By Andrew Bonani Kamanga
Club football in Southern Africa is fighting a valiant fight in the premier continental club competition, the African Clubs Champions League.
The establishment, development and sustenance of club football is fundamental to the overall development of the beautiful game in Southern Africa.
The need to raise the standard of administration and management of clubs is something that the FIFA Development Officer for Eastern and Southern Africa, Ashford Mamelodi is always (what a coincidence of his surname to Mamelodi Sundowns).
The veteran football and sports administrator based in Botswana has criss-crossed the region, working over the past decade or so to raise the standard of the game in the region.
His gallant efforts have not been in vain as some national football associations are slowly taking heed of his advice to prioritize grassroots development as well as club development.
When you look at the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Club Champions competition, one can ask why is it that the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) has not come up with a club tournament for the region.
It would be great for the region if there could be a clash amongst the likes of Petro Atletico of Angola, Dynamos of Zimbabwe, ZESCO of Zambia, Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates (RSA) as well as Ferroviaro and Maxaquene of Mozambique.
Such innovation would provide players with an additional platform to show case their skills and benchmark against their peers. Inviting guest clubs from other parts of Africa or even the world would not really be a bad idea to spice up the competition. Even the FIFA Club competition, held mostly in Japan, is very much anticipated event.
The fact that two clubs in Southern Africa, Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa and ZESCO FC of Zambia, have been competing in the recently held semi-finals of the CAF Club Champions League is clear testimony that there is some progress in Southern African football. It is, after all, certainly not all doom and gloom. However, it is difficult to clearly attribute this positive development to the relevant national football associations, the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) and the South African Football Association (SAFA), respectively, or even to COSAFA. The national and regional associations must continue to play a dynamic role, providing visible leadership in capacity building for clubs and grassroots football development.
Mamelodi Sundowns FC have, more than anything, benefited from the largesse and generous financial support of Patrice Motsepe, one of Africa’s successful entrepreneurs. Most Southern African clubs have not been this fortunate.
The rise of Southern African clubs should not be by luck, which is what it seems like now, a fluke. Sustained development is something that COSAFA must prioritize then they can say with certainty that indeed it is through their concerted efforts that Southern African football has made giant strides. Football clubs and national teams in the region need to be technically equipped to raise their performances.
Raising the level of performance of club and national teams does not have to be a ridiculously expensive exercise. Brazil, Germany and Spain have been able to dominate European and world football recently due to their well-developed junior development programmes and club structures. Brazil has been a dominant force in world football, winning the FIFA World Cup, five times, because the passion for the game and a culture of excellence exist at levels from grassroots to elite. It is not just a question of money but utilizing available resources and goodwill. Given the past dominance of North and Western African clubs, it will probably be another ten or fifteen years again before we see Southern African clubs competing in the semi-finals or finals of the CAF Club Champions League.
This is due to lack of comprehensive development planning on the part of the clubs themselves and inadequate guidance from the national and regional football authorities.
Southern African countries simply cannot expect to conquer the continent of Africa or the world for that matter, when the standard of football in their countries and the region as a whole, is very poor.
There are simply not enough junior or even club competitions in the region to provide rigorous preparation for continental and world events. Southern Africa does not have many Under 15 and Under 17 competitions to develop talent amongst boys and girls in football. But this is where the stars are born and prepared.
There is need to increase these age group or club tournaments to ensure that there is fierce competition at national and regional level before venturing into the continent as well as world competitions.
Invariably, Mamelodi Sundowns will be under extreme pressure to bring back the trophy after fighting Zamalek of Egypt in a two –legged final.
It is not fair to put unrealistic pressure on Sundowns. Football lovers and even the most ardent supporters of the club should remember that winning the CAF Club Champions League is that just the cherry on the cake.
The real issue and the real cake is that, going forward, Sundowns should have robust junior talent identification and development programmes to sustain excellent performances.
Of course, Pitso Mosimane is a great coach but he will not be around every time but the conveyor belt of talent should be there all the time.
Southern Times Sport Forum wishes Mamelodi Sundowns, aka “the Brazilians” or “Masandawana”, all the best of luck against Zamalek of Egypt. It will not be easy but they have beaten Zamalek before and they should do it again!