Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images.
What You Need To Know About the African Football League
From the trail of controversy and cynicism to the teams vying for the inaugural title and prize money, catch up on Africa’s new football tournament, set to debut on Friday.
Football is one of the best-paying sports we have in the world, with many established players making millions of dollars — especially in Europe.
Saudi Arabia is also coming up, enticing superstars with mega deals that have made them ditch European football.
To make the game more entertaining and attractive to the stakeholders, there were suggestions in Europe to start a new competition which would be called the Super League. The tournament would have had 80 teams that would enjoy massive financial returns.
However, FIFA and UEFA were not keen on accommodating the competition and warned clubs interested that there would be dire consequences.
Despite shooting the project down in Europe, back in Africa, FIFA president Gianni Infantino and CAF president Patrice Motsepe, were keen on executing the idea.
Justification for having the Africa Football League
FIFA's president, Infantino, argued the new tournament would be a plus to Africa since it would expose them to the world and pay the club handsomely.
“There is a huge will to invest in a project like this, which will give a new visibility to African football,” the 53-year-old stated.
“The growth of African club and national team football contributes to the growth of world football. The competition will benefit each and every country, not just with the solidarity payment, but the exposure for African football," Infantino continued. “We have to take the 20 best African clubs (which was later reduced to eight) and put them in an Africa league. Such a league could make at least $200m in revenue, which would put it among the top 10 in the world.”
During the 44th Ordinary General Assembly held in 2022, CAF's president, Motsepe, further explained how participants would benefit from the project.
“What we are planning to do in the African Football League is to give each of the [participating clubs] $2.5 million which should be used to buy players and assist with transport."
“The success of club football is based on commercial viability. The Africa Football League, for us, is the most important intervention for the development and advancement of football in Africa," Motsepe continued. “African clubs have never had a good foundation financially to keep some of the best players in Africa to stay. We [also] need to get spectators excited about watching local football, so it is as good as watching football anywhere in the world.”
“It is a super silly idea”
Former Simba SC CEO Barbara Gonzalez was among those who welcomed the idea, “This is a great idea to have another tournament where teams can play and also make money. But let us wait for more details about the tournament. Football is about business and every time more money is coming in this is very positive. As a Club we are very happy that the Africa Super League has now been launched and we can't wait for it to start next year,” she stated.
“This is a great idea to have another tournament where teams can play and also make money. But let us wait for more details about the tournament,” Kaizer Chiefs Marketing Director Jessica Motaung seconded her.
However, not everyone was excited about the new project, “It is a ‘super silly idea’. The Super League will kill African club football. You can switch off the lights on the domestic leagues,” Cape Town City owner John Comitis opined.
The name was later changed from African Super Cup to African Football League with the number reduced to eight after complaints from the unnamed sponsors.
Which teams will play in the first edition?
CAF opted to go with eight teams. To achieve that, the organizers made a decision to pick one team from the top-ranked leagues on the continent.
CAF Champions League champions Al Ahly are among the teams that will be in the inaugural competition. The Red Devils have won the Egypt domestic league 43 times, 11 CAF Champions League titles, four African Cup Winners’ Cup, a CAF Confederation Cup and eight Caf Super Cups.
The Moroccan outfit, Wydad Casablanca, is another team joinning the Africa Football League. The North Africans, who are nicknamed the Red Castle, have won the Botola Pro League 22 times. They have three CAF Champions League titles, an African Cup Winners’ Cup and the CAF Super Cup.
Percy Tau of Al Ahly SC and Yahia Attiyat Allah of Wydad AC during the CAF Champions League Final match between Wydad AC and Al Ahly SC at Stade Mohamed V on June 11, 2023 in Casablanca, Morocco.Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images.
Esperance is the third team that will have the privilege to dine with the big boys in Africa. The Blood and Gold have 32 Tunisian Ligue Professionnelle 1 trophies, four CAF Champions League titles, one African Cup Winners’ Cup, CAF Cup, and a CAF Super Cup.
South African giants Mamelodi Sundowns are also selected to battle for the maiden title in the Africa Football League. The Brazilians have in recent years dominated Mzansi football, winning the last six Premier Soccer League titles in a row to take their tally to 16. The Rhulani Mokwena-led team won the 2016 CAF Champions League as well as the CAF Super Cup a year later
The fifth team in the list is Tout Puissant Mazembe, or TP Mazembe as they are commonly referred to on the continent. The Congolese outfit has won their domestic league for a record 19 times, five CAF Champions League trophies, African Cup Winners’ Cup, two CAF Confederation Cups and three CAF Super Cups. The Ravens were also the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup runners-up after falling to Inter Milan in the final.
Nigeria will be represented by Enyimba Football Club. The People’s Elephant are the nine-time Nigerian Professional Football League champions, two time CAF Champions League winners and CAF Super Cup champions on two occasions.
Enyimba International FC's players pose for a team photo ahead of the CAF Confederation Cup Group D matchday 6 football match between FC San-Pedro and Enyimba International FC at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan on Febuary 2, 2020.Photo by Credit: ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP via Getty Images.
Simba SC are the only team from East Africa. Wekundu wa Msimbazi have won the Tanzania Mainland League 22 times. Despite their rich regional history, Simba have not won any continental crown but they reached the 1993 CAF Cup final but fell to Ivorians Stella Adjame.
Finally, Petro Atletico of Angola completes the initial list. The Os Tricolores have been a force to reckon with in domestic competitions. They have won the Angolan League 17 times, but just like Simba, they don’t have any continental titles.
Which format will CAF employ and when will the competition start?
The draw was done on September 2 in Cairo, Egypt. CAF Champions League holders Al Ahly were paired against Simba SC of Tanzania while the runners-up Wydad Casablanca were handed Nigeria’s Enyimba.
South African heavyweights Mamelodi Sundowns must get past Angolans Petro Atletico with TP Mazembe getting Esperance of Tunisia.
Pirate's South African midfielder #26 Bandile Shandu (R) vies for the ball with Sundowns' South African midfielder #33 Thapelo Maseko (L) during the Premier Soccer League football match between Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on September 20, 2023.Photo PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP via Getty Images.
The teams will play a two-legged tie on home and away basis with an aggregate winner making it to the semi-final. The first leg will be played between 20th and 21st of October while the second one is scheduled for October 24 and 25.
The semi-final, which will be two-legged as well, will be played on October 29 and November 1 while the first-leg of the final is set for November 5 with the second one to be played six days later.
The overall winner will bag $4 million while the runners-up will walk home $3 million richer. Semi-finalists will be rewarded $1.7 million with those going home after the first hurdle making $1 million.
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