The Sunday Mail
FOR Kalisto Pasuwa, it is like rolling back the years as the respected Zimbabwean football coach stands on the threshold of another milestone in the TNM Super League in Malawi.
Between 2011 and 2014, Pasuwa was in charge of Dynamos, where he blazed the trail, winning four successive championships.
During that period, he also became accustomed to winning the title either on the final day or the penultimate weekend.
He faces a similar scenario as he stands on the verge of sealing a new record of a fifth straight championship title in Malawi.
It would be his ninth league championship as coach.
His side Nyasa Big Bullets, who have a three-point advantage, must avoid a massive defeat to their rivals and second-placed Silver Strikers in a high-stakes top-of-the-table clash at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre this afternoon.
A full house is expected at the 40 000-seater stadium, with the Big Bullets fans set to paint the venue red and white for the anticipated coronation of the trendsetting class of 2023.
In the dugout, Pasuwa will once again be pitting his wits against former Highlanders and FC Platinum coach Pieter de Jongh.
Big Bullets have 59 points, Silver Strikers are on 56, while third-placed Mighty Mukuru Wanderers — who are under the guidance of British journeyman coach Mark Harrison — are on 55 points.
That Big Bullets enjoy a healthy goal difference of 30 compared to Silver Strikers’ 23 means it would need a calamitious collapse by Pasuwa’s men today for them to surrender the title.
They could afford defeat by anything less than 8-0 and still clinch the title.
Despite his dressing room having been ravaged by injuries among seven players, including his top two goalkeepers, Pasuwa reckons his charges are ready to seal a fifth championship and close their league programme on a high.
Big Bullets put one hand on the championship trophy following a crucial 1-0 midweek triumph away at Karonga.
That victory did not go down well with hooligans from some rival teams’ fans, who stoned the Big Bullets bus.
Pasuwa and his men needed armed security escort to return to their base.
“It is easier to motivate players who are on the verge of winning a championship because confidence will be high naturally, based on where we are coming from,’’ Pasuwa told The Sunday Mail Sport from his base in Malawi.
“So, we just tell them that the opponents are the ones standing between you and your steps to history.
“Go out there and fight for the badge.’’
He has also put behind the mid-week ugly scenes they witnessed in Karonga.
“It has been a tense situation since day one, when we played Silver Strikers in the season opener in Lilongwe.
“At one time, we looked as if we would be run-away winners, but injuries and fatigue dragged us down as we had to play too many games in a short space of time.
“I wouldn’t talk much about the Karonga incident as I still think that it was a few individuals who were bent on causing trouble, but the police did a good job as nothing of value was lost that day,’’ he said.
Apart from the championship title, the former Warriors and Dynamos coach, whose record with DeMbare is still to be matched on the domestic front, is eyeing a clean sweep of the silverware on offer in the Malawi top-flight.
Pasuwa has already won the Charity Shield and FDH Cup.
His Big Bullets — nicknamed The People’s Team, but also popularly known as Maule — are in the final of the Airtel Top 8, while the Castel Cup is also on their radar.
Yet Pasuwa believes this has been the toughest season he has endured since arriving in Malawi.
“It has not been an easy road at all.
“This has been the toughest because, when we participated in the CAF Champions League, we accumulated four games in hand in the league and about three more in the cup competitions.
“So, we had to catch up and we ended up playing 15 games in eight weeks and also the other top teams were manipulating our games as well, as evidenced by the noise at Karonga.’’
He paid tribute to his largely young squad, which he had to rebuild after losing experienced and key players, including Nigerian forward Babatunde Adepoju, who moved to South Africa in January.
“Obviously, losing Babatunde, Idana (Chimwemwe), Misheck Selemani and a few others meant more pressure on the youngsters, but they responded well to our ideas.
“The group of 2023 has been amazing.
“They are youngsters who are willing to learn and improve their careers.
“We also blended a lot of ideas and different talents, from the skilful to the hardworking, so we had a good balance in the team.
“Also, our supporters have been vocal and pushed the team when the chips were down, and I urge them to once again come in their numbers on Sunday.’’
While Pasuwa, an unassuming character, has been modest about his achievements and played down Big Bullets’ dominance, veteran journalist and one of the authoritative voices in the Malawian game, Peter Kanjere, spoke highly of how the coach had outfoxed his opponents once again.
Kanjere likened Big Bullets to French outfit PSG, who have been the dominant force in Ligue 1.
“There is a feeling of utter deflation for Pieter de Jong’s Silver Strikers and Mark Harrison and his Wanderers,” Kanjere said.
“The collective feeling is that the title chase is all over. There aren’t much celebrations yet from Bullets. They are holding their nerves; they can afford to wait because they aren’t too desperate, anyway.
“After all, they seem destined for a sweep … they won the FDH Cup, the league is in the bag and they are in Airtel Top 8 final.
“They are also in the running for the Castel Challenge Cup.
“Pasuwa has rendered the TNM Super League into French Ligue 1, which is for PSG,’’ Kanjere said.
Despite having injury problems with some of his key players — Mike Mkwate (broken shin), Alick Lungu (knee), Kesten Simbi (knee), Precious Phiri (ankle), Frank Willard (knee) and goalkeepers Clever Mkungula (knee) and Rabson Chiyenda (groin) — Pasuwa remains focused on filling the Big Bullets cabinet with every trophy that is on offer.