Coach wants Chiefs to be Africa’s best

2010-04-17 00:00

CAPE TOWN — In the wake of his Cup triumph last Saturday, Vladimir Vermezovic made the bold statement that the Telkom Knockout final win over Ajax Cape Town was just the start of something bigger for Kaizer Chiefs.

“How much bigger?” I asked, “Perhaps a tilt at the championship next season”, seeking to end the monopoly of SuperSport United?

The Chiefs coach shot back: “No, the African Champions League.” Kings of the continent… the top team in Africa. This is where the coach would like to see his young side in a few years.

It is a lofty ambition for a side of limited ability, but refreshing that eventually there is a coach who has the right perspective on our football, geography and reality.

For any South African club, success in a continental competition should be considered the ultimate, yet there are few who take competing in the Confederation of African Football competitions seriously.

South Africa has been entering teams annually since 1993, yet in almost two decades of competition it has managed just two winners. Orlando Pirates won the old-style Africa Champions Cup in 1995 with an amazing away win at the Ivory Coast, and Kaizer Chiefs — who were markedly under strength, but still managed to dig deep with meagre playing resources — won the African Cup Winners’ Cup in 2001. The tournament is now defunct, but it did have the added aura of having a trophy named after Nelson Mandela.

Two titles only is a paltry return for a country of South Africa’s resources, but it’s the result of a contemptuous attitude towards African football.

Most in the local football community talk about “playing in Africa” or “going to Africa” as if it were some obscure, far-off planet and this country was somehow a detached, isolated island, and we had to tread across some imaginary water to compete in either the African Champions League or the African Confederation Cup. We are on the same continental land mass, for goodness stake.

The costs and vagaries of travel across Africa, the fear of the unknown, indeed the having to leave the “comfort zone” of home makes most South African clubs blanch at the prospect of competition. Few understand the value of being African champion or the prestige of a Champions League success.

Chiefs themselves served a three-year ban from CAF competition for pulling out midway through the competition one year because they did not fancy flying to Madagascar in the wake of some civil unrest.

Chiefs were entitled to enter the African Confederation Cup this year, but did not bother. They have since qualified for the same competition next year, by virtue of third place in the PSL last month.

Their next opportunity to play in the Champions League will come in 2012, but they will have to finish in the top two in the league next season.

South Africa’s football focus, as a product of the Anglocentric media, is far too focused on venues like Old Trafford or Anfield and other climes thousands of miles away, missing out on the reality that success in Africa is where ambitions should be set.

I will admit that European football is played at a high level and is a brilliantly packaged product, but often people here forget where we are and where our priorities should be.

It is indeed embarrassing that it takes a coach from Serbia to remind us of the real targets our clubs should be chasing. — News24.


Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and editorial director of Mzanzi Football.

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