The question of why Orlando Pirates
have excelled on the African club football scene in recent years compared to
their compatriots is a vexing one.
It is nonsense to simply put it down
to the fact that they are more ‘serious’ in their approach, though it has to be
said the vigor with which they tackle their assignments, compared to their
Soweto rivals Kaizer Chiefs, for example, should be admired.
Pirates play a crucial Group B clash
in the African Confederation Cup against Egyptian side Zamalek on Saturday
where they could take a giant step towards the semi-finals.
Their win away in Congo against AC
Leopards a fortnight ago was another display of guts in the face of adversity
and any win on the road in this competition is like gold.
Their run to the final of the
Champions League in 2013 captured the imagination of country - even those who
prefer gold and black to the skull and crossbones.
To fall short against Al Ahli is no
disgrace and it was a campaign that took some of their boys and turned them
There is no doubt the late Senzo
Meyiwa’s game improved immeasurably on the confidence and experience he built
in playing in adversity - his performance in saving two penalties in Lubumbashi
against TP Mazembe is already the stuff of South African football folklore.
And therein lies the great benefit
of competing in African club competitions, a fact acknowledged by most coaches.
Roger de Sa, who was coach of Pirates
in that 2013 run, often speaks of the times spent sitting on an airport floor,
shooting the breeze with his players and forming bonds that would knit the team
together when their backs were against the wall.
You have to have the right
personalities to make that work and Pirates did, and still do.
Pirates banded together for that
campaign, they played with pride, but also too with intelligence.
They played in many ways a different
brand of football to what they would on the domestic front, using Lennox Bacela
as a number nine for other players to feed off.
They did not try to take PSL football onto the continent, but rather picked
horses for courses and De Sa should be congratulated for that.
But since then there has been little
to inspire and the fingers have again been pointed at clubs for not treating
the continental game with respect.
Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns
competed in the African Champions League this season and to be fair, both had
very tough draws. Real stinkers.
Sundowns played TP Mazembe in the second round and despite winning 1-0 at home,
lost 3-1 in Lubumbashi. Disappointing, but not catastrophic.
Chiefs is another matter. They wasted countless opportunities in the home leg
against Moroccan side Raja Casablanca having fielded a near second-string to
lose 1-0. They lost again away 2-0 when the fight had long left them.
Yes domestic were front of their
mind in the run-in to the league championship - which they ended up claiming by
12 points - but they never approached the competition with much enthusiasm.
BidVest Wits, who competed in the
Confederation Cup along with Pirates, were even more shameful.
Winning 3-0 from the home leg
against minnows Royal Leopards from Swaziland, they played an inexperienced
line-up in the second match and lost by the same scoreline, before going out on
The cost of competing on the
continent is well known and often put forward as an excuse for
under-performance by clubs.
So my solution is simple. The teams
to compete in the African club competitions are chosen by SAFA and not the PSL.
They nominate to CAF who their entries will be for the following year.
South Africa is likely to have only
one team in each competition in 2016 due to their under-performance in recent
So give those positions to clubs who want to compete. If Kaizer Chiefs
win the league but don’t have the stomach for a Champions League campaign, give
their place to the team who finishes second, or third, or fourth - basically
the next highest placed side who wants to give it a go.
The same for the Confederation Cup, let teams who see the benefit enter, surely
that is better than having clubs compete because they feel obliged to.
Nick Said is the Business Director at Mzanzi Football.
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