Thanks Walter, but it’s time to go

Walter Nyamilandu

There are so many compelling reasons for Walter Nyamilandu, Football Association of Malawi (FAM) president, to be re-elected at the body’s electoral AGM in December.

Among a long list of achievements, one can cite the stability he has brought to football hitherto lacking prior to his election in December 2004. Who can forget the unbelievable qualification of the Flames for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations under his leadership?

To his credit, he has also spearheaded the development of Chiwembe Technical Centre to international standards, not to mention the opening of his football academy.

His election to the FIFA Council (and the appointment of various Malawian football officials to various regional and international football bodies) suggests the profile of a man whose influence is on the up.

All these are valid, compelling reasons for retaining him, yet they fail to take stock of the irreversible damage his leadership has caused to football in Malawi.

The notion that since Walter stabilised a rocking boat gives him the leverage to stay on as he pleases is a tried and tested platform on which ineffectual, autocratic regimes have been built.

For every Nelson Mandela who can lift his nation out of the ruts and bow off the stage, there is a Robert Mugabe who has manipulated the platform of adulation to pillage and run aground his nation.

They are few Mandelas who fight the battle and leave the stage for others to finish the war. Mandela had enough political and social gravitas to have stayed on for another term.

Yet, what set him apart from ordinary mortals was his decision to step aside when it was easier to hang around. A good dancer knows when to leave the stage; bad ones linger around hoping for more applause from the audience.

Walter’s role in the rehabilitation of Chiwembe Technical Centre is incontrovertible and if it brings success to the Flames, credit will be his. But we should, at this point, not lose sight of the cautionary tale of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal.

Many fans were quick to give Wenger a wide latitude over indifferent results at the end of each season since 2005 as the club couldn't complete in the transfer market due to the repayment of loans for the Emirates Stadium.

But as the years rolled by, that argument began to ring hollow. Arsenal were serial challengers for the English Premier League title, but they now view a top four finish as an achievement. Does that ring a bell closer home?

Just like Arsenal, Malawi lately relishes victory in the so-called Cosafa Cup Plate, a loser's compensation. Such has been the lowering of our expectation that we now regard it as a measure of success. Did I mention that we are not even that good playing against our fellow losers?

Decades ago, victory against teams such as Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana was a foregone conclusion. We knew we would win; what we didn’t know was the margin. Lately, Malawi is gripped with trepidation when facing such teams because we are not assured of even a draw.

For the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, Malawi has been drawn with Burkina Faso, Uganda and either South Sudan or Seychelles. In better days, we would have expected the Flames, at home, to beat Uganda and whoever wins between South Sudan and Seychelles and drawn against Burkina Faso. But we are beyond such fantasies.

Under Water, our record against Uganda reads one win (friendly), three draws and one loss. Burkina Faso has beaten us twice. We have only played against South Sudan once and lost! How bad must the Flames be to lose to a nation emerging from a civil war and still in the grip of a civil strife?

In May 2010, the Flames played against Yemen in a game that has since been tainted by controversy. We lost. How bad must we be?

The title of his 2015 re-election manifesto was ‘harvest time’ but it is hard to imagine anyone bar himself—what with his plum position at FIFA that goes along with annual earnings of US$250,000—has harvested anything. The nation is still waiting for its harvest time, unless the harvest he insinuated was our collective misery.

The thing is, our football was worse under Walter's predecessors, but it hasn't gotten any better.

When he took over the leadership of Malawi football in December 2004, the Flames were ranked 24 in Africa and 109 in the world; at the last ranking in July, the Flames were ranked 34 in Africa and 124 in the world.

If you need further stats to dampen your enthusiasm for Walter’s presidency, be charmed. Since January 2005, the Flames have played 156 games, of which 42 were friendlies. Overall, Malawi has won 45 games (a paltry 29 percent), drawn 67, lost 44 and has zero trophies to show for it!

Almost 14 years later, Walter is still fumbling in the dark for a strategy. He does not have one nor is he likely to develop a nous for one. Only a football leader at his wits’ end could engage a team of no-hopers such as Yemen for a friendly and hope to develop football in his country.

Only a tactless, reckless leader would be seduced by videos uploaded to YouTube and decide to employ a national football coach based on such videos and then defend his ineptitude to the dearth. Ronny van Geneudgen, the guileless Belgian tactician, was so bad and so out of depth he would be booed out of town if he tried as much as coach a social football team at Mitundu. Yet, while everyone was horrified with the results, Walter decided to rub it in by suggesting the Flames were playing like Barcelona. Such insolence!

Our football is bad but I doubt it can get worse than this with alternative leadership. We should not be afraid to change the leadership. Stability can breed inertia, which our football does not deserve at this point. Walter might be good, but would alternative leadership be any worse?

Leadership, it must be noted, is a relay race. You run your race and leave others to do their bit to the finish line. Usain Bolt was one of the greatest runners of his generation but he won Olympics medals in relay race by passing on the baton to other to finish what he had started.

We may not remember Bolt’s teammates, but history records them as part and parcel of the greatness he achieved. Walter's place in the development (or lack thereof) is assured and he doesn't need to stay on to cement that legacy.

Malawi football needs someone who can inject a new dose of hope into fans who have long lost their affection for the national team and football in general. Walter has run his race and he must be applauded for it. But, we have say to Walter, thanks for the memories (and plenty of nightmares, too!) but it is time to go.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and not necessarily those of Kulinji.com