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Mhango’s continued match exclusion reeks of mischief

Pirates coaches have provided some illogical reasons for benching Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango, despite his excellent performance at Afcon. His absence is obvious in a season where their strikers are falling short
Thu, Feb 17, 2022

What is Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango’s crime? Some say partying. The Orlando Pirates striker has been in the dog box ever since he was spotted shaking what his momma gave him at Club Propaganda back in September last year and accused of running for the hills when the bill had to be settled.

Pirates played hide and seek with the media when approached for comment, but the fact that the player didn’t make the match day squad for two months subsequently suggested the matter had been dealt with internally and he was paying the price. In November he played three matches for one minute, two minutes and 21 minutes. He has since been watching from the side-lines.

Mhango’s agent later confirmed that the Buccaneers had triggered the two-year option they have on the Malawian international to keep him there for longer with the hope that he would repay them in goals. We assumed all was forgiven.

But it’s all gone a little pear shaped in a very bizarre way. Despite being ignored by co-coaches Mandla Ncikazi and Fadlu Davids, the forward still somehow made the Africa Cup of Nations squad for his native country in Cameroon, and to say he excelled there is an understatement.

Mhango arrived at the Afcon with a point to prove. Here’s a player whose talent and ability cannot be doubted, but who is being punished for having allegedly breached the Pirates’ code of conduct on a fun night out with friends (or a porn star as suggested by some reports).

The opening game against Guinea in the group stages was a write-off, ‘Gaba’ tested positive for Covid and was still in isolation when the tournament kicked off.

When he finally got to play, he was Malawi’s best player in the two group matches that followed; a brace against Zimbabwe and a constant threat in an unexpected draw; a huge result for the minnows – when they faced eventual Afcon winners Senegal in a result that parachuted them into the round of 16 with Morocco.

Many of us didn’t fancy Malawi against the Atlas Lions, but Mhango led from the front with a stunning goal that set tongues wagging throughout the competition, although The Flames did bow out as favourites, Morocco ended up winning 2-1.

Now, the assumption then was that his Pirates coaches were watching the Afcon with keen interest and particularly monitoring Mhango’s progress.

So, you can imagine how absurd Ncikazi’s comments came across when he belittled the CAF showpiece and insisted the DStv Premiership was of a higher standard to support his decision to leave Mhango out when Pirates faced AmaZulu in the Nedbank Cup.

Read a summary of Ncikazi’s gobbledegook yourself: “He [Mhango] will have to work hard and wait for his chance. He will wait like all other players. We recognise and acknowledge his performance in Afcon. But maybe the league in SA is bigger than Afcon,” the Pirates coach shocked the press. Are you for real?

He would later try to elaborate further on what he meant, though he still stood by his remarks, but by then all Ncikazi was doing was giving the rather unfortunate statement more oxygen after he’d caused a storm a few days earlier.

Mhango looked despondent on Sunday as he sat in the stands yet again watching his teammates in their opening CAF Confederation Cup group stages opener, and with Pirates, though 2-0 victors, huffing and puffing a bit, one wondered why a striker who’d made the world watch and take notice at the Afcon was not involved.

Has he not been castigated enough since his wild night out and bounced back with a memorable performance at the Afcon? And that argument about Pirates having a “galaxy of strikers” to pick from… who’s Ncikazi fooling?

None of them are in a genuine race for the Golden Boot award in the DStv Premiership so far this season, an accolade Mhango won during the 2019-20 season with 16 goals, the campaign notably disrupted by the pandemic.

His omission since coming back from Cameroon suggests there’s more to it than Ncikazi has let on because comments about Mhango coming up against nobodies at the Afcon when he literally took on champions Senegal and Morocco make no sense.

It’s all a bit odd, and as long as the Buccaneers lack the killer instinct in front of goal then Mhango’s omission remains a clear oversight.