I missed the Villa game – unfortunately it wasn’t shown over here as we aren’t exciting enough to watch, or have a big enough following for Super Sport last weekend; mainly because our match coincided with some of the top 6 playing. Sadly, that is the case for tomorrow as well. Still I listened to parts of the match via Talksport online, I say parts because the commentator spent half of his time discussing the hairstyle of Santon, and the internet was being its usual intermittent self. From what I heard, and have since read, it seems we played well! I’m extremely pleased that Pardew saw sense, or reads True Faith, as he selected the same line up and formation that I outlined in my second or third blog. Hopefully, he sticks to it against Hull this weekend.
After what was a pretty torrid last 12 months for Mags, the start to the new season has provided a bit of respite. I have noticed people getting carried away, saying that all the doom mongers were wrong and this start proves it. On the contrary, if we don’t beat Hull I would consider it a distinctly mediocre start. I had 9 points down as the bare minimum from our opening 5 games when the fixtures came out, 3 home wins against teams that will struggle this year. 10 points is a good start, but it doesn’t change the fact we have played some poor opposition so far, and the 4-0 drubbing at City is looking worse with each league game they play. Still, a quarter of the way to that mythical 40 point safety line after just 5 games would be good news – not that I’m dismissing Hull, far from it. They will be well organised, and try and stifle us but as long as Pards holds firm on his selection from last week we should be able to break them down.
Now, onto something that made a Malawian newspaper, Greg Dyke and the fact that the North East are ruining England’s chances of ever doing well again. Well Mr Dyke, neither Newcastle nor our unwashed neighbours in Sunderland have any responsibility to you or England. When we did have English players playing well, they were continually overlooked anyway. I might also take you a bit more seriously had the FA not overlooked English coaches and managers when appointing Sven and Capello (I’m not saying they are better, just pointing out the hypocrisies). Despite the fact the costs for clubs with regards to players are rising, since Fat Freddie took the FA for £10million in the wake of his World Cup injury, you have protected yourselves from paying out large amounts if players get injured; all the rewards, none of the risks. The fact we fielded an all foreign 11 is a result of the years of ignoring the grassroots by the FA anyway. It isn’t a cause, which is what they should really be looking for. Increased number of coaches, increased quality of coaches, and complete structural overhaul of anyone playing below U14 level; small goals, small sided teams, technique based, fun based. Dyke talks about targeting the Qatar world Cup in 8 years. Essentially, that means he needs to fix every problem in the game within the next 2, the FA does not have the capacity to implement the sweeping changes and improvements needed in such a short time. It is a 20+year project to fix the development of players coming through, and involves changing everything from mentality, finances, coaching and the game itself. It all begins with kids aged 8-14. I very much doubt this will be undertaken by the FA anytime soon as none of them are selfless enough to implement something that will reap rewards after their time. I don’t want to forget the person who got the ball rolling on this though; Fashion and media executive and occasional footballer Rio Ferdinand tweeted his disgust at the lack of English players in our opening game. Once again, Rio failed to actually grasp the real issues, and focussed on an attack of our average foreign players. If he had focussed on foreign players in clubs academy teams then that makes sense, but that would mean having a go at his own club.
With the conclusion of the African World Cup Qualifying group stages a fortnight ago, the final qualification play-off round has now been drawn, dealing Nigeria a tricky tie against Ethiopia, travelling up to Addis for the first leg. Ethiopia have surprised people by making it this far, and it is fair to say that Nigeria will start as big favourites to go to the World Cup with the Fenham Eusebio in tow. Ghana face Egypt; throwing together 2 of the continents heavyweights. It would be a real shame not to see Mo Salah gracing the World Cup, as he is a winger of wonderful potential, and already an incredibly exciting player to watch. 6 goals in the qualifiers, including a hat trick in Harare as they eased past Zimbabwe, ably backed up by Mohammed Aboutrika, a veteran of 34 who rolled back the years to return 5 goals. The pair were vital in the run that saw the Pharaohs win 6 out of 6 in their group. With Senegal and the Ivory Coast being paired together we are guaranteed some exciting action when the play offs get under way in mid-October. Completing the draw were Tunisia against Cameroon and Algeria against the rank outsiders, Burkina Faso. Elsewhere, Liberia are the 8thcountry to be investigated and accused of fielding an ineligible player during qualification. All 8 have had to forfeit the game the incident occurred in, suffering a 3-0 defeat. This doesn’t really affect any of the standings as Senegal had comfortably qualified from the group already, although Cape Verde suffered heart break after securing qualification only to be thrown out for fielding a player who was meant to be suspended.
The Carlsberg cup final was played here in Malawi last week, with Army teams once again dominating the cup competitions, following MAFCO (Malawi Armed Forces College) winning the Presidential Cup earlier this year. Kamuzu Barracks faced off against Moyale barracks in the final played up in the Northern Region city of Mzuzu, famous for the coffee that keeps me going on a morning! The Lilongwe based Kamuzu Barracks, who currently top the Super League by 2 points after 14 games, won 1-0 in a tightly contested affair and collected their first piece of top flight silverware. The competitions top scorer, Harvey Nkacha got the goal in the second half. Kamuzu Barracks received a 7.5million Kwacha cheque (roughly £13,150) for winning the trophy. The players will be hoping that Army Commander Henry Odillo is willing to grant them the same honour he granted MAFCO after their success – each player was promoted up the ranks within the Malawian Army.
In the league there is a lot of talk of the current league goal scoring record, and why players are failing to get close to breaking it. The record was set in 02/03 by Ganziani “Njoka” Malunga. He scored 28 goals in a season, breaking the record of 24 set the previous year by Heston Munthali . Since that year though, no player has come close to either tally, with the top scorer never scoring more than 18. It is the subject of some debate here amongst football fans as to whether the defenders are improving, or the strikers are getting worse. After the end of the first round (14 games) no player has managed to score more than 7 goals. According to the public, the majority of the blame lies with lazy and uninterested strikers, with the thought being that 1 goal is enough to keep them happy for a month. It is something that was very evident in the national team in both World Cup Qualifying and in the COSAFA Cup – Malawi only managing to score in half of their games in the final group stage. The strikers get a lot of stick for not scoring, but given that the league is averaging over 2.5 goals per game, the people don’t have too much to complain about in terms of entertainment for their 300Kwacha or 500Kwacha if you want the posh seats.
One final good news story in Malawian soccer is the success of the recent skills initiative by the Malawian Football Players Association and TEVETA, a skills training and education organisation. The two organisations have linked together to provide a training and education opportunity for footballers who want to partake. It is a month course that happens in the Southern region, then the next month in the Central, and the following month in the North. The main body of finance is coming from these 2 organisations, with players contributing 2500K, a tenth of their monthly salary on average. This training then equips them with basic business and entrepreneurial skills, as well as some trades, depending on what they are interested in. Let’s hope the players take advantage of this opportunity, so far it looks promising as a large number in the Southern region took advantage of the opportunity.
With the hot season well and truly arrived now, judging by the amount of hair my dog is shedding, I’m looking forward to a welcome break up at the lake this weekend. I will follow the football online, while dipping in and out of the water to keep cool. But before that is a couple of 6 a side football tournaments up at the academy, with an adult competition running alongside in which BOB’s have entered a team. It can’t come soon enough, along with another 3 points for the Toon!