African Super League success tied to logistics, scarcely to popularity

30Jul 2021
Michael Eneza
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
African Super League success tied to logistics, scarcely to popularity

​​​​​​​WHAT failed to be done in Europe is about to take place in African soccer, where the leading premier league clubs are being lined up for a Super League contest.

Simba SC players prepare for a kick of one of the team's fixtures in the just ended Vodacom Premier League. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SIMBA SC

It is a tournament that is outside the calendar, as it doesn’t belong to the continental soccer federation but its structure, rules, and points of reference are likely to form consensual regulatory features of the new tournament.

It is patterned on the failed version of something of that sort in Europe that was being sponsored by a major American bank, but to no avail.

The floating of this idea has met with only a scatter of commentary from pundits in some soccer talk shows for local fans, and little or no proper organizational discussion.

It is something that concerns the clubs likely to be involved, where at the local level only Simba SC seems to make the grade to a Super League format, which suggests something like 16 or up to 20 excellent league sides and is quite uncertain that their archrivals at the starting point of Jangwani Street outfit can be considered.

Some countries will have two and perhaps three clubs on the list depending on organizers’ preferences, but that can spark trouble.

So far the idea appears to be on the drawing board, though its mooting may have been in tandem with what would have been a far more lucrative version of that idea, namely a European circuit super league.

A South American version would also be interesting as a proposal but not altogether exciting at the level of commercial outlays, as most good players feature on the European premier league circuit, which denudes clubs in other parts of the world of their best players.

It makes these countries more interesting at the national team level, as at that point often new players come up who then find their way – to the European circuit.

One gets a rather confused picture in looking at the prospective African Super League, how far it may lead to contentions as seen in Europe, and in what manner it stands a chance of being smooth, and innovative at an organizational level, rather than a detest pursuit of super-profits for some entertainment, equipment firms or others, and a speculative bank in the US as a sponsor.

Such fears have not been raised so far but they could surface, depending on how the batch of organizers conduct themselves, and how much they may have learned – or ignored – what transpired in the European Super League idea, how it then collapsed.

A distinctive aspect where the scene in Africa differs from Europe is sensitivity about the profit motive, as it carried the day in how the fans almost universally detested the idea, despite that club managements were quite often warming up to the suggestion.

A sort of variation crept up which can be compressed to something like club loyalty on the local scene, that where the fans are loyal to club leadership, the suggested tournament wasn’t too hotly contested, but where the fans have already some doubts not on the management first but the ownership, it became torrid.

Ownership was equated with profit, thus putting players in danger of excessive or auxiliary exposure to injury for a fictive high-level tournament.

These sentiments are barely audible in Africa or say in the local fan zone and pundit sphere discussions, as most supporters of Simba SC are likely to be thankful for contributions in the club by the sponsor-cum-investor Mohamed Dewji, and some may even feel that he has been making sacrifices for the club.

None of this is likely to be visible at their England namesakes, Manchester United, or ‘Red Devils’ as to their possible liking or respect for the Glazers, the US family that controls the club shares and calls the price.

The Super League suggestion more or less brought a wide-reaching revolt about ownership, but then it is decided by stock exchange rules, of purchasing at a price accepted by the seller, and no one came up.

It is this sort of revolt that would be entirely out of context if one imagines it in the African Super League contest, but there can be elements of that dissonance were it to affect the local Premier League if those organizers pick a format where two or more clubs from one country participate.

There are just a few countries in Africa where that is plausible, and even then some grading needs to be done, for North African countries, by ranking – Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria.

The other possibility is South Africa, where two or three clubs can feature in the Super League format, if one takes into account that Kaizer Chiefs were towards their two matches with local champions Simba, slotted at number seven ranking in their league.

There are also some aspects of social exposure where habits that are usual in Europe may catch up rather quickly in South Africa if similar causes exist, like if they disturbed the local league, caused injuries, etc.

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