TP Mazembe’s Mulota Kabangu, celebrates after scoring against Internacional [OF BRAZIL] in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Photograph:
TP Mazembe’s journey to Saturday’s Club World Cup final could hardly have had a more inauspicious beginning. Bad enough was the fact that the reigning Congolese and African champions kicked off the defence of their continental crown in March by losing to the Rwandan army club APR FC but, even though Mazembe won the return leg to progress to the next round, worse Rwanda-related woe was to follow. Two months later Mazembe returned to Kigali to participate in an inter-club tournament organised by the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame – and there they renewed hostilities with APR in such spectacularly bad-tempered fashion that many commentators accused them of sabotaging their own season.
Opponents of APR complain that the army club benefits from generous refereeing when playing at home and Mazembe felt they were being kicked with impunity. When the referee denied the visitors a penalty, the perceived injustice got a bit too much for some Mazembe players. Their captain and prolific striker, Trésor Mputu, protested so furiously that he was sent off and he did not, alas, go quietly.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1CBuJm04dYhttp://
The match and then the whole tournament were abandoned and Fifa banned Mputu and Lusadisu for a year. Mazembe’s hopes of retaining the African Champions League seemed doomed.
The loss of Mputu, who last year was voted the best player playing his club football in Africa, was considered especially debilitating.
Mazembe went on to demonstrate, however, that they are a team of bountiful resources. That should perhaps not have come as a surprise – after all, the Democratic Republic of Congo won the inaugural African Championship of Nations last year (which differs from the Africa Cup of Nations in that it features only players who play their club football in Africa) and their squad featured 12 players from Mazembe.
The strength of Mazembe’s squad reflects the depth of their chairman’s pocket. The club is based in the city of Lubumbashi in the mineral-rich Haut-Katanga province and the chairman, Moise Katumbi, made his fortune in mining before branching out into an array of other activities, including fishing, transport and television.
Now a powerful politician as well as a businessman – he is the governor of Katanga – he has funded the renaissance of the local team, which until his involvement had endured three decades of decline since its golden age in the 1960s (they were African champions in 1967 and ’68 and had added the prefix Tout-Puissant, meaning ‘almighty’, to the club’s name after going unbeaten for the entire 1966 season on their way to the domestic title).
The difference between Mazembe and, say, Chelsea or Manchester City is that, although they have signed a smattering of players from elsewhere in Africa, Katumbi has generally not used his wealth to recruit players from abroad but rather to keep top talent at home. Mputu has been courted by several European clubs and had trials with Arsenal in 2007 but, used to picking up players from Africa for the sort of pittance that would not tempt Mazembe, none has been prepared to pay the lavish fee it would take to prise him away and potential suitors have also been put off by Mputu’s temper. His meltdown in Rwanda was not entirely out of character.
Nor does Mputu particularly need a move, as Mazembe’s players are well remunerated – Mputu is reported to earn around £8,000 per month at Mazembe, plus extravagant win bonuses. For their two victories this week in the World Club Cup each member of the squad will be rewarded with tens of thousands of pounds, as they were after winning the African Champions League for the second successive year in October.
Mazembe’s conquest of Africa was emphatic. They may have struggled through their group, their campaign having been disrupted not only by the fallout from events in Rwanda but also by increasing frailty in defence, but they got back on track after changing managers in September. The Frenchman Diego Garzitto was replaced by the former Senegal international Lamine N’Diaye.
The new manager restored defensive rigour as well as introducing a tempo and audacity that, when allied to the attacking flair that the team always had, has taken many opponents by surprise. Espérance de Tunis finished ahead of Mazembe in this season’s Champions League group stages but, when they met again in the first leg of the final seven weeks after N’Diaye’s arrival, the Congolese destroyed them 5-0, and then showed commendable solidity in the second leg to cap a 6-1 aggregate triumph.
In last year’s Club World Cup Mazembe arrived with high hopes but shoddy defending let them down, leading to humiliating defeats by Auckland City and Pohang Steelers. This week, by contrast, they have kept clean sheets against Pachuca of Mexico and the South American champions Internacional, though the Brazilians did manage to pick their way past Mazembe’s defenders several times, only to be thwarted by the inspired goalkeeper, Muteba Kidiaba.
Internacional’s defence, on the other hand, could not cope with the skill and speed of Mazembe on the break, as evidenced by the excellent goals by Mulota Kabangu and Dioko Kaluyituka.
Whether Mazembe win or lose in Saturday’s final, against Internazionale, they have demonstrated that there is playing, organisational and managerial talent beyond the familiar leagues of Europe and South America.
CAMERON DUODU WRITES:
Is the behaviour of the Congolese players not the football equivalent of Laurent Gbagbo’s behaviour in Cote d’Ivoire? You go into a contest having committed yourself to obey the rules, as interpreted by the referee. But when the referee rules against you, then you resort to force. It is a display of immaturity, pure and simple.
Except that in the one case, people may actually die, having lived a wretched life and taken to the streets in the hope that men who can, if they want, have their dinner from in from Paris, may make things better for them. They join political parties in hope, and more often than not, are led from the parties, feet first, into mass graves. Abidjan already has several of these — from both the Konan Bedie and Robert Guei days. Laurent Gbagbo’s graves are currentky hidden — but they are nevertheless there.