The rise and rise of TP Mazembe – Africa’s bright new hope
TP MAZEMBE’S place in today’s final of the 2010 Fifa Club World Cup is not just a huge success for African football but also a personal triumph for the club’s philanthropic chair man Moise Katumbi.
His hard work and huge financial investment has now been rewarded by a dream match-up against European champions Inter Milan, replete with one of Africa’s finest sons, Samuel Eto’o.
“Beating (Brazil side) Internacional (2-0 in Tuesday’s semifinal) has made me forget all the effort I’ve ever invested into the team,” Katumbi laughed after his club sealed their spot in the final.
For when the businessman and governor of mineral-rich Katanga province took charge of Mazembe in the mid-1990s, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s most popular club was struggling.
They had won only two league championships in a quarter of a century, meaning their African club titles of 1967 and 1968 had become indelible reminders of just how far the Lubumbashi club had fallen.
Now though, Mazembe will become the first team from outside Europe or South America to contest the Club World Cup final, with the defeat of Internacional all the more remarkable given how seriously South American sides take the tournament.
“My vision when I joined this club was to make Mazembe one of Africa’s strongest teams and that’s why I’ve worked so hard to make it happen,” Katumbi, 46, previously told the BBC.
“I grew up in a big business family in the province, so learned the challenge of making something work early on.”
Although he has said his vision still will not be realised even if Mazembe defeat Inter, Katumbi has already put the club – thanks to a triumph that spelt humiliation for their Brazilian foes and fans – on the map.
Like many a sleeping giant, the story of Mazembe's return to the top, and then beyond, is one of an incredibly wealthy childhood fan who is happy to plough his millions into the club. Earlier this year, Katumbi and his board announced a budget of US$10m for the team – a massive sum for an African club, even when taking into account the chairman’s untold riches.
“People can call me mad but if they do, they are going to have to call plenty of people mad,” he explained. “Those who love cars spend millions of dollars on them, those who love women spend millions on them and holidays, while others are dazzled by gold, diamonds, etc.
“Football is my hobby so I try to budget all the money I make so I can put it into Mazembe – you have to love the game because you can’t do this if you don’t. I’ve even got my little boy, who is 17 months old, singing Mazembe songs.”
The chair man’s largesse does not just extend to the team but its fans as well and if you have seen Mazembe in Abu Dhabi, you cannot have failed to notice or hear their colourful band of 150-odd trumpet-wielding fans – whose entire stay (flights, visas, hotel etc.) is funded by Katumbi.
And under his control, Mazembe have flourished, winning five league titles in the last decade as well as the last two editions of the African Champions League.
He is a man who leaves few things to chance. Even after winning the opening leg of this year’s final against Tunisia’s Esperance by a whopping fivegoal margin, Katumbi still took the team on an extended camp to Europe to focus while also stressing the need for his players to avoid complacency.
Behind this lay an intense desire to make amends at the Club World Cup following their ignominious debut in 2009, when the “Crows” felt they had let Africa down by losing to both South Korea’s Pohang Steelers and then New Zealand’s Auckland City.
Then, there had been expectations that many players, especially talented captain Tresor Mputu Mabi, would be leaving the club earlier in 2010 but the floodgates have yet to open. Will they now after this year’s impressive displays?
Mazembe, who have a youth academy preparing for such an eventuality, still had to defend their African crown without their star player anyway – after Mputu earned a one-year ban, along with team-mate Guy Lisadisu, after the duo fiercely abused a referee during a tournament in Rwanda in May.
The “Crows” also had to achieve success without their coach from last year after Argentine Diego Garzitto surprisingly left the club in September, meaning former Senegal coach Lamine Ndiaye came in and he has been credited with emphasising the need for hard work and total concentration.
The sub-Saharans, who feel the weight of African support behind them, are ensuring that Africa is finishing 2010 on a high after the continent’s theoretically-stellar year was dimmed by the attack on the Togolese bus at the Nations Cup and then the poor African performances – Ghana aside – at the World Cup in South Africa. – bbc.com
GLORY BOYS: TP Mazembe players celebrate in front of Internacional fans after their stunning 2-0 semi-final win in the Fifa Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.