Sewera Mpira Afrika – Blog 3 09/08/13  

The season draws nearer, after a long and largely uneventful summer for Mags who is Malawi1looking forward to the big kick off? I can’t help but look forward to it all getting under-way, despite the obvious failings by the board and certain directors this summer. Still, there is time yet to get people over this “line” that we have heard so much about. Gomis is still looking a potential purchase; although I am not convinced he is worth all this hassle. He is extremely inconsistent, and has a distinctly average record. I’d prefer a younger player coming in who would be happy to be back up, and would be happy to give his all every time he gets a chance on the pitch – Austin would have been ideal.

Remy joining on loan is a good signing, although a good season would quite probably leave us in the same position again this time next year. I was amazed that we didn’t realise he hadn’t trained in pre-season until the medical. Surely someone at the club, even during small talk would have thought to bring up how his pre- season was going?? Anyway, I don’t expect too much from the City game, so let’s just get him fit for the following match against West Ham at home. We have a decent start to the season, with 3 very winnable home games, and a game against Villa away which we can get something from. I think a good start will see us build momentum and really give us a good chance of having a good season. It is amazing how a good run can see those niggling injuries that we suffered from last year just disappear. I’m not sure what most people would consider a good season for us, but personally, I’d be happy with a top 10 finish, and a decent run in the cups. I’d also like to see us play with a bit more style and panache – entertain us long suffering fans a little. It has been pretty poor football other than in patches for the past few years, but with the players we have we should be looking to retain possession and play quick passing football. A midfield trio of Anita, Cabaye and Sissoko would allow us to play a much more fluid style of play, as all three can sit back, tackle, pass, create and go forward. As long as they work as a group then they could control the midfield against most teams. Even though I think Tiote and Jonas got a lot of unfair criticism last season and through the friendlies, I would like to see them restricted more to games where we will be under pressure, or to come on to close off a game in the dying stages.

It has been good to see the Cisse issues resolved, and hopefully we will see him return to Malawi2the sort of form that he showed in Germany and when he first arrived here. Flanked by 2 of Remy, HBA, Marveaux and Gouffran as inside forwards we have the makings of a creative and potent front three. It leaves us lacking a lot of width, but with Debuchy and Santon playing, width can be provided by two attack minded full backs – although they need to learn when to push on and when not to particularly Santon.

All in all, I’d say that provided we play a better style of football, one that is suited to our technically gifted squad, then we could have a good season. Continue with the direct and defensive style of last year, and it will be another long arduous season.

One of the stories doing the rounds over here is the decision of the Sierra Leone Football federation to appoint its first ever female president. Isha Johanssen was elected on Monday, and becomes the second female to hold such a high role in global football; following Burundi’s elected representative Lydia Nsekera. However, the fact that a female was elected was vastly overshadowed by the committees’ decision to disqualify 5 candidates from standing – including Mohammed Kallon who was once linked with a move to NUFC. Kallon shot to fame in Sierra Leone as a 15 year old, playing in the top flight for Old Edwardians. He is the youngest player ever to play for Sierra Leone, making his senior debut also at the age of 15 and going on to captain them more than 10 years later. His disqualification, due to him having not being resident in Sierra Leone during the past 5 years, led to 10 of the 14 top flight clubs boycotting fixtures. It will be a baptism of fire for Ms Johanssen as she tries to reunite the sport in the face of overwhelming support for the man many consider the best striker they have ever had.

In the African Champions league we have had a weekend of surprises with the 2 Egyptian Malawi3giants – Al Ahly and Zamalek both suffering defeats at the hands of lesser opposition. Zamalek, who had been forced to field a depleted side due to injuries, had a man sent off for handling in the box and lost 1-0 in the Congo to AC Leopards, the goal coming from the resulting penalty. Al Ahly were stunned at home by South African side Orlando Pirates. The reigning champions, Al Ahly lost 3-0 at home in what was considered a huge shock. It isn’t the first time the Pirates have come up trumps this year when being big underdogs having beaten TP Mazembe from the DRC.

Closer to home the eldest academy side have a fixture this weekend. They play Kuche Kuche, a side made up of ex Malawian top flight players, including 7 ex internationals. I and a fellow Englishman will be lining up in the academy side to add a bit more experience to the team. We are playing at the stadium of one of the country’s top sides, so it will be a fantastic experience for the academy youngsters although they may not enjoy the result. I have played against Kuche Kuche before, with my normal team, and we have lost 4-2 and drawn 3-3. It is a completely different experience playing against them as a pose to most local teams. They are technically very good, but as they are mostly late 30’s and early 40’s there fitness isn’t what it used to be. Normally sides here are very energetic, so it will pose some new and interesting questions that the lads won’t have faced before. I’m looking forward to seeing how some of our better players, Frank, Yobo and Shuta deal with it. Yobo is the standout youngster in the academy in my opinion, although it is very close between those three. He is a very composed central midfielder, rarely loses the ball and possesses an excellent shot. Frank and Shuta stand out more in a match, as both play either on the wing or up front, and love to run with the ball. For that reason they are more noticeable to someone watching the odd game, but looking closer Yobo is a better all-round player.

Finally, I have mentioned Santifet several times before, but there is a very good news Malawi5story this week about him, which has boosted his stance here. I have previously written about the $10,000 win bonus that was promised to him if they beat Nigeria and qualify for the World Cup. The amount would not really be an issue if it wasn’t for the players having being refused an increase from their $85 a match win bonus. Santifet has always insisted that money wasn’t his motivation and he just wanted to get revenge on Nigeria for sacking him as technical director last year. He has now told the FA of Malawi that instead of paying him the $10,000, he wanted the money to be invested in the development of youth sport in the country and is now working for free. Obviously with being involved with the academy I have a huge interest in youth development of sport and his gesture is of very good intentions and coming from the right place. Unfortunately it is highly unlikely that he will be able to inspire this group of Malawians to beat the Super Eagles, particularly if Shola continues his fine pre-season form at international level. The second problem, and this is me being a bit cynical, $10,000 for youth development will most likely disappear into various executives pockets, and other officials of the game, with the amount that actually reaches the areas it is meant for being far far lower.

Still, Santifet has surprised a lot of people; so maybe, just maybe the Flames and FAM executives can do the same.