SADC football moneybags take a crack at African glory

By Robson Sharuko

Harare – Two of Africa’s richest men will see their football clubs try and bring the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup trophies to the Southern African Development Community, in the same year for the first time in history, as this region continues to flex its muscles in the continent’s two biggest inter-club tournaments.

South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe, with an estimated net value of US$2.5 billion, made a rare appearance at Pretoria’s Atteridgeville Stadium on Saturday night and saw his club, Mamelodi Sundowns, overturn a 1-2 first leg deficit by beating Zambia’s Zesco United 2-0 to book their place in the CAF Champions League final.

The Brazilians will battle for the Africa’s biggest inter-club football trophy for the first time in 15 years and, just as they did in 2001 when they were outclassed 1-4 on aggregate in the final by Al Ahly, the South African champions will take on another Egyptian giant, Zamalek, in the final next month.

The first leg will be played in South Africa on October 14 with the second leg in Cairo on October 21 and this arrangement will torch controversy, in a tournament where the team playing the second leg at home usually has an advantage, given that Sundowns beat Zamalek home and away as they topped their group en-route to the semi-finals.

“I think it is correct to say Pitso (Mosimane, the Sundowns’ coach) has done wonderful work,” Motsepe – who has pumped an estimated R150 million into the club since taking over 10 years ago – told reporters amid the celebrations that erupted after the South African champions booked their place in the final.

“But nobody remembers number two.

“When you play in Africa it is a great honour to make a humble contribution towards showcasing and representing the country. We have won the league many times.

“The league is for the supporters but representing the country is a greater honour for all of us.”

Congolese millionaire Moise Katumbi, who like Motsepe has made his fortune in mining, was not at the TP Mazembe Stadium, a ground which his money helped convert into a modern facility as part of the US$35 million which he has invested in his football project, as his club TP Mazembe booked their place in the final of the CAF Confederation Cup.

TP Mazembe, who have won the CAF Champions League title three times in the last seven years and made history by becoming the first African side to play in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup where they lost to Italian giants Inter Milan, ousted CAF Confederation Cup holders Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia on the away goals rule in their CAF Confederation Cup semi-final showdown.

Katumbi, the son of a Greek Jew who fled the Nazis between the World Wars before staring a family with a Congolese woman, was not at the stadium he helped renovate – as he continues to get medical treatment in Europe amid a raging political storm back home that has dogged his bid to contest the country’s Presidential elections – when TP Mazembe secured their place in the CAF Confederation Cup final on Sunday. The wealthy businessman and politician, who has served as governor of the mineral-rich Katanga province, was this year sentenced to three years in prison, in absentia, after a Congolese court found him guilty of selling a property, which he didn’t own, without the approval of the owners.

Katumbi acknowledges he derives some of his popularity, among the Congolese people, for transforming the fortunes of TP Mazembe and turning the club into one of the most powerful and successful football teams on the continent.

TP Mazembe are the outgoing African champions but, after failing to make an impression in this year’s tournament, they dropped into the CAF Confederation Cup and now find themselves just two matches away from adding another continental silverware should they beat Algerian side Mouloudia Olympique Bejaja.

Last year, Mazembe were one of the two SADC clubs in the finals of the CAF Champions League and the CAF Confederation Cup with South African giants, Orlando Pirates, who were crowned kings of African club football in 1995, taking on Etoile du Sahel in the final of the second-tier Confederation Cup and losing 1-2 to the Tunisians.

Since 2009, a SADC football club have been in the final of the CAF Champions League six times in 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015 and this year while only missing out in 2012 as clubs from this region continue to flex their muscles after years of living in the shadows of their Northern and Western counterparts.

TP Mazembe won the CAF Champions League in 2009, 2010 and 2015 while their Congolese rivals AS Vita were beaten finalists in 2014 by ES Setif with Pirates having lost in the final, the previous year, to Al Ahly.

In 2013 TP Mazembe lost to CS Sfaxien in the final of the CAF Confederation Cup while Pirates were beaten by Etoile du Sahel in the final of the same tournament last year.

The SADC clubs have never won the two tournaments, in the same year, and after they failed last year, with Pirates failing, in the CAF Confederation Cup, to emulate TP Mazembe success story in the CAF Champions League, but the Congolese giants and Sundowns will try again this year. Sundowns coach Mosimane, a former coach of the South African senior national team, said his quest was to take his club – powered by some of the best talents in African football today, including Zimbabwean star Khama Billiat, to success in the CAF Champions League and then take on the

“We want to play against top clubs in the World Club tournament and to do that we have to win this continental tournament,” he told South African journalists.

“Sundowns are a big club and we deserve to win trophies in Africa.  We knew we can do it and now it’s up to the big game in the finals.

“People have been saying this has been the best Sundowns ever. I said which one is the best Sundowns ever? Which one? The one that went to the finals? We are in the final now.

“Did they get 71 points which is the best Sundowns ever now? That’s the question. I think the story of the best Sundowns ever must be revisited now. I know you have had (Roger) Feutmba and (Raphael) Chukwus but they never beat Chiefs. We beat Chiefs 3-1 in the final. “It’s good for the boys. It’s good for history. It’s good for Sundowns. I am happy to be part of the history at Sundowns.”