It is done. In 2023, CAF will launch the Superleague, which will bring together the best teams on the continent. Good or bad news for African football?
Everything had been done for it to see the light of day in Europe. But it is indeed in Africa that the Super League will finally be experienced. It was one of the promises made by Patrice Motsepe to Gianni Infantino during the election for the presidency of the Confederation of African Football (CAF): against support from the boss of FIFA, the South African had assured the latter that would do anything to set up the African Super League. To thank him, Infantino then promised the Mamelodi Sundowns FC club in Motsepe that he could participate in the elite competition.
It didn't take long for the South African to become Infantino's messenger again. After just over three months at the head of CAF, Motsepe had finally put his African Superleague proposal back on track. Then, last November, the members of CAF, during an Extraordinary General Assembly in Cairo, had "recognized the potential advantage of a pan-African superleague and encouraged the Executive Committee of CAF to continue its study and its investigations in order to to finalize its plan for the launch of the competition.
Crazy sums at stake
In reality, the study on the question did not really take place, because the process was already started. It was then a question of setting up a closed league comprising 24 teams, which would each receive 1 million dollars, just for their participation. With the key for the winning team, a sum of up to 10 million dollars.
This Wednesday, August 10, in Tanzania, the boss of CAF finally announced the launch of the Superleague. This will take place in 2023, for its first edition. The 24 teams selected will come from sixteen African countries.
"African club football must be able to compete with the best," argues Patrice Motsepe. A funny way of seeing things: in Europe, the same elite league project had been abandoned. In Africa, Motsepe should not meet the same resistance as in Europe: the sums promised by the boss of CAF are indeed tempting.
But the finalization of the African Superleague once again raises the question of FIFA's control over CAF. Because the competition is well out of the brain of Gianni Infantino. In November 2019, the FIFA boss, on a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, had mentioned this project for the first time, before it was confirmed in February 2020 in Morocco.
A death warrant for smaller clubs?
The feasibility study launched in 2021 was therefore only a formality for Motsepe, which can now launch its Superleague which will include three groups of eight teams, before the playoffs for the first in each group.
It remains to be seen what the consequences will be for African football. If the objective is to “compete with the best”, several questions remain unanswered. The first concerns the calendar: will the national teams still have enough time to prepare for the African Cup of Nations? The CAN and the African Nations Football Championship (CHAN) will they still have an interest?
Above all, won't the Superleague financially cannibalize African football? A budget of 97 million euros should be allocated to it, thanks to sponsors and substantial broadcasting rights. But the windfall will always go – or almost – to the same clubs. What about training? Smaller clubs? And especially from the African Champions League, which will bring in much less than the Superleague.
Former Cameroon star Roger Milla came out of his silence to question CAF's decision. “It would probably have been better to improve the two competitions that already exist (the Champions League and the CAF Cup, editor's note). With this Superleague, I am afraid that they will on the contrary be less and less attractive, ”he says.
The only solution for African football would be to oblige the clubs participating in the Superleague to pay funds to the national federations. But that doesn't seem to be the spirit of competition envisioned by Infantino and Motsepe, who are driving a wedge between low-key clubs and the continent's most successful sides.