It was 75 minutes on the clock last Saturday when a near-obese man in a red puma jersey left his seat and started warming up amid cheers from a crowd subdued in their seats the whole afternoon.
After pacing up and down for about five minutes, the enthusiastic fan was struggling to catch his breath. He was too tired to carry on, he waved the crowd and went back to his seat. The crowd once again acknowledged him. It was a timely joke that brought smiles to the crowd as there was no moment of brilliance on the pitch to atone for the dull show the fans had endured whole afternoon.
Kinnah Phiri would not be forgiven for featuring players who were unfit as the fan who made his runs from the stands. One started the game, the other came from the bench.
The cheers testified that it had finally sank that the Flames were too cold to burn the lifeless Eagles, probably the worst team assembled by Nigeria since the success of Afcon 1994 and the Atlanta triumph in 1996.
Kinnah would feel let down by a group of players he entrusted to save his job. The chorus of discontent by Malawians suggested that Kinnah would do the most honourable thing to quit other than being denied a renewal of his contract.
The very people who sang his praises two years ago have suddenly realised that Kinnah is the captain of the sink¬ing ship. Flames failure to qualify for Africa Cup of Nations finals early this year –when it was too easy to do that before the Chad mess – meant Malawi¬ans supported Zambia. Our closeness to Zambia and their success against all odds opened Malawians' eyes that no excuse will be enough to justify our failure – lack of friendlies, no money for camping, no equipment, meagre allowances and the list is endless.
Defying the same distractions, Kinnah managed to qualify for 2010 show¬piece. That meant the same excuses would be a scapegoat after he proved that lack of resources cannot stop a team destined for success.
There are several mistakes that Kin¬nah committed that have come back to haunt him. Failure to build on the success of 2010 was the mentor's mistake number one. He defied advice that urged him to abandon the ageing players and incorporate the talented players from the local league. His ex¬cuse was that he needed experienced players to do the job. The ageing players played his mind by announcing their retirement in bulk, on his knees he went begging for the rescission of their earlier decision.
During the Nigeria game, the bulk of the players he clung to were either missing through injury or loss of form. He turned to the inexperienced players whose brilliance could not be doubted. Only if he had listened, he would not be sweating for his job today.
The second mistake that Kinnah com¬mitted was his unending experiments with players. Despite trying several players who proved that they could do the job, Kinnah always went back to the same old legs and never attempted to monitor progress of the players he had identified, through costly exercise, since 2008. Last Saturday, the crowd must have been pleased with the introduction of youthful players but it took forever to admit that the tired legs would sink with him. Only if he had listened after the Angola competition.
The signs are all over that Kinnah is not wanted by the Sports Council despite the recommendation by Football As¬sociation of Malawi justifying why the mentor's contract must be renewed. Just a few weeks ago, Kinnah's personal car was impounded by sherrifs to recov¬er the money erroneously paid to him by the Sports Council. If the national coach is treated that way, it is doubtful that he still has his job. It seemed a lot had changed at the Council but every¬thing remains the same regarding how local Flames' coaches are treated.
An ill-advised decision in 1995 got rid of Mathias Mwenda despite a bright start to the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign; he won twice, drew twice against the Indomitable Lions in Yaounde and Zaire in Kinshasa before going down to Zaire in Lilon¬gwe. In 1995, Mwenda's salary was about K2,000, he was paying electricity and water bills on his own unlike his predecessor expatriate Steve McRaye whose salary was K8,000. When he was fired, Mwenda was also forced to repair his official car using his money.
Unlike Kinnah, who would find excuses whenever the Flames lose, Mwenda was always honourable in defeat telling The Daily Times on April 21, 1995 that "the loss belongs to me as a coach but the success should belong to the play¬ers and the nation".
After all the mistakes that Kinnah has made are documented as he awaits his fate, is he entirely to blame for Flames free fall? The Flames that qualified for Afcon 2010 was not the best in Malawi's history, luck in football really exists. There are several challenges in Malawi that when the Flames quali¬fied for Afcon 2010, a lot of Malawians were still questioning how we managed that feat.
Kinnah has his weaknesses as a coach but his contribution in the four years must be acknowledged. The poor Flames results are a combination of several factors including how football is administered in Malawi, lack of motivation in local football, no club sponsorship for big teams and lack of programmes to improve football in Malawi.
These problems were not created by Kinnah, he inherited the problems and lived with them. It would be easy to blame Kinnah for Flames' failure in the recent times, he committed his sins as coach of course but he did his part too.
Soon Kinnah will be gone, we will help him wipe his tears but the next coach should expect the same environment that was detrimental to Kinnah's suc¬cess. How special his successor would be, it is just a matter of time. If his contract is renewed, he must start lis¬tening to advice but if it would not, my tears for Kinnah will drip from my eyes.