On Saturday, the African Nations Championship will begin with a double-header between South Africa and Mozambique, followed by a clash between Mali and Nigeria. The organisers say over 10,000 tickets have been sold for a stadium with 65,000 capacity. Despite ticket prices ranging from R40 for the early stages of the competition to R200 for the most expensive in the later stages, the tournament’s marketing has been relatively subdued.
On the face of it, the competition has the right idea. It’s a relatively new concept, first played in 2009, to showcase the talent of players who feature in their country’s domestic leagues, but few football fans might even be aware of its existence or care that it exists. With many big-name stars missing from the competition, those with nothing more than a passive interest in African football are highly unlikely to have their interests piqued by the tournament.
The tournament is always an irksome distraction for many domestic teams. While the competition rolls on for around three weeks, so do some of the domestic leagues of the teams involved. South Africa had to battle some of the domestic teams for the release of their players, but the dispute was eventually settled. When an already low-profile tournament starts off by having it shrouded in squabbles, it’s hard to see how it will generate interest from the public. Other domestic seasons are on pause, which is an equally unwelcome venture for players.
Ghana is one of those sides. Ghana’s Kumasi Asante Kotoko have eight players in the national CHAN squad and the domestic team currently sits seven points clear at the top of Ghana’s Premier League table. The remaining top three clubs have a grand sum of just three players out for national duty. It means that a large chunk of players form the league leaders now have an additional workload to focus on and could very well end up injured before the resumption of the league. It’s easy to see how the competition might be irksome to some coaches and players. When it comes to looking at the bigger picture, CHAN has the right idea, but it still lacks vision in some areas and that’s not just from its organisers.
Some coaches, too, especially the South African management, have failed to see this as an opportunity for blooding youngsters and looking at some potential future players, the kind of players who will have to go on to first help Bafana qualify for the 2015 Africa Cup of nations and secondly, see what talent lurks under the radar.
The South African squad boasts some established names. Itumeleng Khune, Lerato Chabangu, Bernard Parker, Siphiwe Tshabalala and Katlego Mashego all feature, and they will hopefully attract some eyeballs, but in the greater scheme of things, this would have been the ideal platform to test out a few more youngsters in an attempt to see if they can handle the pressure.
CHAN is, for all intents and purposes, a rather “meaningless” tournament. This brings a monumental Catch22 to the fore. What do the big names stand to gain from the tournament? In short, the answer is nothing. Many of the established names have only three or four more years left of their professional career and a CHAN winners medal isn’t exactly going to feature as a massive highlight.
There’s one bit of reasoning for picking such a strong squad. The matches have all been awarded FIFA “A” status, meaning the results will count towards rankings and the caps will be official and coach Gordon Igesund revealed that it was all part of the thinking.
“This is why I tried so hard to get the best squad possible for this tournament, because we foresaw that FIFA would give the competition full international status,” Igesund said in an interview with KickOff.com
“It is all part of the meticulous planning that we do where we don’t just look at the next game or the one after that, but what effect they can have on our future prospects.
“If we can do well in this tournament, playing as we do against high-ranking teams like Mali and Nigeria, then we could potentially rise quickly up the FIFA Rankings and that could make us one of the seeded sides for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
“That would give us a better chance of reaching those finals because it would mean we would likely have an easier draw. That is why we felt this tournament is so important for us and why we were so keen to have our best available squad.”
When it comes to short-term planning, that is rational, but one can’t help but feel there was space in the squad for a few more youngsters and to help elevate the status of some domestic stars.
CHAN is a tournament that has the potential to do so much for domestic football. With so much focus on the overseas-based stars and often nothing more than passive interest in domestic leagues, unearthing a gem in a competition like this could potentially win over many new fans to the domestic competition. Still, tor the time being, the tournament will remain a competition that happens in the background. DM
Photo: South Africa’s soccer coach Gordon Igesund gives instructions to his players during their African Cup of Nations (AFCON 2013) quarter-final soccer match against Mali at the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban, February 2, 2013. REUTERS/Rogan War
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