In 2021, a number of elite European clubs came together to announce formation of a new European inter-club competition, The European Super League. It was heavily criticized and opposed by FIFA, UEFA, managers, players, politicians and fans. For many the competition lacked competitiveness and favoured the elite clubs because it would have only consisted of only high-ranking teams from few European countries.
Due to the negative reactions the announcement received across the globe nine of the clubs involved withdrew their interest and the remaining members announced they would reshape the project with a more open format. It was subsequently announced that the European Super League was suspending its operations. The European Super League is widely regarded as a failed project.
SO WHAT IS THE AFRICAN SUPER LEAGUE?
An idea from the FIFA President, Gianni Infantino. It is an attempt to revamp the continent’s footballing landscape. He first mentioned the idea back in 2019 during a speech which he also expressed the desire to raise $1 billion to build moderns stadiums in each of Africa’s 54 nations. Part of what he called a THREE PILLAR APPROACH to strengthen African football. Focusing on Infrastructure, Refereeing and Competitions. His plan for 20 team Pan-African league made the most of the headlines .In his words – “Such a league could make at least $200 million in revenue, which would put it among the top 10 in the world.” While he also suggested it could generate up to $3 billion over a 5 year period. Considering winning the CAF Champions League stands at just $2.5 million this is quite a claim.
This was rarely mentioned again until Patrice Motsepe, the billionaire owner of South African club Mamelodi Sundowns and reportedly African’s eleventh richest man was elected President of CAF in March 2021. Infantino had indorsed Motsepe in the build-up to the election. An endorsement which was expected to see closer cooperation between CAF and FIFA. On that same day Barbara Gonzalez, CEO of Tanzania football club Simba SC tweeted a photo with Infantino with a caption reading “The roll out of the African Super League with 20 permanent clubs is underway”. FIFA officials didn’t know Gonzalez was going to do this but it helped bring the plan back to public attention. By the summer, Motsepe confirmed talks with broadcasters had started over funding the proposed competition. Adding that CAF had learned from the mistakes of the European Super League. Within months the African Super League had gone from a little talked idea to a real possibility.
While its kind was largely disregarded in Europe, establishing a similar league in Africa arguably makes more sense. Unlike Europe which attracts the most talented footballers all over the world. It is home to globally viewed competition which generates eye watering revenue. Clubs and Federation in Africa have long struggled for investments. With the vast majority of the continent’s most talented players poached by richer European clubs and academies at an early stage. The quality of football in African nations particularly away from the power houses of Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and South Africa has suffered. This has seen many fans choose to follow the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona etc. where some of Africa’s iconic players have become legends rather than support the best clubs in their country.
CAF has also endured a revenue crises on top of this. In 2019, they scrapped a 12-year deal with international media agency Lagardère. Which was worth a reported $1 billion and had been signed just four years earlier for the rights to competitors including the African Cup of Nations and CAF Champions League following an investigation into alleged breaches into anti-competition rules. This resulted in Lagardère mounting a legal battle against CAF siting the move as “unlawful and unreasonable and unjustified” leading several broadcasters to stop telecasting CAF content all together. Situations like this only make it more difficult for supporters to follow their countries top clubs and CAF remains without a long term broadcast deal as this goes out. As for the funding of domestic competition it is clear just how big a gap there is between African nations and their European counterparts.
In 2021, the Tanzanian Premier League, one of the fasted growing competitions in Africa renewed its license with broadcaster AzamTV in a 10-year deal worth £72 million. For context the Eridivise in Holland generates £67 million in television revenue in a single season. The Dutch have less than a third of Tanzania’s population. In short African football needs much bigger investment to develop the kind of infrastructure needed to keep hold of their best talents and attract fan interest
In 2020 Rory Smith, Chief Soccer Correspondent for New York Times said “with substantial television revenue. It doesn’t seem impossible that a Pan-African league might rival one of the talent-generating leagues in Europe – like Portugal or Netherland for quality in a relatively short space of time. In theory this would increase the likelihood of the next Mo Salah playing for Al Ahly or Zamalek rather than Basel or Roma in his early tweenties. Keeping more fans interested in domestic and continental club football rather than seeking their entertainment from European game and in the long term bring in bigger sponsorship deals to African football.
But while this is an impressive idea in theory, making it happen successfully and for the right reasons is another matter. In July 2021, Patrice Motsepe said “In Africa whenever you initiate a competition it must be for the benefit of everyone. We don’t do things that excludes our people. We need funding and money for our member associations, for our youth, to develop African football. This was an attempt to stop fears that unlike its European counterparts an African Super League would only really benefit the rich clubs who participate in it. But the problem so far is there has been almost no detail as to how the African Super League will operate, how money generated from it would be distributed.
Well there seems to be an understanding that the competition would comprise of 20 permanent teams. There are also rumours that there will be four places up for grabs through regional qualification. It is also understood that the Super League will run alongside domestic leagues.
However there is no clarity as to what this will mean for the CAF Confederation Cup and CAF Champions League. Furthermore hosting such a competition in the world’s second largest continent would be challenging to say the least. Clubs playing in Africa’s current continental tournament already struggle with the extensive travel. CAF preliminary round fixtures can cost clubs around fifty thousand U.S dollars ($50,000) airfares per game. While flights between Cairo and Cape Town for example takes at least 12 hours. Requiring clubs to make such trips with more frequency would hardly be beneficial for their domestic campaigns. Expecting fans do the same would be unthinkable. Not to mention the logistics of putting together a fixture list which takes into account the raining seasons of countries close to the equator and while lucrative TV money would await participating teams there are very legitimate fears that many clubs excluded from the competition would suffer with young prospects being swallowed up by increasingly very powerful outfits.
At least 34 countries won’t even have a club in the competition. Clubs will reportedly have to pay $20 million per season for five seasons to enter. Something which will be tough even for some of the continent’s biggest outfits. According to study only five African teams all from Egypt and South Africa