Super League form is a deceitful benchmark for Flames selection


Last week’s entry in which I argued against the rushed inclusion of Nyasa Big Bullets exciting attacker Patrick Mwaungulu in the Flames based on a single variable that is his TNM Super League’s first-round stand-out performances, has attracted some interesting feedback.

My argument was that Mwaangulu has done nothing exceptional to warrant senior national team football because the domestic league is a too low a standard to gauge one’s readiness for the rigours of international football.

I was against overhyping Super League players based on trivia such as dribbling and thinking that could translate in the senior national team football because I am convinced the game at that highest level is more about the brain and the physique. The rest play a complementary role.

I gave examples of overrated Super League stars who never reached their full potential because we do not groom athletes but rather single-lane footballers without any proper conditioning for a game that has gone scientific and physical.

Well, one interesting and, I must say constructive reaction, from the anonymous reader was this: “I want to look at the case of Mwaungulu and compare it with that of Bayern Munich's Jamal Musiala and Barcelona's Ansu Fatti and Pedro. These guys were introduced the Germany and Spain national teams at a tender age.  In Malawi, the tradition has always been to introduce a player to national team at 28 or 30 and we don't tend to enjoy their talent for too long. Look at Silver's Stain Davie. Coming to national team at 31.”

Well, let me hasten to mention that I am not against the inclusion of Mwaungulu in the Flames but rather the basis of his inclusion and the rushed manner in which it is being done, which to me, seems more about public demand.

I am convinced that the Flames coaches have drafted in the boy to satisfy the whims of the armchair analysts who unfortunately cannot see the finer details of the game beyond their noses.

Can Mwaungulu track back and defend? Can he win 50-50 tackles? Does he understand what game management means? How about reserving energy and making defensive clearances? Does he know a classic counterattack?

To compare Musiala and Fatti and Mwaungulu is being so simplistic because that is like comparing mangoes to apples.

I totally agree that the youth are the bedrock of most senior national teams across the world but what ought to be appreciated is that Musiala and Fatti went through all football development stages.

The German and Spanish internationals are now competing at the very highest level of the Bundesliga and La Liga in addition to the Uefa Champions League and Europa League, which also prepares them for senior national team football.

Musiala is aged 20 years old but in a football sense, he is a senior player because he started playing football in 2008. At the age of six, Musiala enrolled for TSV Lehnerz playing for them for two years then spent the next two years at Southampton youth team ranks until 2010.

Between 2011 and 2019, the German international spent his apprenticeship at Chelsea before moving to Bayern where he started off with Bayern Munich II or B team then fought his way to the senior team.

In all these years, the youngster, who was born to a Nigerian father and German mother, played for England under-15, 16, 17 and 21 national teams between 2016 and 2020 learning international football at a very competitive level.

Can the development path of Mwaungulu be mentioned in the same breath as that of Musiala? The less we speak about how Fatti worked his way up from Equatorial Guinea to Spain at La Masia then Barcelona the better.

The difference between Malawi talent and that of elsewhere is that we wait to stumble on players such as Davie very late whereas in organised football countries, they develop a pool of talent for future senior national team roles.

If you discover players accidentally, obviously, you risk finding them aged and it is not the fault of the footballers.

My argument is that let Mwaungulu spend a few seasons with Bullets senior team, have a feel of continental competitions such as the CAF Champions League/ CECAFA Club Championship, play for the under-20 then earn his place in the Flames.

Do I need to remind anyone that the Flames qualified for the 2010 AFCON finals in Angola benefiting from the players who gained international football experience with Bullets in the 2004 CAF Champions League?

The likes of Peter Mponda, Swadick Sanudi and Fischer Kondowe did not find themselves in the Flames by chance. They spent years learning football at Banyamulenge, under-17, under-20, Bullets senior team then the Flames.

In football, you cannot afford shortcuts—too soon, too quick a policy is not for football.

In Africa, players ought to take part not only in Cosafa Youth Championships as Mwaungulu did but also under-17, under-20 AFCON competitions plus club continental tournaments such as the Confederation Cup and Champions League.

Malawi does not need to reinvent the wheel. Neighbours Zambia have a readily accessible template for grooming players.

The likes of Enock Mwepu and Patson Daka played for Zambia under-17, under-20 in Cosafa Championships, then AFCON under-17-and under-20, went to the World Youth Cup, played for youth teams in Austria then signed for Red Bull Salzburg and they are now in the Premier League with Leicester City and Brighton and Hove Albion.

Let me end my entry by stressing that playing for the Flames involves competing against the likes of Naby Keita, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salal and you need quality players to compete against these superstars.

Super League performance is so deceitful a benchmark for gauging one’s preparedness for the Flame