The local football family was pregnant with expectations the past week that Hellings Gabadinho Mhango’s career could give birth to the 2022 CAF Goal of the Year Award and cap off what has been largely a rewarding six months of his national football team career.
However, we all sensed something amiss when the Confederation of African Football (CAF) sent the South Africa-based striker an invitation on Monday for him to travel to the gala thousands of kilometres away in Rabat, Morocco, on Thursday.
That CAF expected Gabadinho to travel to Rabat within such a short period of time sounds unfair for someone who has just joined a new team, AmaZulu, and who needs to impress in pre-season training ahead of the new 2022/23 DStv Premiership season.
Those who have travelled to North Africa would tell you that it is not easy flying there from this southern tip of Africa unless you charter an aeroplane. And of course, you own an ‘airportless’ Lichelo Airlines plane which lands on rooftops at dawn only.
It, therefore, came as no surprise that the AmaZulu new signing excused him from the event, citing time factor.
It later turned out that the Flames frontman could have just wasted his legs to fatigue travelling all the way to Rabat to witness someone else—Senegalese Pape Ousmane Sakho of Simba SC in Tanzania win the award.
The winner was decided by 70 percent of votes which fans across Africa cast online with a panel of experts making up the other 30 percent.
It was always going to be a tall order for Gabadinho to win the award considering that Sakho obviously enjoyed more votes from Simba fans in Tanzania and Senegalese back home.
The profile of Simba and Senegal combined rendered the votes of Malawians insignificant when you consider that internet penetration is very low in our country.
Talking football strictly, there is no doubt Gabadinho should have been the deserved winner considering the manner and stage on which he scored that absolute scorcher at the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) held in Cameroon between January and February this year.
The former Nyasa Big Bullets striker scored against the big boys of African football, Morocco, on the big occasion which was the round-of-16 stage where the Flames had reached for the first time.
This was a typical David versus Goliath affair. The manner in which Gabadinho scored that goal—receiving a long ball from defence, turning past his marker with his left then firing with the other foot a shot that dipped at the far-post into the net—was the stuff for legends.
To put matters into context, Gabadinho nearly scored another goal but missed the target narrowly in that game against Morocco.
Overall, he came back with three goals from three games and added two more goals in the 2-1 win over Ethiopia in the 2023 AFCON qualifier. That made it six goals from nine games, including three at the ill-fated Cosafa Cup in South Africa, the away 1-0 loss in Guinea and the 2-1 win over Comoros in Saudi Arabia ahead of the 2021 AFCON.
In the last nine games, the only other players who have scored are Khuda Muyaba and Stein Davie.
What this tells us is that there are no Flames minus Gabadinho. Football is a team sport but to be fair, the rest of the players are not the quality for top level international football.
This is evident in their inconsistent performances. It, therefore, came as no surprise that this success-starved nation wanted to gatecrash the dining table of the Sadio Manes of this world through Gaba’s nomination for the award.
Unfortunately, it was not to be and there is no shame in Gabadinho missing out on the accolade narrowly. The boy, or is it man, tried his best and punched above his weight for someone who plays in such a suspect Flames side.
You can keep your award and we will keep our Gabadinho.