Seal of approval from FIFA director-member association Africa, Gelson Fernandes
* Malawi is among just three African FAs alongside Mauritania and Djibouti that FIFA selected
* To establish inclusive football academies that will teach young players best footballing techniques and how they can prepare for life outside football
By Duncan Mlanjira
After inspecting the progress of Football Association of Malawi’s Luwinga Technical Centre in Mzuzu, the delegation world football governing body, FIFA has given it a thumbs up as good to go.
FAM President Walter Nyamilandu Manda told Fam.mw that the all-inclusive inclusive football academy received a positive feedback from the FIFA and the Agence Francaise de Developmente (AFD) delegation.
Malawi is among just three African FAs — alongside Mauritania and Djibouti — that were selected to establish inclusive football academies that will among other things teach young players best footballing techniques and how they can prepare for life outside football .
Luwinga Academy is expected to be a model and one of the best football academies in Africa, aimed at producing quality players for Malawi through a structured player development pathway.
The programme is intended to make use of football’s ability to teach life skills such as commitment and teamwork. It aims to prepare academy players to be future citizens, bearing in mind that only a tiny proportion will become professional footballers, and broaden their economic and professional horizons through football, empower them and ensure their employability.
The delegation, led by FIFA director-member association Africa, Gelson Fernandes held a series of meetings with various stakeholders on the establishment of the academy before inspecting the site in Mzuzu.
Fernandez attested that FIFA selected Malawi together with Mauritania and Djibouti for a number of reasons, including quality of administration in the three FA’s.
“We opened applications to the whole continent but Malawi together with Mauritania and Djibouti were selected due to their quality of administration, stability within their federations and they showed their potential in as far as football development is concerned,” he is quoted as saying.
On his part, Nyamilandu said the feedback from the stakeholders and FIFA is encouraging and FAM is ready complete the processes of setting up the academy.
“The first cohort will be looking at Under-14 and Under-16,” he said. “We give those players 10 years and if we do our things correctly without shortcuts, if we bring best players and right coaching, we should be able to produce good national team.
“We will scrutinize our progress after four years when they reach Under-17 level, that will give us hope that we are on the right track then Under-20 and progress into the senior national team.”
Nyamilandu further said he believes the academy will help to produce high quality talent that can excel at international level, saying: “We’ve seen West Africans excelling in Africa Cup of Nations and the FIFA World Cup because they have excellent talent and we’ve always believe that academy is one way how we can bridge this gap.”
He took cognizance that Malawi’s progress to having talent nurturing academies started with Surestream and has been carried over by Ascent Academy in Lilongwe, which has achieved a lot in a short period of existence.
“But now we are talking about a fully-fledged football Academy which will be an all-inclusive with players staying together, learning, education, playing football and be taught how to grow up in a well balanced life style.
“So we are excited about this project which will transform the landscape of Malawi football,” said Nyamilandu, who was applauded by FIFA president, Gianni Infantino when the two met at FIFA’s Paris Bureau last week where he congratulated Nyamilandu’s administration on the beautiful game’s progress in the country through the development of youth and women’s football.
The two met after Malawi Scorchers’ triumph of the 2023 COSAFA Women’s Championship – Malawi’s first such title – that came on the back of their runners-up finish two years earlier.
Aided by FIFA Forward funds, the renovations to the FAM technical centre in Blantyre, the Mpira Village, have given national teams improved facilities in which to prepare, as observed by FIFA.
And the triumph by the Scorchers — 2-1 against defending champions Zambia after winning all their five matches — is the benefit from the FIFA Forward funds for the Scorchers in particular.
FIFA takes cognizance that many of the squad that have won the women’s COSAFA title are in their teens, adding that youth development is also FAM’s particular focus, which has ploughed FIFA Forward funding into grassroots football.
Through the academy in Mzuzu, Malawi is one of 100 member associations to have launched the FIFA Football for Schools project aimed at giving children football skills as well as those for life.
Thus Infantino told the media in Paris that Nyamilandu’s administration is doing “a fantastic work to develop football in Malawi from a solid financial platform [and making] great use of FIFA Forward funds to complete a number of projects, and already have more in the pipeline”.
“They are giving every talent at every level the opportunity to flourish, and their efforts to boost women’s football, in particular, are really pleasing and very clearly bearing fruit.”
Nyamilandu’s recognition of Ascent Soccer comes after FAM honoured the academy with a Lifetime Achievement award in June this year for its exceptional excellence in youth development initiatives.
This was when FAM rewarded outstanding football personalities in the country that included legendary former Flames goalkeeper, Dennis Saidi; former FIFA referee, Everson Mkwangwanya and illustrious administrator, Robin Alufandika.
And it came to pas as Ascent Soccer contributed five players in the triumphant Malawi Scorchers COSAFA Women Championship squad, who were nurtured from grassroots level — 17-year-old Rose Kabzere; Leticia Chinyamula (17); Faith Chinzumu (16); Maggie Chavula (18) alongside Ireen Khulamo (20).
The 2-1 championship final victory over Zambia saw Ascent’s Rose Kabzere and Leticia Chinyamula in the starting XI and both Rose and Leticia appeared in all five of the Scorchers matches (3 starts and 2 substitute appearances).
The Ascent Soccer ‘youth movement’ didn’t stop there — as Faith Chinzumu and Maggie Chavula were also being considered in the line-up, alongside Ascent graduate Ireen Khulamo, who was used as left back.
In the five tournament wins over hosts and record seven-time champions South Africa’s Banyana Banyana (4-3); against e-Swatini (8-0); against Madagascar (3-1); against Mozambique (2-1); and Zambia (2-1), Rose Kabzere collected a goal and four assists — with Leticia netting two.
This is not the first time products of Ascent Academy have been spotted by FAM scouts for the national teams as just last year, two — Ireen Khumalo and Marian Mnenula — were part of the squad for COSAFA Women’s Championship while four girls were in the Malawi Under-17 squads for the 2022 Regional 5 Games.
At the COSAFA Under-17 tournament held in Mauritius in 2018, Ascent contributed three players — Francis Mtoso, Emmanuel Mitole and Lovemore Mbeta with Mtoso and Mitole scoring two of Malawi’s six goals.
Mtoso and Mitole were featured in their first game against Angola, which they lost 0-1 and in the second game against Zimbabwe, Malawi started all three ascent players with Francis as captain.
They won 5-0 huge with Francis and Emmanuel each scoring as Emmanuel and Lovemore created an assist each.
Malawi then needed to beat Swaziland by two or more goals to go through but could only manage a 1-0 victory and bowed out on goal difference.
Through Ascent’s founder, George Maguire, Malawi has the best female export, Tabitha Chawinga, who is playing for Paris St. Germain (PSG) on loan from Wuhan Jianghan University of China where she plays alongside her sister Temwa Chawinga.
Tabitha first went to Europe when Maguire spotted her playing for her local club, DD Sunshine at the age of 17 and after pulling together a video and spreading the word, helped her land a professional contract with Sweden’s Kvarnsvedens IK.
Founded in 2014 as a football development institution under the name ‘Chigoli Academy’, Ascent Soccer has produced several young players who have gone to world-class boarding schools in the USA and created opportunities for professional players with trials offered in South Africa, Italy and Spain.
In its citation for the award presented to Maguire, FAM recognised that since its inception, Ascent Soccer has developed into a residential academy with over 80% of its players in boarding facilities and it is the only full-time academy soccer and scholarship program in the country.
It delivers opportunities and global pathways for both boys and girls and over the years running regional talent identification events and open trials for over 40,000 youth, from which their current group of 65 student-athletes has been selected.
Over seven years of programming, they have enrolled full-time soccer scholars from every region of Malawi, whose current academy set-up includes male U-14, U-16 and U-18 squads, along with the U-14 & U-18 Ascent Girls.
All five groups enjoy a full-time academic, character, football, and health/nutrition program, led by a committed group of international and local staff — and there are no fees or costs for any of Ascent’s student-athletes.
The Ascent Soccer Global Scholarships’ opportunities are life-changing for the talented and determined student-athletes.
In 2019, Maguire was honoured with Non-Citizen of the Year award by Malawi Sport annual awards administered by Malawi National Council of Sports, for the very recognition of the grassroots football development initiative.