Location: South Africa
The early exit of South African football teams over the years in the Champions League suggests that the future of local teams on the continent is gloomy.
It has been a while since South Africa enjoyed success in continental competitions. For a trace of good news, we need to look back to 1995 when Orlando Pirates won the Champions League. A Clive Barker-coached Bafana Bafana completed the golden era when they captured the Afcon Cup the following year.
Kirsten Nematandani the newly-elected South African Football Association (Safa) president says: “It is important that our clubs do well on the African continent before we can move to the national team. No team has achieved what Pirates did in 1995 and that says a lot about the standard of football in the country. We need to pull up our socks and start doing well in the Champions League. We have the resources to do it.”
The Confederation of African Football (Caf) Champions League is an annual international club football competition. The top club sides from Africa’s football leagues are invited to participate in this competition, which is the premier club football competition on the continent and equivalent to the UEFA Champions League.
Two Egyptian giants and Cairo-based arch-rivals, el Zamalek and al-Ahly, have dominated the competition over the years. The Cairo ‘Red Devils’ (al-Ahly) have won it a record six occasions – in 1982, 1987, 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2008 – while the Cairo ‘Whites Knights’ (el Zamalek) have taken the honours on no less than five occasions – 1984, 1986, 1993, 1996 and 2002.
Gavin Hunt, the SuperSport United coach, offers some insight to the beleaguered performances of the clubs in the African safari.
“Do clubs really want to play in this expensive competition? It costs about R500 000 just to fulfill some of these away fixtures,” he says.
Bafana Bafana’s failure to qualify for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) is a further indictment of South African football – the fact that the hosts of the World Cup will not be at Afcon is a bitter pill to swallow.
Last season it was hoped Ajax Cape Town and SuperSport United would provide some international respite for South Africa’s battered image ahead of the Confederations Cup and the World Cup. But both teams failed to advance to the knock-out stages of the competition.
Gordon Igesund, Maritzburg United coach and the only coach to win four league titles with different teams, says local teams don’t take the competition seriously.
“We are capable of winning the Champions League, but we have to change our attitude when we approach the competition. When I was coaching Sundowns we went unbeaten for 18 games but were knocked out in the quarterfinals of the competition by Al Ahly. We could have gone all the way. I want to coach a team that will play in the Champions League to win it.”
In Europe it is prestigious to win the Champions League, but South African clubs seem to derive more value in clinching the domestic title.
The financial enticement of doing well in the South African league, with a sponsorship of well over R1, 6 billion, is one factor stealing the thunder from the continental competition. There is only $1 million for the winner of the costly African showpiece. SuperSport pocketed a whopping R10 million when they won the league back to back. Suffice to say the costs of playing in the PSL are much less.
Premier Soccer League (PSL) chief executive Kjetil Siem acknowledges that the monetary incentives in domestic competitions undermine the Champions League.
“I know that our clubs focus more on winning the league and some even view the Champions League as a distraction to their title ambitions at home,” says Siem.
He does, however, highlight the adverse effects of clubs failing on the international stage. “Dropping out in the early stages does not portray our league in good light. We are in constant discussions with clubs advising them to take the Champions League seriously,” says the PSL boss.
Hunt feels that the solution is for Safa to assist the country’s flag bearers financially. “I have it on good authority that clubs from other countries are bankrolled by their respective FAs [football associations] in this competition. It is unfair to have to foot your own bill to represent your country,” he says.
But a senior Safa official who spoke to Twenty Ten on condition of anonymity says the association would never give clubs who participate in the competition money. “These clubs are run by greedy millionaire bosses who want to control everything. There is just no way we’ll give them money and I don’t think government will either. We cannot compare South Africa to other countries on the continent; we are a rich country. We would rather take that money and use it for football development.”
Mamelodi Sundowns’ executive technical director Ted Dumitru echoes Hunt’s sentiments. “Club owners don’t want to spend money on expensive expeditions. About 80 per cent of the teams in the Champions League are supported by their governments and football federations, but we get nothing. We might have sung a different tune if the government supported these teams, because they represent the country,” he adds.
Dumitru also blamed the PSL’s management for the woeful performance of the clubs.
“The PSL doesn’t take these games seriously either. There are too many home cup matches and PSL games that force coaches and players to focus on the lucrative domestic competitions.”
Dumitru reiterates that coaches are more interested in doing well in the league and that the future of South African football on the continent is gloomy. “I do not see a local team repeating the 1995 achievement of Orlando Pirates. We’re facing another fixture congestion next year. The season has to finish early because Bafana Bafana need to go into camp ahead of [the] 2010 [World Cup] with all other local competitions played,” he says.