The financial gains the Africa Super League is set to provide will give smaller clubs improved hopes of continental glory, according to the chief executive of Tanzanian club Simba.
The new competition was launched by the Confederation of African Football (Caf) this week and is scheduled to start in the 2023-24 campaign, running from August to May alongside the existing African Champions League.
Each of the 24 clubs participating in the Africa Super League will receive $2.5m (£2.06m), with the winners getting $11.6m (£9.56m), and all of Caf’s 54 member associations will pocked $1m.
“The primary investment that Caf is making via the solidarity fund for federations is what will boost national football,” Simba’s Barbara Gonzalez told BBC Sport Africa.
“To be competitive in these international competitions comes with the investment. Now that they’re investing heavily, everyone has an appetite. And now we have a fighting chance.”
The dominance of the top-tier Champions League by North African sides – who have won 10 of the past 12 titles – has in part been attributed to their clubs being well funded.
Yet the current competition’s prize purse of $12.5m is only available for the top 16 teams, who contest the group stage, from an initial pool of over 50 clubs who register to compete.
The cost of entering can be a huge financial burden for many across Africa, with Hamdi Meddeb, the chairman of Esperance de Tunis, pointing to costs of $100,000 to charter some flights around the continent.
Caf wants to fix this using the Super League, which is backed by world governing body Fifa, where a $100m prize fund is promised.
“One of the biggest problems of the top African clubs participating in the current Champions League is they spend a lot of money on transport and accommodation,” Caf president Patrice Motsepe said.
“And when they win money, what they get does not justify or compensate for the huge expenses they’ve undertaken.
“So the first 24 clubs that we want to be part of the African Super League, we will give them a contribution every year of $2.5 million to use.”
There are fears, however, that the Super League’s elite 24-team format will widen the gap between the already well-funded clubs, who could earn even more, and the rest of the continent.
North African clubs Al Ahly (Egypt), Wydad Casablanca (Morocco) and Esperance (Tunisia) have won the past six Champions League titles between them, while DR Congo’s TP Mazembe and South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns are the only Sub-Saharan clubs to have won the competition since 2005.
However, Gonzalez believes the Africa Super League will help bring parity.
“How can we start to compete with Al Ahly or Wydad if they’re getting significantly more financing in the competitions they are involved in and from the stages that they reach?” she said.
“It [the Africa Super League] is going to narrow the gap because of the investment in the solidarity fund that will take place across all countries.”
Big promises, scant details
While the Africa Super League launch in Tanzania was big on monetary promises it lacked detail, for example on the source of funding, especially after Caf reported a loss of over $40m in its recent audited accounts.
There are also questions around how promotion and relegation will be handled, what happens to the Champions League, which will be relegated to a lower rung in the hierarchy of African club football, and the impact on the domestic game.
Cape Town City FC owner John Comitis is not a proponent, calling the project a “super-silly idea”.
“The Super League will kill African club football,” he warned. “You can switch off the lights on the domestic leagues.”
Some clubs, like fellow South Africans Kaizer Chiefs, have taken a more measured approach.
“Certainly, some key issues and details needs to be considered and looked at,” Kaizer Chiefs marketing director Jessica Motaung told BBC Sport Africa.
“What came out of the launch is there still needs to be engagement. I can only wait for our league and our federation to engage us.
“It’s really a lot of money being invested. The landscape has changed tremendously. And the concern is also the cost of having teams playing in the tournament.
“If you’re playing in your local league and you’re playing in this Super League, what’s the impact? One must look at all the implications to make a commitment, but certainly something interesting is on the table.”
Domestic impact and possible transfer boost
The impact a third continental tournament could have on the annual club calendar is a concern shared by Gonzalez.
“You’re always having a balance trying to do well in your local competition, because that’s what gives you the fame, the popularity,” Gonzalez explained.
“The continental competitions are just icing on the cake, right? It’s the frosting.
“But if we don’t do well in our [domestic] competitions, we’ll lose sight of this entire project. I think a few things need to be ironed out. But the concept is there. The intention is good.”
As clubs wait on more details – which Caf says it will share in coming months – Gonzalez says the Super League could help African clubs retain their top talent, or getting higher transfer fees when players move on to Europe or elsewhere.
“The Africa Super League is addressing a couple of problems, primary the financing problem,” the Tanzanian said.
“Secondary is the exposure. By having all this exposure for African players in the Africa Super League, our players will be known in Brazil, in Colombia, in the US, and that has never happened before.
“What makes [Erling] Haaland and Cristiano [Ronaldo] famous is the fact that every single person everywhere in the world is watching them.
“Why aren’t our players getting the same attention? Because there’s no broadcasting. With the right exposure, our players can be sold double, triple, quadruple the values.”