Johannesburg - When mining mogul and now South Africa’s richest man - Forbes says he is worth a cool $2.5 billion (R31 billion) - Patrice Tlhopane Motsepe finally secured 100% ownership of Mamelodi Sundowns in 2004, he made a few promises.
One was that he would turn the Brazilians into one of the best clubs on the continent.
Secondly, he made a commitment to make his players among the best paid on the continent.
Some laughed at this johnny-come-lately of South African football and pointed out some casualties who had previously come into the game with so much zest and tried to buy overnight success.
Despite the criticism and slow results in turning the formerly Mamelodi township-based side into a force to be reckoned with - a period in which Motsepe admittedly made some fundamental mistakes such as buying players willy-nilly, leading to jokes that he had asked his technical staff to sign one Makhaya Ntini - the pendulum started to swing in a positive direction.
Today, Sundowns are a mean force pitched as odds-on favourites to win the league title at the beginning of every season. Anyone who bets against them does so at their own peril.
Surely, within 17 years of buying the club, Motsepe has seen his goal of making 'Downs a force to be reckoned with on the continent come to fruition, what with a CAF Champions League title under their belt and an appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup.
By winning the Champions League in 2016, Sundowns caught up with Orlando Pirates. The latter became the first southern African club to win Africa’s premier club competition way back in 1995 and - up to the point of Bafana Ba’Style’s success - were still the only club from this part of the continent with that accolade.
Today, Sundowns’ players - including their coach - cruise around in some of the best and most expensive cars in the country.
It has become a rare occasion for a Sundowns player to be sold to a local club. Ramahlwe Mphahlele was one of a few in recent times when he went to Kaizer Chiefs, as most of them only move for better contracts overseas.
Not only has Motsepe invested in his club, being a philanthropist of note, he has also ploughed money into the ABC Motsepe League that is played under the auspices of the SA Football Association.
This league, which is the third tier in South African football, after the Absa Premiership and the National First Division (NFD), carries a mouth-watering first prize of a cool R1 million, whereas NFD winners only pocket R350 000.
Just as the pay-off line of SA Breweries - now AB InBev who seem to be on the verge of pulling out of all football sponsorship - used to be “we are not only here for the beer”, Motsepe seems not to be only here for the money.
And this week, he is bringing the star-studded Barcelona to these shores to play his Sundowns for the second time. This time, the match will be part of the iconic Nelson Mandela’s centenary celebrations.
Motsepe is the kind of club owner South Africa needs. Our football needs people like him and Bidvest Wits chair Brian Joffe, who pump their money in with no expectations of making a quick buck.
Also, given that age is no longer on the side of South African football strongmen Irvin Khoza (70) and Kaizer Motaung (73), South African football needs more Motsepes (56), who will come in with new ideas and revolutionise the game.
Just look at what 54-year-old Moïse Katumbi Chapwe of the Democratic Republic of Congo has done with his club TP Mazembe since becoming its president in 1997.
He has ploughed some of his $60 million net worth into turning the club into a global force. It has several Champions League titles under its belt and has appeared at the Fifa Club World Cup.
People like Motsepe and Katumbi must be welcomed with open arms into the inner circle of football and not be isolated, as sometimes happens. We need more of their kind.
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