Why Northern African clubs dominate the Continent:
Very few people can predict the record of a football competition around the world. The beautiful game is so popular precisely for this aspect. Nevertheless, the ball rolls in cycles and as the wheel of fortune, it can stop many times on one single case.
Over the years, the African Champions League has been won by 20 different teams, with Egypt’s Al Ahly earning eight titles, five of which came after the year 2000. The Cairo giants are admittedly one of the biggest clubs around, but their dominance is just another side of a more consistent hegemony: That of Northern African football, over the rest of the Continent. Since the change of the competition format in 1997, clubs from the Northern part of Africa have won 14 titles, lost in the finals four times, while nine finals have brought together two North African teams.
The 2016 Champions League winner, head coach of South Africa’s rising club Mamelodi Sundowns, Pitso Mosimane, admitted last November, that experience is the main reason why clubs from Northern Africa dominate. “They are dominating, let’s be honest, if you look at the number of times teams from North Africa have won it [the Champions League],” Mosimane is quoted as saying by KickOff.com. But experience can’t be the sole ingredient for success for North African clubs in the Champions League.
Large financial means
Modern football, and this is no secret, is built on huge piles of money invested directly into the veins of the clubs and national teams. With the exceptions of South Africa, Congo DR and maybe the spatial rivals Al Hilal and Al Merreikh in Sudan, very few football ecosystems around Africa can compete with the financial empires built in the North. Al Ahly, Zamalek, Espérance Tunis, Wydad and Raja Casablanca, USM Alger, and many other clubs can rely on consistent, unceasing and well placed sums coming from partnerships with large industrial groups.
Finances are also related to the large amount of money injected directly by the club supporters. Even though the commercialization is not at the top of worldwide standards, stadiums are fully packed. Champions League fixtures are viewed as the real deal by the fans, and thus they make the stands almost move to put pressure on the opponent. On the other hand, Mamelodi Sundowns fans hardly filled one stand during the 2nd matchday of the current Champions League against Wydad Casablanca. Although since 2011, security issues have made it difficult for clubs in Egypt and Tunisia to host their opponents in packed stadiums, attendance elsewhere has compensated in a very fine way.
Northern African clubs can also rely on a very large infrastructure. The amount of facilities makes the preparation of the clubs reliable and the games are held in stadiums that reach the peak of their capacity. Even clubs from smaller cities can play in stadiums in their own respective grounds, without having to move to bigger stadiums, and hence leave hundreds of their fans on the way.
Quicker and earlier exodus of young talents
Africa is one of the main providers of football talents around the world. However, in the 80’s and 90’s, footballers that made the headlines in clubs competitions, waited until they reached the age of 20, maybe more, to join bigger and more important leagues, especially in Europe. However, as scouting networks expand, young African talents are joining European clubs at a younger age, resulting in a shortfall of good players implemented in first teams.
With seven teams from Northern Africa in this year’s Champions’ League Group stage –against five teams from the rest of the continent- there are real chances that this campaign may result a third win in a row. Otherwise, a victory from one of the clubs coming from sub-Sahara will, undoubtedly be an achievement, but very far from those which reverse the trend.