The transfer window has ‘slammed’ shut once again – odd that it always seems to slam shut? I’m not going to talk too much about it, I think all Mags will be feeling the same way, and opinions have been voiced on blogs, social media, and hopefully at the meetings that have occurred this week. The ‘Mike Ashley Out Campaign’ will have boosted its numbers significantly this week. I expect a fairly hostile atmosphere next match.
Personally, while backing their stance, I’d rather focus on what was a minor positive last weekend. The last 15 minutes we were superb, attacking, creating and pressing. A far cry from the previous 345 minutes played this season! Hatem, finally, realised that if he delivers the ball early our strikers get chances. If he can continue to mix his play with early deliveries, shots and running at people then he can be a top player. If he does as he has prior to the last 15 minutes he will continue to frustrate and fail to make the most of what is an exceptional talent. Anita, outstanding – nothing spectacular, but watch the game again and he demonstrates exactly why he is the best player for that deeper role given our squad. He is technically excellent, can collect the ball from the defence and get us playing the ball around on the deck. But for me the crucial factor which should make him one of the first names on the team sheet is his intelligence. When Santon, Debuchy, and even Colo on occasions race forward, normally, we are left exposed and reliant on the work-rate of certain players to try and recover. With Anita, you could see him having a look about and then just dropping in to cover. This will be crucial while we continue to rely on the full backs for width, and indeed play with such adventurous full backs. He won’t get bums off seats like Ben Arfa, but it was a joy to watch for me.
We are one or two light, and while not ideal there is the odd name that springs off the page on the free transfer list. The top possible acquisition for me would be Artem Milevskiy. An international calibre striker, bags of experience, we looked at him for £10million just a few years ago. He would offer the size, strength and hold up ability that Cisse and Remy don’t, and has a reasonable goal record, around 1 in 3. More than anything he would provide competition and an alternative to the 2 named, and allow Campbell the opportunity to go on loan to develop. I’d hope we are looking, but I have my doubts as to whether Kinnear could even broker a deal for someone who has no club or contract.
Anyway, I’m not going to go on any more about Newcastle, as that slight ray of optimism I had during the game was swiftly extinguished as we failed to land a blow in the following couple of days.
Here, we are coming in to the hot season now; I can push my warmer clothes to the back of the cupboard again and enjoy the sun. Schools are back in session which means my 11 a side team are back as well. It is all change this year for BOB’s; last year’s manager went off to pastures new – San Francisco to be precise – to be replaced by a 3 man management committee. We have also lost a centre back, a right back, one centre mid, a right winger and our top scorer from last year as well as a couple of back up players. That is the problem with having a core of ex pats; many are only here for 1 or 2 years. Still we will bounce back; new arrivals in to the team will take a bit of time to get used to our defensive and compact style. We aren’t very entertaining to watch, but that is with good reason. The majority of teams we play consist of Malawian players who are, naturally, fitter and more capable of playing in these temperatures (not to mention a lot of us have hangovers on Saturdays). So they do a lot of running, and boy can some of them run! We generally sit back, we are fairly confident in our footballing ability being better, but not fitness and stamina. We hit teams on the break or from set plays generally. Tomorrow we play a team from Area 43. One of the lads who works for me plays for them, so we can’t lose! We have beaten them twice when I have played, and drawn once; but it is always close and there are generally goals – 2-1, 3-2 and 2-2. I’m looking forward to it, always good to get back into playing 11 a side. Not entirely sure what role I will fill yet, I’d imagine centre back or the holding midfielder will be most likely, but I have been known to play on either wing or either full back role as well. To be honest, I’ve been known to play just about any position you can come up with. In 3 separate seasons I have played at least 2 games in every single outfield position going – in 1 of those the manager allowed me to go in goal for a half to make up the full complement – I kept a clean sheet making a couple of good, if slightly unorthodox saves.
The Zebras of the Academy (Under 12 side) gave a local side a thumping the other week; beating them 7-0. They played well enough, but from what I have been told, the opposition were of a very poor standard and it should in reality have been 15! They were surprised when George, the Director of the Academy, gave them a bit of a lecture at the end of it. Stiffer challenges will be needed to help drill some of George’s message in to them I expect though.
In Malawi, the International break was preceded by an outburst from Keshi, the Nigeria coach, which was a bit over the top and fuelled by anger with a fairly blatant undertone of racism. Keshi basically told Santifet, the Malawi head coach, that as a white man he wasn’t welcome in African football, and should go back to Europe. Imagine if the situation was reversed, there would be global uproar! Santifet has held his tongue, and hasn’t escalated the problem, although his squad selection has caused anger throughout the country for their decisive World Cup qualifier this weekend against Shola Ameobi’s Nigeria in Calabar. The influential captain, Joseph “Shakira” Kamwendo has been left out of the squad for this game, and was also absent for their recent friendly defeat to Botswana. The Mozambique based player refused to travel for a friendly against Rwanda a month ago, due to club commitments, and it would appear that Santifet is refusing to select him on these grounds. A huge risk for a man who has staked his reputation on the 118th ranked team by FIFA beating the current African champions. Kamwendo has taken it all with good grace, and wished his countrymen the best of luck in Nigeria, but commentators, fans, pundits and players have all expressed their concern at the decision to leave out their gifted leader and playmaker.
A lot of Malawian hopes will now rest on Robert Ng’ambi. The central midfielder, who plays for Platinum Stars in South Africa, has scored 2 goals in his last 2 club games. The midfielder has rarely reproduced his club form at international level, and according to many it is due to the restrictions placed upon him at international level. At the Stars he is given license to roam and to attack. With the Flames, he is restricted to a much more defensive role. Santifet needs to release him, particularly without Kamwendo, and allow him to play with the same freedom he has for his club. To be honest, even with a fully fit squad playing to the best of their abilities it will be a huge surprise if Malawi manage to overcome the Super Eagles in the hostile surroundings of Calabar – extra security has been brought in to protect the Flames players and coach in an area that International agencies warn against travelling to.
The Super Eagles can call upon the talents of Newcastle’s League Cup super sub Shola Ameobi to lead the line, and Shola is widely expected to start the game alongside Musa, of CSKA Moscow, and Browns Ideye, of Dynamo Kiev. Backed up by a midfield that can be selected from players in Europe’s top leagues it would be a huge surprise and an exceptional achievement were the Flames to pull off the unexpected.
So, best of luck to the Malawi Flames, and let’s see what awaits Kinnear and Ashley for the away trip to Villa.