November 22, 2010
With the FIFA Club World Cup looming, we decided to ask the question: just who are the biggest clubs in Africa? TP Mazembe have won the last two African Champions League title, this despite not having the financial muscle of some of their counterparts on the continent.
Mazembe are not poor by any means, they have a rich financial backer in the form of Moïse Katumbi Chapwe, and may yet be elevated into the Top 10 clubs on the continent.
But for now, here are MTNFootball’s biggest clubs in Africa:
AL AHLY (EGYPT)
|Egypt’s top club are the undisputed kings of African football, having won a record six Champions League titles and an award from the Confederation of African Football as the best club of the last century. Al Ahly’s roots in the struggle of Arab nationalism and their continued success on the field makes them the object of fervoured worship of an estimated 50-million across the Arabic-speaking world.|
Their derby matches with Zamalek are among world football’s most fiercely contested, although in recent years their dominance has taken some of the edge off. In Egypt, Al Ahly have won 35 league titles and 35 Egyptian Cup trophies.
They have also been the nursery of Egypt’s top talent and if they are not home produced then the club ensure they buy in the best talent, like Mohamed Aboutrika and Mohamed Barakat in recent years.
Vodafone have been their long-term backers but little is known about their income or expenditure, save for the claim they are the continent’s wealthiest club. Prime properties in Cairo attest to their wealth and an ability to entice the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid to play friendlies in Cairo another.
AL HILAL (SUDAN)
|Sudan’s most successful club have begun to show their prowess on a wider stage in recent years, having been semifinalists in two of the last four African Champions League campaigns. A tidy budget, much of it derived from match tickets which are surprisingly expensive by African standards and yet always oversubscribed, means Al Hilal have turned to Brazil in recent years for coaches and players to substantively increase their prowess.|
They have also bought from other African countries in recent years, including Nigerian fullback Yusuf Mohammed who was first choice for his country’s national team until suffering an Achilles tendon injury at the African Nations Cup finals in Angola.The club are a long standing institution in Sudan and their rivalry with neighbours Al Merreikh feeds a healthy football industry in the country. Mobile operator MTN are their headline sponsor, among the many pan-African footballing activities the South African-based company is involved in.
Al Hilal have their own stadium in Omdurman, a suburb on the eastern side of the River Nile across from capital Khartoum.
AL ITTIHAD (LIBYA)
|It is difficult to make a concrete case for the inclusion of Al Ittihad in the top 10 of African clubs, save for the patronage of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s football-playing son Saidi.
The Tripoli club has twice been a semifinalists in the African Champions League, the last time in 2007, but the patronage of Libya’s ruling family means there are resources available that provides the potential for the side to be a lot more successful.
The eccentric nature of Libya’s ruling set up means, however, there has been a steady turn over of coaches and players and little time to bed in the roots need to grow a formidable team.
Saidi Gaddafi played for the club, although whether he deserved to be in the team remained the subject of behind-the-hand sniggering.
Al Ittihad have won a Libyan record 16 league titles and enjoy strong links with Italian football, although they usually turn to eastern Europe for their coaches and regularly import players from countries like Ghana, Mali and Cameroon.
|Tunisia’s leading club have benefited for decades from close links with the country’s top figures. Former club president Slim Chiboub is a son-in-law of the north African country’s autocratic president and used his family ties to great effect for his club. Chiboub later went on to win election to the FIFA executive committee but after resigning the club leadership, quickly lost influence and was voted out after just a single term.|
Esperance, however, remain the country’s prominent club, a divisive institution widely despised for their favour and influence, even within the Confederation of African football where for decades they have sought to influence appointments of match officials and change fixtures to best suit their interests.The club have built a successful scouting system across the country and made money from serving as a stepping stone to European football for several African internationals like Obinna Nwaneri, Julius Aghahowa and Garba Lawal (Nigeria) and Kandia Traore of Cote d’Ivoire.
The club have won multiple domestic honours and all Africa’s top titles although it is now more than 15 years since they last lifted the top trophy in African club football, coming close in 2010 when they reached the final, only to be beaten 6-1 on aggregate by TP Mazembe.
Esperance have a club budget estimated at around US$10-million annually, and several headline sponsors, but their expenditure in continental club competition is covered by government grants for ‘flying the flag’.
KAIZER CHIEFS (SOUTH AFRICA)
|The South African club has just turned 40 years old but long been the most popular in the country. It was born as a breakaway from Orlando Pirates, who are now their arch rivals.
Owner Kaizer Motaung initially founded the team as a exhibition side with a few of the other top players of the day but they became so popular they were formally constituted in 1970.
Chiefs broke many barriers many during South Africa’s apartheid era that they became a symbol of the potential of black success.The were the first black team to beat white opposition, hire foreign talent (Brazilian World Cup winner Jairzinho) and attract sponsorship from the racist controlled economy.
Their current deals are worth around five-million Euros annually and the club claims a registered fan club membership of several million. They are also incredibility popular throughout the southern African region.
On the field, their dominance of recent decades has been whittled away and now Chiefs struggle to defend their position as the country’s top club.
They have won just two league titles in the last 16 years. But they continue to be leaders in marketing and their iconic club shirts are distributed worldwide by Nike as a fashion brand.
MAMELODI SUNDOWNS (SOUTH AFRICA)
|The temptation to draw parallels with Roman Abramovich are difficult to avoid even if Patrice Motsepe’s fortune is nothing compared to that of Chelsea’s Russian benefactor. The South African mining magnate has become a social celebratory in his country because of his involvement with the Pretoria-based club, in which he has invested an estimated US$10-million over the last decade.|
It is small money by European standards but is a veritable fortune in South Africa, where Motsepe buys the best players for his club and spends liberally on coaches, their former tactician, Bulgarian Hristo Stoichkov being paid some 80 000 Euros monthly last season as Sundowns sought to stop their neighbouring club SuperSport United from winning a third successive South African Premier Soccer League championship.Motsepe has broken all transfer records and pays better than any other team, adding to the frustration of playing second fiddle for a third successive season.
He rejected a renewal of a 2-million Euro sponsorship from MTN because it was half of what two other South African club were getting from a rival operator and the club has gone through two seasons now without a sponsor, Motsepe using the shirt space to instead publicise one of his charities.
The Pretoria-based Sundowns had no profile until the mid-80s when the were taken over by Soweto-based tycoon Zola Mahobe, who was later found to have made all his money from his girlfriend, a bank teller who shifted millions into his account.
ORLANDO PIRATES (SOUTH AFRICA)
|One of Africa’s oldest clubs based in Soweto, the club is today’s the personal fiefdom of Irvin Khoza. The chairman of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup Organising Committee has risen to become the ‘Iron Duke’ of South African football on the back of his passionate desire to see his club dominate the local sporting landscape.
Pirates have been perennial challengers but their last title came in 2003.
They are the only South African team to have won the African Champions Cup in 1995 but have not come close to any continental glory since.Pirates and their arch rivals Kaizer Chiefs earn an estimated annual income of some 4-million Euros in sponsorship and dominate the gate takings in the Premier Soccer League, albeit there is a dwindling attendance these days as televised sporting offerings keep many punters at home.
The league also shares its marketing and television revenue in the form of monthly grants of 100,000 Euros to each of the 16 teams in the top flight.
Pirates have a headline sponsorship from Vodacom and also backing from Standard Bank, who are also spending big with the Confederation of African Football.
Khoza has found his pre-eminent role in the transfer market usurped in recent years by the millions of Mamelodi Sundowns owner Patrice Motsepe, much to Khoza’s irritation.
RAJA CASABLANCA (MOROCCO)
|The Moroccan side were the first ever winners of the CAF Champions League after the new format was introduced in 1997.
They won the title again two years later and were runners-up in 2002 but suddenly hit on bad times and came close to relegation just a few years ago. Their success in the Morocco league in 2009 completed their recovery and restoration to a pre-eminent role in the country’s football scene.
The club have a 25-million Euro budget, including share of TV rights in their country and considerable sponsorship.Effective marketing has allowed the club to display the logos of six different companies on their kit, dominated by their major backer Siera (an electronic goods manufacturer), and have more than 20 further associative sponsorships.
The income allows the clubs to regularly employ coaches from Europe or Brazil and import talent from west African countries. But the club also has a long tradition of nursing talented kids through its academy and many of Morocco’s top internationals over the years have had their formative years in Raja’s junior structures.
There is now a permanent academy and school for some 22 players and a further 500-odd who play in age group competition. The club’s president is elected, with the powerful Abdellah Rhallam a strong figure at the helm of the club.
ST GEORGES (ETHIOPIA)
There is no substantive evidence to justify a place for the Addis-Ababa based club among the top 10 African clubs, save for the passionate interest in the team from Mohamed Al Amoudi.
Renowned for his philanthropic deeds throughout Ethiopia, the billionaire has been pumping money into the club, notably a new US$80-million stadium. He is ranked by Forbes among the world’s top 100 richest businessmen, monopolising the Ethiopian economy and also holding considerable interests in Sweden and Saudi Arabia.
It is a frequent complaint that his money means St George dwarf all the other clubs in Ethiopia’s premier league, as their recent ninth premier league title in 13 years indicates.
They have a Serbian coach and imported players from Uganda but nether come at great costs. Presumably Al Amoudi would spend a lot more on coaching and playing resources were football in Ethiopia more competitive.
Competing the African Champions League does now give him a reason to up the ante somewhat and make St George more of a pan-African force. It is a club with a long tradition, widely supported because of its roots in Ethiopia’s efforts to free itself from Italian invaders in the 1930s and 40s.
|The Egyptian club are considered the aristocrats of their domestic football, compared to the more popular appeal of their arch rivals Al Ahly, but this is a misnomer as the exclusive allure of the club comes from their fancy address rather than their fan base.
Zamalek is an exclusive suburb in Cairo, an island on the Nile populated by embassies and fancy hotels
Ironically, Zamalek’s club grounds are just off the island on the northern banks while their rivals Al Ahly have a piece of prime property on the island itself. Zamalek were the first side to win five African Champions League titles but have since been overtaken by Ahly.It has been eight years since their last continental triumph and six years since they last won the Egyptian league. The lack of success has been the cause of much turmoil, notably in the board room and in the coaching department where incumbents have come and gone with frightening regularity.
Frenchman Henri Michel was recently fired for the second time, his latest tenure lasting but a few impatient months.
Mamdouh Abbas is the latest Zamalek president, triumphing in a US-style campaign last May for a second stint at the helm of the club. He is a billionaire businessman who will soon need to put some of his personal fortune into the club as Zamalek start to lag behind.
Who is Africa’s Top Club?
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