For the fifth time in their history, Congolese football club TP Mazembe has won the CAF Champions League- the most prestigious club football title on the continent. The club from DR Congo defeated Algeria’s USM Alger to win their fifth African title 47 years after they won the first. While winning the CAF Champions League is a great indicator of success and a measure of progress, TP Mazembe’s growth and success has been obvious for years.
Dominant in DR Congo where they have won nine of the last 14 domestic titles, the club has grown over the years, showing that it could be dominating African football for time to come. In 2010, TP Mazembe retained the Champions League title it won the year before to become the first African club to win the title back to back on two occasions after first doing so in 1967 and 1968. The triumph in 2010 also meant TP Mazembe booked a ticket to the Club World Cup – a competition between the world’s continental champions.
Typically, African teams hardly make an impact at the event and TP Mazembe had placed 6thjust the year before hence expectations were not sky-high, but the Congolese had other ideas as they defeated Pachuca and Internacional, champions of North and South America, to reach an unlikely final where they lost to the champions of Europe, Inter Milan. After prior years of being mired in a devastating conflict driven by ethnic differences that claimed more than five million lives, TP Mazembe had completed a magnificent turn-around.
The Abramovich of Africa
Much of their success has to be attributed to owner, Moise Katumbi, who has drawn comparisons with Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Katumbi’s influence on the club changed their trajectory. Extensively investing in the club, Katumbi has spared no cost as TP Mazembe offer the highest salaries on the continent to attract the best local talent and keep them at the club- reversing the trend that sees African talent seek lucrative moves to Europe.
Tresor Mputu, one of the leading Congolese players of his generation, is a key example. Rumoured to be paid as much $10,000 weekly at some point, Mputu ignored overtures from bigger European clubs including Arsenal.
Katumbi also served as governor of Katanga province from 2007 until this year and he sought to use football as a social program to engage young people in the province- as a result, TP Mazembe operate youth academies as they look to train the next generation.
“We have over 2,000 boys at our academy, training to be the next Messi, to be the next Ronaldinho. I like doing social programs for the people, that’s why I’m in soccer. Soccer is social. I don’t like anyone to suffer,” Katumbi has said. “Soccer is something very good for the kids to do to stay out of doing bad things. They can help the country, the national team, and help also their families, because today you can see the money that is going into soccer is crazy.”
While the long-term goal is for TP Mazembe to be self-sustaining, Katumbi has spared little expense in setting them up as Africa’s leading and richest club. The club owns it own stadium which was completed in 2011 at the cost of $35 million. While other African clubs deal with sever logistics problems as they travel across the continent to play football matches, TP Mazembe has two private jets. Self-sustenance may be a long term goal but with annual revenues reaching $15 million – most from matchday earnings at the stadium- the club is well on its way.
TP Mazembe’s CAF Champions League win has earned them another shot at taking on other continental champions, including European giants, Barcelona. In 2010, they stole the headlines for going all the way to the final. This December, should they repeat the same feat, it will be less of a surprise.