European Super League: Mixed reactions from Africa

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The news that 12 clubs have signed up to join a new European Super League (ESL) has drawn almost universal condemnation – from fans, players, politicians, administrators – and even royalty.

However, the reaction from around Africa has been a little more mixed .

While there have been some against the idea, others have welcomed it.

For example, former Cameroon defender Sebastien Bassong is philosophical about the proposal – while South Africa’s all-time leading scorer Benni McCarthy is not happy with the news.

Philosophical Bassong

Former Tottenham and Cameroon player Sebastien Bassong
Former Cameroon defender Sebastien Bassong played for Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League

So far 12 of Europe’s top clubs have agreed to join the new ESL, including six from the English Premier League – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham.

The Premier League clubs will join AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid.

Former Tottenham player Bassong said he can understand why the clubs want to break away.

“I’m not surprised that the clubs are trying break out and create that Super League,” he told BBC Sport Africa.

“Change always brings criticism. There are two different sides to it, so it depends what angle you are taking. Because if you are part of a big club, a big institution that has lost a lot of money in recent times, you just want to make your money back.

“I think I understand why they’re trying to do it. But also if you are a small club, it would be awful – because that would kill their hope and their aspiration to grow.

“The big dogs want to stay big and they don’t want to be caught up by the smaller ones who want to cut that gap. I really think that it’s like life now. With capitalism, the rich want to stay rich, and the others are trying to catch up.”

Torn Bong

Nottingham Forest and Cameroon's Gaetan Bong
Cameroon’s Gaetan Bong plays for two-time European champions Nottingham Forest in the English Championship

Bassong’s compatriot Gaetan Bong, who plays for two-time European champions Nottingham Forest, can also see both sides of the argument.

“I’m in between because I love change because I always think that, as human beings, we always have like evolution, we always have to keep going,” he told BBC Sport Africa.

“But at the same time when you love something you don’t want to change it too much, because in the end it’s not what you had.

“I think it’s about a good balance. We love football, we don’t want to destroy it, we don’t want to end it and we always want it to become better – find a better way to solve the problems.

“I enjoy watching big games with the big clubs – because I like the show. I think every fan wants to see the big ones.

“But at the same time football is about competition, it’s about sharing.

“It is about the small clubs against the big ones and you’re hoping that the small ones can beat them.”

He is also concerned that too many big games means they will simply become less significant.

“We might maybe have some big games but when there is no really consequence then I don’t really think that it’s the same football, because I know what it is like when you are playing with pressure with a consequence behind that match.”

Unhappy McCarthy

Benni McCarthy
Former South Africa striker Benni McCarthy won the European Champions League with Portuguese side FC Porto

Former South Africa striker McCarthy played for Dutch side Ajax and Portugal’s FC Porto – both former European champions who have not been invited to the ESL.

He is worried about the future of smaller teams.

“In my humble opinion it’s very wrong, and it shouldn’t happen,” he said.

“It would disrupt the regular season, the regular league and also it will affect the smaller teams in the lower divisions.

“It is a bit of an unfair advantage and I can’t believe the bigger teams have signed up they are already strong as it is and this will give them an extra dimension.

“I really hope that the Premier League doesn’t allow the bigger teams to join forces in this Super League. In a few years time I can see a lot of the smaller teams in the smaller leagues just disappearing.

“I would be delighted that they (his former club FC Porto) hadn’t been invited. How are you going to look down on the other clubs that aren’t involved?

“It couldn’t have come at a worse time and it looks they (the ESL teams) are trying to benefit from this whole Covid-19 saga to enrich themselves and say ‘who cares about the rest of the world?’

“I genuinely hope this thing doesn’t go through because it is exciting as it is, with teams fighting it out to win the league to qualify for the Champions League.

“That’s where you get an opportunity to play against the best and the biggest teams in the world.”

Warning from Zakuani

The former DR Congo captain Gabriel Zakuani said he felt sorry for the fans, the managers and the players who have not been consulted in this process.

“It is incredible that the fans did not have a say in this first of all and just the fact that they (the clubs) had the audacity to sign up for this without the knowledge of everyone, and it just to me just smells of greed,” he told BBC Sport Africa.

“Football in this country depends on the supporters as they make the clubs and I just feel that is sort of betraying the supporters and following where the money is.

“I saw the interview with (Manchester Untied manager) Ole Gunnar Solskjear on Sunday and he was sort of a rabbit caught in the headlights he didn’t know what to what to say about it.

“He couldn’t really go against what the club have agreed to, and it puts everyone in an uncomfortable position. It has sort of lost a bit of integrity and morals.”

Gabriel Zakuani
Gabriel Zakuani is a former DR Congo captain and played at three Africa Cup of Nations tournamnents

Zakuani, who spent most of his career in the lower leagues in England, says the sport is in danger of losing some of its unpredictability.

“I think we know how the Premier League works and it is for the people and I feel that now it’s trying to go that extra mile to make as much (money) as they can,” he pointed out.

“People want to play in Europe through hard work – like the Leicester stories that we’ve seen, where a team comes from nowhere, wins the league and has the right to to be in Europe.

“For players in general I think it’s very difficult because nobody’s going to say ‘no’ to some more money, obviously, so that’s the situation, so they may look at it from that aspect.”

However he admits the idea of the ESL may well appeal to fans in Africa.

“If I look at it from that point of view, they (fans across Africa) want to see the best players every week so it’s perfect for marketing,” he pointed out.

“Fans in countries all over the world, and I know Africa first hand, they would love this they would love to see all the top teams play each other everyday.

“For the game where these clubs have come from and the people paying the money week in and week out, they should have a say in what they want to happen to their football club.

“There’ll be a lot of teams that will have fans turn their backs on them, and these are fans that have been there from day one.

“But these teams are supported globally so they will fill up that money somehow from somewhere because they are supported all over the world.”

The fans’ view

Liverpool and Senegal's Sadio Mane (left) up against Manchester City and Algeria's Riyad Mahrez
Sadio Mane’s Liverpool and Riyad Mahrez’s Manchester City have both signed up to the proposed European Super League

Indeed some fans outside Europe have welcomed the idea including Liverpool supporter John Kimbe from Uganda.

“I believe this is a fantastic idea because the quality of football being watched day in day out is going to improve every single day,” Kimbe insisted to BBC Sport Africa.

“I will be able to tune in and watch world class players playing against each other – Liverpool playing against Real Madrid – Barcelona against Atletico or AC Milan playing against Chelsea – these are the kind of games I would live for.

“If the players are happy, if the managers are happy with the arrangement then we are going for it.”

However Manchester City fan Lotan Salapei from neighbouring Kenya is completely against the proposal.

“The 19th of April of 2021, is one of the saddest days when it comes to football,” he told BBC Sport Afirca.

“I am absolutely disgusted. Football is all about competition and the moment where a team feels like they have the God given right to participate in the league, I think for me that beats the whole essence of a sport.

“I am sad about, it hate it, it is disgusting and I am really looking forward to when Uefa will take harsh laws against this.

“I am ready for anything, I am ready for relegation, I am ready for my team to be knocked off from the Champions League, or rather the Premier League because this cannot continue.

“So for me, as a city fan, my opinion is boycott the super league.”