CAF President Patrice Motsepe has revealed the African Super League will kick off in October and confirmed there will be a new name for the tournament.
On November 29, 2019, the Confederation of African Football (Caf), officially announced the introduction of the African Super League to spice up the game on the continent.
The essence of the tournament is huge financial returns, projected to exceed $100 million (60B FCFA) that will be used to improve infrastructure and promote the game on the continent.
Apart from confirming the first edition will take place before the year ends, Motsepe further stated the name will be changed to attract more sponsors.
Furthermore, the CAF administrator explained why the players should embrace the competition.
“In October this year, the inaugural Super League will commence; some people were asking for the dates, we have it,” Motsepe revealed during the FIFPRO Africa Congress in Gaborone, Botswana.
“Some of the big sponsors are saying ‘the history of the Super League in Europe was not good.’
“If you associate the name ‘super’ with a football competition, it has negative connotations. We may change the name, but what indeed is going to happen in October is the inaugural. I will keep using the name ‘the African Super League’ until we change it.
It is going to kick off; at the heart of that is to make sure there are more financial resources, more investments in football pitches, more investments in academies, more investments in the youth, and also more money for the players.
“African players, like all footballers all over the world, have a short life and as long as they are playing they have to make as much money as possible.”
The competition was initially announced in August 2022 as involving 24 teams from Central/West Africa, South/East Africa, and North Africa, in a group format of eight teams each.
However, more recent reports gotten by kick442 say the ambitious Super League plans have been pared down for the Inaugural edition to a single group of eight teams believed to include Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa), Al Ahly (Egypt), Petro de Luanda (Angola), TP Mazembe (DR Congo), Horoya (Guinea), Wydad Atheltic Club (Morocco), Simba SC (Tanzania) and Esperance de Tunis (Tunisia).
In the original announcement the winner was tipped to receive $11.6 million (7B FCFA) and each participating team would be guaranteed $2.5 million (1.5B FCFA). But with the reduction in size and scope of the tournament, prize money levels are unknown.
Caf has been working hard to ensure the competition is part of the 2023/24 season fixtures and African fans can now look forward to seeing a version of the African Super League in October.
What is the African Super League?
Fifa president Gianno Infantino launched the African Super League during his visit to DR Congo to celebrate TP Mazembe’s 80th anniversary.
However, the tournament has come to stay as it will be launched by the Confederation of African Football.
The new competition is different from the Caf Champions League and Caf Confederation Cup.
The African Super League is a tournament involving elite African football clubs.
The motive behind this new vision is the massive financial returns that will exceed the barrier of 200 million dollars (120B FCFA), with the drive to generate close to $3bn (1.8T FCFA) in revenue.
This sum of money is believed to be used to develop and improve football stadia, infrastructure and the promotion of football in Africa.
24 clubs will be drawn into three groups of eight teams ahead of a knockout starting from the Round of 16.
Also, the participating clubs would be obliged to meet specific criteria with respect to youth and women’s football development in order to stay in.
Participants will be taken from the best-ranked African clubs over the past few years, with groups to be played on a regional basis (North, Central/West, South/East).
Is the CAF Africa Super League bound to fail?
A dozen elite football teams tried to remake the competitive balance of the sport. They failed swiftly and spectacularly, but it’s naïve to think we’ve learned the right lessons from the debacle.
History will remember the European Super League as a shambolic enterprise, a supposed multibillion-dollar coup orchestrated by several of Europe’s richest football teams against the corrupt national and continental federations that made these clubs so rich in the first place.
The Super League project of April 2021 shook the football scene from top to bottom. Although the project was called into question two days later, the possibility that twelve of the most important European clubs could break the competitive pyramid and embrace a project on their own helped to trigger a debate that had long been necessary.
Beyond highlighting that these twelve clubs seek to find a formula to increase their income, a review of the current structure of competitions is inevitable if we look at two essential variables: the economic inequality between clubs; and the subsequent competitive imbalance that has been generated since the 1990s.
While at times the European Super League has been planned as a replacement for the domestic leagues and European Cup, this most recent iteration was planned as a replacement for the Champions League only, with teams still competing domestically.
The now suspended plan aimed to have 15 founding members who would have guaranteed membership.
That would leave space for 5 more teams who would have had to qualify and could be relegated. It was not clear exactly how these clubs would be chosen or whether they would be replaced every year or only if they underperformed.
Although completely foreign to European sport, this model of a closed (or majority closed) league is very common in the United States, with the NBA, the NFL, the MLS and more all operating this way.
Who would have thought that a multibillion-dollar cash grab forged in secrecy between the 12 wealthiest clubs in European football would go down so badly in the middle of a worldwide crisis and record economic inequality?
Not the brains behind the proposed European Super League, that is for sure.
Overall, as we have seen, the European Super League failed for several different reasons. Chief among those, however, is the re-emergence of a powerful new fan culture, which has led to several different protest movements that all have the healthiness of the game at their very heart. For a moment in time, all football fans came together to unite against one common enemy, something which ended up making a huge difference.
By contrast, those running football must now go back to the drawing board; in order to try and realise why the ESL proposal failed, and to fully digest the nature of the backlash that it received. This could very easily provide organisers with a roadmap of things to avoid if they try to introduce a similar plan in the future, but fans, the media, and players alike won’t be fooled the second time around either.
On this occasion, David got the better of Goliath, but we suspect this won’t be the last time these two forces fight it out for the soul of the beautiful game.
The CAF 8-team list is sure to anger some countries, especially Algeria, whose clubs have been excluded despite good performances in recent seasons.
Chabab Belouizdad have reached the quarter-finals of the last three Champions Leagues and USM Alger won the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup this season.
Enyimba have not reached the Champions League knockout stage since 2011, but it would be unthinkable to have an African Super League without the most populous country in the continent.
Mazembe are the equal second most successful club in CAF competitions with 11 titles, but have fared poorly in recent seasons, losing five of six 2023 Confederation Cup group matches.
Are sponsors backing out? Is Saudi Arabia no longer bankrolling CAF?
Saudi Arabia is in talks with the Confederation of African Football over a $200m (120B FCFA) deal to sponsor the new African Super League, in an agreement that could help to secure the continent’s support for any future World Cup bid, kick442 understands.
Caf had been due to launch the 24-team tournament that has been heavily supported by the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, in August as part of plans to raise the global profile of African clubs and generate increased revenue. The Super League, first mooted by Infantino in 2018 and announced by Caf’s president, Patrice Motsepe, is planned to have a prize fund of $100m (60B FCFA) that includes $11.6m (7B FCFA) for the winner – almost $8m (4.8B FCFA) more than currently on offer for the winners of the African Champions League – and a solidarity fund bringing each of the 54 Caf member associations $1m (600M FCFA) a year towards football development.
However, kick442 understands that this Saudi Arabian cooperation will be delayed until the 2024-25 season when the sponsorship deal with Saudi Arabia is expected to begin and that a slimmed-down version featuring only eight teams will run from 17 October to 30 November this year. Talks with Saudi Arabia are believed to have been taking place for some time and Caf announced it had signed a five-year cooperation and development agreement with the Saudi Arabian Football Federation – a move it said would “foster growth opportunities for African and Saudi Arabian football”.
They have signed a memorandum of understanding that will focus on initiatives around technical and football development at club and national-team level and in grassroots football, women’s football, talent identification, competitions, friendly matches and commercial opportunities.
“CAF is excited to work together and partner with the Saudi Arabian Football Federation to develop and grow football on our continent and globally,” said Motsepe in a statement. “There are also specific areas for mutually beneficial partnerships that we are discussing and announcements will be made in due course.”
It is understood that Caf has been struggling financially since a $1bn (600B FCFA) television and marketing rights deal with the French company Lagardère Sports was cancelled in 2019.
Saudi Arabia has been strongly rumoured to be considering an unprecedented three-continent project to host the 2030 World Cup despite Fifa’s rules preventing Asian Football Confederation nations from hosting a men’s World Cup until 2034 after the selection of Qatar for the 2022 tournament. A mooted partnership with Greece and Egypt appears unlikely after the Egyptian sports minister said his country was not planning to submit a bid before June’s deadline and it is understood Saudi Arabia now sees the 2034 edition as a more feasible option for what would be another winter World Cup given the extreme summer temperatures there.
It will host the Club World Cup in December and then the Asia Cup for the first time in January 2027.
“There is a huge will to invest in a project like this, which will give a new visibility to African football,” Infantino said of the new African Super League. “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.”
An analytical view
Kick442 reached out to renowned sports analyst, Elume Raymond, for his views on the African Super League and these are some excerpts we got on the raging social media debate.
“Unlike the majority of football fans, I was not shocked when plans for a Super League were announced, nor am I celebrating the maintenances of the existing status quo.”
“Domestic leagues have become hugely uncompetitive.”
“Clubs that have managed to carve out a superiority in their league are becoming increasingly detached from the rest of their competition, a pattern that will continue to grow as globalisation disproportionality rewards the biggest, entrenched names and increasingly leaves the rest behind.”
“Some have been quick to argue for wage caps, transfer limits and other spending caps as a means to stopping this growing divergence. Even if we ignore the unlikely legality of these measures, the gap is already too significant to close now.”
But the most powerful clubs already have the advantages in place to dominate and continue dominating even if more stringent financial doping measures are implemented. They have the huge stadiums, the global fanbase, the reputation and brand, the commercial deals, the world class academies, and more. Outside of a dystopian, communist-esque world where these clubs are forced to hand over their entire earnings and have them distributed equally, no amount of reasonable financial control is suddenly going to make a Victoria United or a PWD Bamenda as marketable or as equal competitively as an Al Ahly Egypt or a Wydad Athletic Morocco.
This is before we even consider whether such an environment is even desirable, let alone possible. “Big clubs bring together the best players in the world under the best managers in the best facilities. They create the elite game, the best of the best, which inspires fans and acts as the pinnacle of the sport.”
Supporters of a Super League often argue that the current competitions do not provide enough blockbuster matches. Big matches between heavy weights draw in by far the most viewers, with millions tuning in from around the world. The entire sport is sustained by the revenue generated by these matches.
He adds: “I’ve felt for a long time that the quality of the Champions League is too diluted to be considered a true League of Champions.”
“There are far too many low calibre matches and too many unbalanced match ups.”
“Some might argue these clubs deserve their chance to take on the big teams, but in reality what happens is these clubs come in, get heavily beaten and become the whipping boys of the group. That’s not competition and that’s not quality football.”
On the surface, there is a lot to like about these plans if you believe the two problems stated above are significant.
“A Super League could potentially solve this increasingly uncompetitive environment in two ways:
Firstly, the Super League itself, by bringing together more teams of equal ability, would be a more competitive league with several teams in with a realistic chance of winning. By competing in a league format, teams would have to truly be the best to lift the trophy and would not be able to benefit from a favourable draw.
Secondly, a Super League where teams still compete in their domestic league would, without a doubt, have a diluting affect on the quality of the top teams’ showings in their League, in a similar way to spending caps. Teams would prioritise the Super League matches, likely fielding weaker teams with more youth in their domestic leagues.
Not only would this level the playing field, breathing life back into leagues that have become stagnant and repetitive, it would also have the side benefit of giving big clubs and their academies more quality opportunities to develop their youth, something sorely needed in Africa.”
“The Super League plans suffer from one big flaw that in my opinion undermines the entire project and what its trying to achieve: Its use of a closed shop model that guarantees membership to a select group of teams.”
A closed shop model goes against the very identity of sport. Sport is supposed to be about merit, where the best get rewarded and those who fall below get replaced by those working hard to overtake them. While in the USA, they have gotten used to the same teams being in the league regardless of performance, this system is entirely alien on this continent. Fans celebrate and cherish teams that have achieved multiple promotions through their good performances.
“The way I see it, maintaining the status quo of stagnant, dead leagues with no or little competition at the top, dominated by the same teams who face each other only a handful of times a year, is not an option.Whilst justification for the Super League is inevitable in the medium term, a new competition that solves these problems is an absolute must if football is to remain the vibrant, exciting and competitive sport we all love.”
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