The Pre-Season International Bonanza hosted by FCB Nyasa Big Bullets returned in some style last weekend after a two-year break.
This time around the tourney comprised the hosts, arch-rivals Mighty Mukuru Wanderers, and two Mozambican clubs, UD Songo and Ferroviário de Nampula.
At the end of the three-day event, which ran from 3-5 March, UD Songo were crowned champions with 7 points. As the Nomads finished second, Nampula third, and Bullets came last.
Past the international bonanza, we bring you five key takeaways from the event.
Champions get a vital reality check
Off the back of winning the TNM Super League championship for the fourth time in a row, The People’s Team finished the tourney winless and without finding the back of the net. Learning from that run of games, it was clear that the champions have lost their attacking prowess.
Sharing what he thought of his side’s performance during the tourney, coach Kalisto Pasuwa pointed out combinations as the key area needing to be rectified ahead of the new season.
However, there were positives Maule could take away from the bonanza. The Malawi champions look considerably strong at the back.
Making them solid in defence was the presence of the two Kenyan defenders Clyde Senaji Nevade and Collins Odhiambo Okumu, who while on trial won the hearts of supporters with convincing and impressive performances.
It was no surprise when the club moved quickly to sign the duo after the tourney.
270 minutes without scoring can really cause concerns more especially when the team is Bullets, but Pasuwa has played down the need to worry.
The Zimbabwean tactician backed the strikers he currently has in his squad, Anthony Mfune and Maxwell Gasten Phodo, to come good with time while he hinted at further attacking additions, of which the former Polokwane City creative midfielder, Mike Mkwate, is highly likely to be one of them.
In the aftermath of last weekend’s bonanza, The People’s Team is steadily learning their own reality and exactly what they have to do in order to start the season in good shape.
The Bullets pre-season tourney becoming a bigger tradition
Happening again after postponing for two years, the Bullets Pre-Season International Bonanza marked its return in some style in terms of organization.
A few days prior to the tourney, The People’s Team had sealed a hefty sponsorship deal with First Capital Bank (FCB) and could not find a better time of unveiling it to the fans than during the three-day event.
The event was spiced by the presentation of a team jersey to the Mozambican High Commissioner, His Excellency Elias Jaime Zimba by FCB led by founder and vice-chairman, Hitesh Anadkat.
Celebrity musician Pisky brought the Bullets away jersey by helicopter, which had big banners of the club and FCB pasted hung on it as it hovered above the Kamuzu Stadium on matchday 2, which presented this year’s first-ever Blantyre derby.
The artist also performed and handed the new Maule kits to lucky fans in the almost fully packed F1 terraces.
There were, at any point, no serious commotions nor any ugly scenes during the event which in the end proved to be quite an ordeal platform for teams to shape up their squads ahead of the new season.
Involved in managing the tourney was the Football Association of Malawi and the FA’s technical supporter manager, James Sangala, revealed he was left impressed with how things went as he gave his assessment on behalf of the football governing body.
“It was well organized; it will help clubs to measure their progress in terms of preparation for the new season. It also gives players an international experience.” Sangala told the Bullets media.
Given the standards displayed during this time around, the tourney is surely becoming a big tradition at The People’s Team.
Fierce Blantyre derbies ahead
The tourney brought forward on show the latest meeting of arch-rivals, The People’s Team and The Nomads, in what was the first-ever Blantyre derby since the turn of this year.
As the two teams played out a goalless draw on Saturday, a picture of how this year’s Blantyre derbies may look was illustrated.
In last Saturday’s game, the two teams shared the halves. While the Nomads had much authority in the first half, Maule had much say in the second half of the tie, especially in the closing stages.
Nomads had Bullets wishing the halftime break arrived before time with some expansive passing football while they assaulted.
In the second half, Bullets caused Nomads many missed heartbeats by putting them at gun-point with relentless counters late in the tie.
Pasuwa has been enjoying dominance over the Nomads in his four-year stay at Maule so far but he now remains winless in two matches since the old foes hired a new coach in Mark Harrison.
As Pasuwa will be eager to reclaim the dominant days over the Nomads, Harrison will look to build on his clean Blantyre derby record.
Three weeks from now, Bullets are expected to meet Wanderers again, this time in the Charity Shield tie at the Bingu International Stadium in Lilongwe.
If the meeting of the two arch-rivals in the Pre-season International Bonanza revealed anything, then it is that there will be fierce Blantyre derbies in the upcoming season.
The People’s Team going for African experience
While they dominate domestically, Bullets are apparently eyeing a better experience in Africa.
Last year they got booted out of the CAF Champions League in the preliminary round in a manner that exposed their lack of players fitting the big competition.
Learning from most clubs that have been successful in the greatest club competition on the African continent, they all have a considerable number of foreign players.
From Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, and now in Kenya, players have moved to join Bullets in recent years. During the tourney, Pasuwa’s side had three foreign players on trial. The Kenyan duo was 48 hours later signed while the Nigerian striker, Chinedu Okafor, is still being assessed.
Should he get the contract, he will have the task of filling the hole left by his countryman Babatunde Adepoju, who was simply remarkable for Bullets until he moved to Venda Football Academy in South Africa.
Last year, Badu from Ghana was brought in to beef up the squad, unfortunately, he did not break into the team as he only managed to play in not more than five matches the whole season.
Badu was released mid his two-year contract and his departure has been followed quickly by the arrival of two East Africans.
With Bullets still on the market, there are still chances of further foreign talent arriving at the club.
The tourney clearly disclosed the eagerness the club has to have a team of players with different experiences from different African leagues.
Bullets, with special talent from across Africa, surely can acquire the ingredient to make them have a better experience in African football.
NMC, First Capital Bank, and Bullets looking great together
Bullets have been leaning heavily on their owner, Nyasa Manufacturing Company, since getting commercialized in 2028, but a few days before the tourney kicked off, FCB announced themselves as the official sponsor of the 2022 champions of Malawi.
NMC and Maule have been simply great in their pact and have seen the club reclaiming their local dynasty in football. Nonetheless, the coming in of the First Capital Bank promises a greater future for the club.
Unveiling the sponsorship agreement gave the impression that the club is taking another turn toward greatness.
FCB’s passion for the beautiful game is well known as it has over the past decade been sponsoring the U-20 football leagues across the country. This has been the youth league unearthing a lot of great talents like the likes of Mike Mkwate, Chimwemwe Idana, Precious Sambani, Peter Banda, and many more.
Colourful was the unveiling of the sponsorship, its impact is highly expected to be more than that and work wonders for The People’s Team.