Malawi’s veteran youth national football team coach John Kaputa is justifiably unhappy that, save for two players, the Under-17 class of 2008 he guided to the 2009 Africa Youth Championship finals in Algeria and the Youth World Cup in Nigeria, has been discarded.
“After the World Cup, my technical report to FAM indicated that we should take the whole group to the Under-20 and then move it to the Under-23. I suggested training camps for the team for the players to stick together, but we never got any support from FAM. It is frustrating to see all that effort being wasted,” Kaputa told Nation on Sunday of March 17 2013.
The coach’s argument is that this group of youngsters should by now have had valuable international experience which they would put to use playing for the Flames.
But ironically, on its website www.fam.mw, the Football Association of Malawi (FAM) in 2010 chose to look at the brighter side of the class of 2008.
“A number of youngsters from the team have graduated to the Under-20 national team while almost all players are on the books of a Super League teams,” the association said.
“One of the team’s graduates, Robin Ngalande, has just sealed a deal to join Spanish giants Atletico Madrid via South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns who spotted him at the Youth Championship in Algeria.”
Times have changed since FAM made this website update. Ngalande opted to return from Madrid in 2012 for life at BidVest Wits University FC in South Africa where he has made less than five substitute appearances.
All the hope in Ngalande’s career looks uncertain, just like that of the Under-17 first-choice goalkeeper Onani Cuthbert Sengwa.
Despite his height (1.6 metres), Sengwa was Kaputa’s first-choice goalkeeper for the Under-17. The coach ignored a basic fact that in goalkeeping, height is everything.
Sengwa, whose physical shortcomings were exposed at the Nigeria finals, has been on and off at Civo United.
Malawi’s qualification to the Africa and World Cup finals could largely be attributed to Andrew Simkonda’s exploits, a boy who carried the Junior Flames on his shoulders in one game in which he scored five as they humiliated Namibia 7-1 at Kamuzu Stadium in 2008.
Simkonda, who eventually finished as top goalscorer in the qualifiers with nine goals from five games, became overaged for the Algeria and Nigeria finals.
He was expected to carry his form to Moyale Barracks, but he was never the same after undergoing six months of Malawi Defence Force training.
“I am a little bit stiff….but I hope to regain my form,” he said in 2011 after graduation. Simkonda is now featured as a right-winger while his younger brother, Gastin, takes the centre-stage.
Gastin has five senior national football team caps and he has been a consistent performer for Moyale.
Andy’s teammate in Malawi Under-17 was Luka Milanzi. Milanzi earned promotion to Under-20, the Under-23 and Flames B team, where he scored some vitals goals.
But a move to DRC’s TP Mazembe in 2011 with his passport indicating he was less than 18 years old, forced the Congolese giants to confine the player to the reserves, sparking a debate back home.
Now perceived to have turned 20, as per his passport age, Mazembe have loaned Milanzi to Zesco United of Zambia where he seems to be finding his feet. His attacking prowess makes him an asset which the Flames’ attack badly lacks.
Slightly behind where Milanzi played in the Under-17, there was a pocket-sized engine Tony Chitsulo, whose powerful long-range missiles and an ability to transform into a striker, gave Kaputa attacking options.
Chitsulo looked promising in his first season with Silver Strikers, scoring four goals in one of the games only to take a familiar route which most young footballers take to self-destruction.
Chitsulo spent last season undecided about whether to leave Silver and join Mighty Wanderers.
He eventually settled at Silver, but he took no part in the march to the TNM Super League title retention.