Are South African Clubs now taking Caf Clubs Confederations Tournaments serious?
Well, if the recent comments by the different participating teams is anything to go by, then at long last the country is surely becoming part of international (African) community. Wits, SuperSport United and Platinum Stars are looking to draw inspiration from the achievements of Caf African champions league champions, Mamelodi Sundowns, as they continue with their campaigns this weekend.
Wits coach Gavin Hunt who has succeeded locally but has been viewed as having a lukewarm attitude towards Caf competitions has allayed these fears by promising to target Group stages of the Champions League. The Students are scheduled to play Al Ahly in a CAF Champions League first round, first-leg tie at the Al-Salman Stadium on Saturday evening and Supersport United play Al-Ahly Shendi in Sudan on Sunday.
Meanwhile, defending champions Sundowns remain focused and hungry to continue the journey of success.
Sundowns became the second South African club to win both the Champions League and Super Cup after Orlando Pirates won the Champions League in 1995 and the Super Cup in 1996. Be reminded that although Kaizer Chiefs lost the Super Cup in 199 after they won the Confederation Cup (by then called-Mandela Cup in 2001), this shows that the South African big three clubs no minnows when it comes to Caf tournaments. In the last decade Orlando Pirates have been the only club which has participated with seriousness hence they played and lost in the finals of the Champions League and Confederation Cup in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
Who will win it this time, and how will the South African teams fare?
Unlike, some of their neighbors, or part of the whole of Africa, South African Premiership League clubs come from one of the richest leagues in the world, it is quoted as being the 7th richest leagues in the world. They really need to set the precedent when it comes to these continental competitions. The difference between South Africa and most African leagues is not only of professionalism, but also salaries paid to players. South African league is popular, and even capable of generating lot more money.
Sundowns are again well placed for African success, the first by virtue of their experience and the knowledge and expertise of their coach Pitso Mosimane and his technical staff, second because of their wealth brought in by their President Patrice Motsepe hence have ability to buy top players and the current bench of unquestioned Champions League pedigree.
The success of Mamelodi Sundowns in Champions League, Super Cup and the experience in the Club World Cup in Japan has had an unbelievable influence not only to the Sundowns club and particularly players judging by their thereafter performance but this success and experience also has had an impact on all the other top clubs like Kaizer Chiefs and Wits who had in the past not shown that seriousness on Caf tournaments. At the announcement of the Kaizer Chiefs-Toyota car sponsorship announcement, Kaizer Chiefs boss Kaizer Motaung, promised Toyota South Africa CEO Andrew Kirby that he will see him in Japan as Chiefs will qualify through winning Champions League for the Toyota FIFA Club World Cup. This is the best message from Kaizer Chiefs, well done Mr. Motaung!!
I spoke to Wits University CEO Jose Ferreira about their preparedness to compete and make an impact in the Champions League, he assured me they are serious and judging by the players they have one believes them and their Coach Gavin Hunt publicly said he is eyeing the Group stages. What a commitment from both these top clubs.
The other big club Supersport United commitment has never been questionable as they have always taken African football very seriously given their holding company Supersport’s very big direct investment to Africa and their Chairman Khulu Sibiya comments.
Mamelodi Sundown boss Patrice Motsepe and Orlando Pirates boss Irvin Khoza political will to Africa sets them apart and are unquestionable to their seriousness to South African government agenda to Africa.
The other participating team in 2017 is Platinum Stars, although their principals are very rich, they are still the so called small club because they also still play small, by releasing their best and experienced player focusing on youth to compete at this big level. Judging by comments of Platinum Coach Cavin Johnson and CEO Senzo Mazingisa they are serious about their participation in the Confederation Cup.
After all is said and done, out of the four teams participating this weekend only Sundowns knows and is really ready for the Caf tournament given their experience and organization, these other clubs will be found out as they play starting this weekend.