Infantino champions cut-down FIFA/CAF African Football League as future of club game

November 15 – FIFA president Gianni Infantino has hailed the inaugural African Football League as a huge success even though it was watered down from its original 24 teams to just eight.

Infantino attended Sunday’s second leg of the final in Pretoria to see Mamelodi Sundowns – the club owned by CAF president Patrice Motsepe – lift the trophy after beating Morocco’s Wydad Athletic Club 2-0 for a 3-2 aggregate victory.

The structure and  purpose of the competition, originally named the African Super League, was not  dissimilar to that of the doomed European Super League, being by invite only and running  parallel to the African  Champions League.

And despite its new name, the first edition was not even a league at all, instead a round robin knockout tournament while Sunday’s capacity crowd were all granted free entry.

Infantino, who personally backed the project – cynics might say in order to gain political support – waxed lyrical after Sunday’s conclusion despite the fact it was not shown on any traditional global broadcasting platforms.

“This is what African football needs – the best playing together more often in a top, top, top professional environment,” said Infantino.

“That’s what we are doing with the African Football League. I’m very proud of this collaboration between FIFA and CAF. So, my thanks go to (CAF president) Patrice Motsepe and his entire team…

“I think the time has come for African club football to move to the next level, to retain some of the best players [so] that they don’t have to go on and sign contracts abroad – they can stay here and they can play in a top level competition, which is not only Pan-African but which is also shown that it has an impact all over the world.

“So, this is here to stay, this is here to grow, this is here to have an impact.”

The hope is that improved wages will incentivise more players to stay on the African continent without feeling the need to play in Europe or elsewhere.  It may be a laudable concept but even if the tournament is expanded to 24 teams next time, it has some way to go to reach the heights Infantino aspires to.

Trying to persuade the Continent’s leading lights to stay at home rather than cash in on attractive European offers is easier said than done.

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