourinho.

BusThe solution contrived by the Nomads did not however involve ‘parking the bus’ or anything that mundane.

For those not up to date with this football cliché, “parking the bus” is a tactic whereby a team sets all players to drop back into their own area and frustrate the opposition.

Previously disliked by Jose Mourinho, who criticised the likes of Sam Allardyce and Tim Sherwood for frequently using the tactic; it is now more or less his trademark approach.

Now back to Manoma, their approach, I should say, was original and made football-sense. And why not?

Football lovers will agree with me that parking the bus is as good as a ticket to a boring game. And supporters of Mighty Wanderers, at least back then, were more interested with winning and winning after playing the game beautifully. This was the tradition dating way back to the days the team was founded.

While parking the bus, may – at times – guarantee a win; it sure – always – guarantees a boring liverpool-0-2-chelsea-park-the-busgame. And therefore for Mighty Nomads, despite all their problems in that and preceding seasons, parking the bus was not an option.

They nailed it. They killed the game by literary, fishing from the blues, a goal keeper called Thom Aidoo.

Now, permit me tell you about this Aidoo guy. Aidoo was as lithe as a panther, as acrobatic as a ninja, and in guarding the goal posts, as fearless as a drunkard.

Kinnah-Phiri5-600x360
Kinnah “Electric” Phiri – Bata Bullets’ and Malawi feared striker of those days

The guy, take it from me, was as fast as a jack rabbit in front of a prairie fire and could pluck any goal bound ball, regardless of where he had been standing or laying and regardless of opponents or team mates blocking his way to the ball, without committing a foul.

If a ball was threatening to veer into and hit the back of the Nomads’ net, if this Aidoo guy was on the field, Wanderers fans knew that the errant ball had no chance. They would, in fact, pity the poor ball for even bothering to try.

In case anyone is in doubt, I have one thing to say. For all the similes, adjectives and adverbs I have used above, I have not even began to describe just how good Thom Aidoo, the short time Wanderers goal-boy, was.

Aidoo the game changer:

Young Chimodzi and Jack "Africa" Chamangwana - Central defenders who never believed in parking the bus. These two were, their days, scoring
Young Chimodzi and Jack “Africa” Chamangwana – Central defenders who never believed in parking the bus. These two were, during their day, scoring

All this was, sad to say, happening when I had reached that age when watching local football no longer featured as my favourite pass-time. I would therefore drop my nephews at the Kamuzu Stadium or BAT Football ground or MDC Stadium; and drive on to Ndixville (Pama Flats) or to Kirk’s Spot 90 in Chilomoni, to do the more adult exercise of exercising my elbow.

When the game was close to end, I would drive back to pick my wards. While waiting, I would find parking space in the vicinity and watch supporters of whichever team was losing piling out of the Stadium in the manner and with the look mastered only by dejected football fans.

From the colour of their scarves, and their premature subdued exit, I would know which team had lost, or was on the verge of losing. This would be about 15 minutes to the end of the ninety minutes.

And traditionally, at around this time, all the gates would be opened wide and all those chaps who like watching the game while perking dangerously on neighbouring tree tops, would be allowed in to watch the last action and to, later, pamper their heroes.

Thom Aidoo changed these age old rules.

Ernest Mtawali - former Hardware Stars player who took RSA by storm
Ernest Mtawali – former Hardware Stars player who took RSA by storm

When it was Wanderers playing, people would be trooping in, happily fighting to pay and gain entry and the licence to watch at least the one last action, the one concluding save, one finishing somersault, one last impossible acrobatic move from the great Thom Aidoo. People queued and paid until the final whistle.

The woodpeckers would remain glued high up in their trees, their silence only broken by the occasional ehh! or wow!; mesmerized by the antics of Aidoo.

Soccer fans were on queues, paying even with 5 minutes to full-time because they knew that if Wanderers were leading, whichever team the Nomads were playing would be pushing and pressing hard for a late equaliser.

As such, Thom Aidoo would be working overtime, snatching balls from the skies, much like birds snap agonthankutu from the air in the rainy season, shooting into the sky like a firework, and doing his tantalizing calisthenics and landing dramatically – as if he would not get up with ball safely tucked in his hands.

I once overheard a “Noma” diehard proudly tell all and sundry that he would happily pay the cost of a whole 90 minute Bullets vs. MDC game, just for one minute of an Aidoo-gravity-defying escapade. I believed the fella would indeed do that. To him and to many Wanderers fans, Aidoo was the supreme goal-keeper.

But having said that, the lot queueing to pay until the last whistle, were not only Wanderers fans.

Bata Bullets, Madisi, and Kaukau fans were also thronging the stadium entrance, in the hope of witnessing the spectacle of Thom Aidoo’s fortieth day; the day when he would finally run out of luck, land on his head, and  break his neck or vertebrae column or worse.

It never happened.

The “fall” of Aidoo:

In that whole season, to count the goals conceded by this guy – he was said to be from Ghana – one only needed the fingers of one hand. One hand was enough.

Now, how many goal boys achieve this feat?

Finally, Wanderers detractors, or it could have been Aidoo’s personal enemies, figured a way out.

Newspaper after newspaper, tabloid after tabloid, day after day, started writing about Aidoo’s impending arrest and deportation, or some other mishap; for his reportedly being an illegal immigrant and working without permit.

But before the immigration felons could get their act together, Aidoo disappeared from Malawi; much the same way he had appeared.

One day he was here, the next day he was not, with none the wiser as to where the great goal boy had gone. Yes. Just like that. One day, he was there, and the next day he had vaporised into thin air.

Naturally, Wanderers reverted to their losing ways.

But with Aidoo around, at the worst, Wanderers were guaranteed a zero-zero draw. And if Bob Mpinganjira – ‘mpulumutsi’ then past his prime – nicked one past the other team’s goal boy, Wanderers were bagging full points.

At the end of every match, Aidoo was carried shoulder high.

Everyone who watched or heard first-hand of Aidoo would agree with me that having a “permanent” Aidoo, as a strategy, is much better than parking the bus. And as a bonus to this strategy, Aidoo’s performances were drawing crowds to the stadiums and to the tops of trees surrounding stadiums.

Such was the Aidoo magic. Now why all this nostalgia?

Enter Lionel Asu:

Lionel Asu Pic (c) Daily Times
Lionel Asu Pic (c) Daily Times

I was, on Friday, reading about Mighty Wanderers latest import: Cameroonian striker Lionel Asu and the rat race to conclude the deal with the TNM Super League transfer window closing in two days.

I laughed to hear that the player is demanding a signing on fee of K4.5 million (US$10,000), plus a monthly salary of MK1 million (approx. US$2,000).

According to Asu’s agent and representative, Prince Jere, Asu’s demand is based on “regional” football best practice.

“The truth is that a professional player’s starting sign on fee in this part of Africa is in the ranges of US$10,000 and above,” Jere told the media.

“That is what Asu wants. He understands the economic conditions of the country and cannot make outrageous demands.

“The other things that he wants are the usual conditions that any player at Wanderers gets,” Jere said.

On his part, Asu is on a charm offensive, saying all the right words, to reap from fans sympathy.

“My heart is with Wanderers blah! blah! blah! I love the fans and the fans also love me blah! blah! blah! I want to play for them, which is why I have not gone to another club blah! blah! blah!”

Impressive sounding stuff, for someone who does not know better.

Fact is: this is nonsense meant to incite the supporters to pressurize the Club to sign him on these ridiculous terms.

The only way a US$2,000 salary for Lionel Asu would begin to make sense would be if other Nomads players were getting something close to that, and if the Nomads International players, were getting more than that from Wanderers.

To the best of my knowledge, Mr Asu has never played for his motherland’s national team; and yet here he is, claiming perks much higher than our own best. Yes he has played for a repertoire of little-known clubs, but not, to my knowledge, the Indomitable Lions.

Wanderers, on the other hand, has players who regularly feature in the Malawi National Team, and can therefore validly claim “international” experience; yet the peanuts they get is far below US$2,000.

If Malawi football has degenerated this low, where players from other countries who have never earned a national team call up are worth more than our own international players, then FAM and SULOM should be disbanded.

We are not serious.

If this is acceptable, FAM and Sulom are letting down the game, the fans and the nation. And if Mike Butao and his colleagues at Lali Lubani Road think that Lionel Asus will, like Aidoo before him, solve all the nomads’ problems, then they have another think coming.

How long did Aidoo remain ‘mpulumutsi’?

And get this: Kinnah Phiri, Barnett Gondwe, Jimmy Mphamba, Jack ‘Africa’ Chamangwana, Jonathan Billie, the Malunga brothers, the Mpinganjira brothers, the Waya brothers, Young Chimodzi, Ernest Mtawali, Frank ‘Burruchaga’ Mtawali, Chancy ‘Vinny’ Gondwe and many more excellent football players, were all identified and groomed right here in Malawi.

The Malawi National Football Team - perennial underachievers.
The Malawi National Football Team – perennial underachievers.

If we want to develop football in Malawi, we should invest in Malawian youths and players. Fodya wako ndi uyo ali pamphuno.

Fast Facts:

  • Asu’s CV shows that he played for Saint Dominique FC in 2012 season and scored 14 goals in 12 matches.
  • In 2013 season he played for Akedia Shepherd FC scoring 12 goals in18 matches.
  • His last club is Kabinburi United of Thailand where he scored 12 goals in 22 matches in 2014 season.

A very impressive CV this is I should admit, but at the end of the day, like Aidoo, he will go. Once beaten, they say, twice shy; Nomads ought to learn from their own history.

And at any rate, football is a game in which a team features eleven players. If Club Management is seen to pamper one player, there is no telling how the other ten will take this.

Wawa maWule! Wawa maNoma! More fire maFlames!

I rest.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s