The rise and rise of TP Mazembe – Africa’s bright new hope

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

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

AP PHOTO

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.

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