Mark Gleeson

Africa should be the pinnacle

2010-04-12 07:21
Mark Gleeson
Mark Gleeson

In the wake of his cup triumph on Saturday, Vladimir Vermezovic made the bold statement that the Telkom Knockout final win over Ajax Cape Town was just the start of something bigger for Kaizer Chiefs.

“How much bigger?” I enquired, “Perhaps a tilt at the championship next season”, seeking to end the monopoly of SuperSport United?

The Chiefs coach shot back: “No, the African Champions League”. Kings of the continent … the top team in Africa. This is where the coach would like to see his young side in a few years.

It is a lofty ambition for a side of limited ability but refreshing that eventually there is a coach who has the right perspective on our football, geography and reality.

For any South African club, success in a continental competition should be considered the ultimate, yet there are few who take competing in the Confederation of African Football competitions seriously.

South Africa has been entering teams annually since 1993 yet in almost two decades of competition, managed just two winners. Orlando Pirates won the old-style Africa Champions Cup in 1995 with an amazing away win in the Ivory Coast, and Kaizer Chiefs, who were markedly under strength, but still managed to dig deep with meagre playing resources and win the African Cup Winners’ Cup in 2001. The tournament is now defunct but it did have the added aura of having a trophy named after Nelson Mandela.

Two titles only is a paltry return for a country of South Africa’s resources but it’s the result of a contemptuous attitude towards African football.

Most in the local football community talk “Playing in Africa” or “Going to Africa” as if it were some obscure, far-off planet and this country was somehow a detached, isolated island and we had to tread across some imaginary water to compete in either the African Champions League or the African Confederation Cup. We are on the same continental land mass, for goodness stake.

The costs and vagaries of travel across Africa, the fear of the unknown, indeed the having to leave the ‘comfort zone’ of home makes most South African club blanche at the prospect of competition. Few understand the value of being African champion or the prestige of a Champions League success, and these days entry into FIFA’s new Club World Cup.

Chiefs themselves served a three year ban from CAF competition for pulling out midway through the competition one year because they did not fancy flying to Madagascar in the wake of some civil unrest.

Chiefs were entitled to enter the African Confederation Cup this year but did not bother. They have since qualified for the same competition next year, by virtue of third place in the PSL last month. Their next opportunity to play in the Champions League would come in 2012, but they would have to finish in the top two in the league next season.

South Africa’s football focus, as a product of the Anglocentric media, is far too focused on venues like Old Trafford or Anfield and other climes thousands of miles away, missing out on the reality that success in Africa is where ambitions should be set.

I will admit that European football is played a high level and is a brilliantly packaged product but often people here forget where we are and where our priorities should be.

It is indeed embarrassing that it takes a coach from Serbia to remind of the real targets our clubs should be chasing.

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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