We Just Don’t Care About Africa!
Last weekend all eyes were on South Africa’s biggest derby, our showcase event in which even the rest of the world has shown an interest. This week South Africa’s biggest clubs head into the next round of the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederations Cup respectively. Kaizer Chiefs are up against Raja Casablanca from Morocco at Moses Mabhida in Durban, Mamelodi Sundowns go up against TP Mazembe of the DRC, both in the CAF Champions League, while Orlando Pirates are up against Uganda’s URA in the CAF Confederation Cup.
Although Pirates’ opposition are far from giants on the continent and should prove no problem for the Buccaneers, Chiefs and Sundowns are up against the real deal. This tournament is the reason Patrice Motsepe pumps so much money into the Brazilians. Motsepe wants to dominate Africa. He wants Sundowns to be the Barcelona of the African continent. This is what Sundowns have been built for. Kaizer Chiefs are giants of the game by reputation, but they also need to validate that assertion on the continent, something they have not really done in top African competition.
Chiefs, of the three teams, probably have the prize fight in the next round. Raja Casablanca are Morocco’s most powerful club. They have won their domestic league 11 times, most recently in 2013. They have also lifted the Moroccan Cup seven times and were league runners-up last year. They are the joint-fifth most successful club in the CAF Champions League and are the only Moroccan club to have competed in the FIFA Club World Cup twice – in 2000 they only made it to the group stages but in 2013 the club ended the competition as runners-up! Baxter and his boys will certainly have their work cut out for them. This will be a true test of Baxter’s tactical acumen against a team who could really hurt Chiefs if they get it wrong. But then again, does anyone really care?
What is clear is that South Africans do not really care about continental competitions, which is maybe why South African clubs get away with continual failure on the continent. Yes, there is a blip on the continental radar now and then, but there is no continuity or consistency… no extended dominance on the continent. Maybe that’s partly why there are more South Africans watching the UEFA Champions League than the CAF Champions League. And if you look at the performances of some PSL teams when they do get into a continental competition, you’d swear some of them actually ‘throw’ their matches to avoid the cost to company of taking part.
The question is, should we be more excited about the CAF Champions League? Also, what are clubs doing to make supporters understand that it’s important South African teams dominate on the continent?
Personally, I think that until South African teams start to regularly getting into the latter stages of these competitions, we are always going to just be making up the numbers with our national team at African competitions. There is a reason that Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and Ghana have such powerful national teams and perform so well on the continent. It’s because they are always playing in these competitions at club level and always performing well.
South African teams, on the other hand, seem to struggle with the conditions, with the travelling and with the intimidation at away stadiums. They seem to struggle away from the relative comfort that the PSL affords week in and week out. It also calls into question the actual strength of the PSL, much in the same way the UEFA Champions League is exposing the actual versus the perceived strength of the EPL.
Because of marketing, and possibly a very Eurocentric take on which continental tournaments are prestigious and which tournaments are not, some may suggest that African continental tournaments actually mean very little when it comes to strengthening the state of a country’s football pedigree. But how many of us watch the South American version of the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores? How many of us know the names of the players that play there, or even the clubs? How many of us take notice of the Copa America, the equivalent of the AFCON? None of us, really. Yet go and look at the continent that time and again sees its teams in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup and you will understand that South America is dominant.
The most successful country at World Cups is Brazil, with Argentina and Uruguay not far behind. Arguably some of the best players to have ever played the game come from South America and I would say it is because their continental club competitions and national rivalries are taken seriously by their associations – despite the fact that those competitions are not beamed all over the world.
With that said, isn’t it time we start valuing what we have here in Africa? Shouldn’t we be taking our own CAF competitions a lot more seriously? It’s a disgrace that the catchy little tune that is the intro to the UEFA Champions League – the advertising jingle – is more recognisable to us in Africa than the names of many of the giants of African football. It’s the reason we’d quicker agree that the Beatles are more important to the world of music than Hugh Masekela… packaging rather than quality.