The Flames have made it into the final phase of qualifiers of Nations Cup and World Cup. Who is responsible for this success of a team that was turning into losers on the continent. I put this and other questions to national team coach Kinnah Phiri.
Me: It seems to me people are not sure who is responsible for the recent success of the Flames. Is it the coach? Players? Football Association of Malawi? Sports Council of Malawi? Or what is responsible for this success?
Kinnah: Good governance.
Me: I never expected that answer. What about good governance?
Kinnah: Good governance in general. [But] it starts with money. There is money to construct roads and bridges; there is money to pay me as coach and fund functions of the national team. Football is part of a national structure. When there is good governance along the structure, things work. I did not bring new players. I inherited a team that was losing time and again. What has changed?
Me: That is the question that should be answered.
Kinnah: It is the leadership. No leadership, no success. It starts with the President [Bingu wa Mutharika], the Sports Minister Mr Vuwa Kaunda, the Sports Council of Malawi where Mr [George] Jana is doing good job; then we come to Fam where Mr Walter Nyamilandu is doing things properly and then it comes to Kinnah Phiri running the national team properly. It is a joint effort. Success does not come from one person. There is no way you can fail to produce good results when the set-up is good.
Me: Where is players’ commitment?
Kinnah: It is about good leadership at all levels. Players can be committed when leadership is good. I have said that this team was called useless. I took over the same team and it is successful now.
Me: And juju, what is the place of juju in football?
Kinnah: We can believe in juju, but it does not work. Juju cannot score a goal. It works psychologically. In football, we talk about playing properly.
Me: In a recent interview, you said you do not fear big teams.
Kinnah: We don’t fear big teams. We will play normally. We will play as we play any other team.
Me: No specific way of playing?
Kinnah: I cannot go into particulars of tactics because our competitors will know our formulas.
Me: What about Didier Drogba?
Kinnah: He is playing in a big league. He is a good player but he can be marked properly.
Kinnah: He will be playing as a team, not as an individual. If you cut his services he won’t be a good player.
Me: Cut his services. How would that happen?
Kinnah: No, no, no. I am not saying anything tactical. We are going to prepare normally, no special preparations apart from what we have been doing.
Me: There are five groups, each with four teams. If we are among number one to three we will go to Angola for Cup of Nations in January 2010; if we are number one, we will go to South Africa for 2010 World Cup. What is your destination?
Kinnah: Our aim is to take the Flames to South Africa. Whatever happens, we want to be in South Africa.
And if I ask you how, you will say nothing tactical.
Kinnah: Of course.
Me: OK. Sept Blatter accused England of breaking a soccer cardinal law when it hired an Italian Fabio Capello as a national coach for the English side. Blatter said a national coach team must speak the same language with his players. Do you agree with Blatter?
Kinnah: I agree.
Kinnah: Football is played in a culture. You can’t leave culture out of football. A coach needs to understand his players and that understanding comes from speaking the same language.
Let me say this, football is more than playing on the field. We do counselling. The players face challenges which some of us faced and we discuss those things. It is important that we understand their challenges in the context of [our] culture.
Me: What about coaching on the pitch and language?
Kinnah: Football players have an inborn talent that needs to be enhanced. Some may not be educated and we know if you are a Malawian and speak English, you must be educated. Now, should we keep out a player because he does not speak English? We can realise the full potential of players when they speak the same language with a coach.
Me: Is that all? Can a foreign coach really want the Flames to win all the time? Would he feel a loss the way you, being a Malawian, would? If he is from England, for example, and we are meeting England, in whatever cup, would he want Malawi to beat his home country?
Kinnah: A foreign coach is here for money [while] a local coach is here for love of the country. A foreign coach has to make money and enjoy in his home country. Have you ever seen a foreign coach who built a house here and made Malawi his home? But Malawi is my home and this is where I will invest.
Me: You can choose to invest outside Malawi. It is not automatic that you are a Malawian and you invest in Malawi.
Kinnah: No. Then I would have stayed on in South Africa. I love my country and I want to be part of those developing Malawi.
Me: You were a great player and now you are turning into a great coach. But I have never heard about any of your sons turning into great players. Are you worried?
Kinnah: I have three boys and all of them concentrated on education. Two are in the United kingdom; one is doing a masters in IT, the other is doing architecture. My first born, Foster, was a good player but had a serious injury while a student at MCA [Malawi College of Accountancy], and that stopped his rise [on the soccer ladder].
Me: Are you worried that your sons have not lived your soccer name?
Kinnah: No. They have their own future in what they are doing.
Me: What is your message to Malawians?
Kinnah: They must keep on wearing red. They must love their country by supporting the national team and they must come to games in large numbers.