A lot to play for Sofapaka, AFC

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NAIROBI, February 20 -In the last decade, local club football has had nothing to shout about with successive first round exits from continental competitions being the recurrent refrain.On the evidence of their CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup competitions preliminary round first legs last weekend reigning champions, Sofapaka and Cup winners, AFC Leopards showed flickering signs of resuscitation of domestic club football.

It is too early to state Sofapaka, who drew 0-0 with Egypt’s Ismaily and AFC Leopards who conceded a stoppage time away goal in their 3-1 win over Ethiopia’s Banks, have secured passage to the second phase of their competitions.

This weekend, the return legs fall in Ismailia and Addis Ababa will decide that.

Sofapaka and AFC played with spirit, perhaps in realisation their players are inhibited by continued no showing on the continental scene where the league champions were making their debut and the latter were returning after eight years out on the cold.

“I’m proud of my team; they played without fear even though it was their first time to play in the Champions League. We have learned a lot from Ismaily and we can go to Egypt and look for goals,” Robert Matano, Sofapaka’s coach said after their match against the Egyptian champions.

“Conceding the last minute goal is a concern but I believe with discipline, we can hold out and qualify for the next phase,” Jean Marie, Leopard’s Technical Advisor remarked amid jubilant supporters who broke into song and dance after the 12-time league champions broke into Banks strong room.

Much of the upturn in fortunes has to be credited with the formation of the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) company to manage the league three seasons ago and shortly after, the Sh400m sponsorship deal with SuperSport that injected professionalism in the running of a competition. Only two years prior, the domestic competition degenerated into a farce when two parallel campaigns ran.

Last year, Mathare United (league champions) and Gor Mahia (Cup holders) missed at least Sh23m in prize money following their first round exit at the hands of Zambia’s Zesco and APR of Rwanda. Both lost heavily at home with Mathare going down 3-1 and Gor endured a 5-0 thrashing.

Concurrent with revamping of domestic top tier football, CAF, the continental governing body also re-structured its top competitions to make them lucrative affairs.

Victory in Champions League is worth Sh76m with Sh3.8m going to the football federation of the winner’s country. Losing finalists earn Sh57m, semi-finalists Sh32.49m with Sh19.855m and Sh14.44m available for third and fourth finishers in group stages.

At all these levels, the federation also receives its cut, with Sh760,000 the least.

In the Confederation Cup, winners receive Sh47.5m with KSh2.66 going to the local governing body. Runner-ups pocket KSh32.832m with the second and third placed side in the group each taking home with KSh18.164m ($239,000).

The fourth finishers at the pool stage receive Sh11.4m and the least a federation gets is Sh1.14m.

To get to the money bracket, Sofapaka must secure passage from the preliminary, first and second rounds of the Champions League while Leopards need to shift through the preliminary, round of 16 and round of eight in the Confederation Cup.

Sofapaka have the chance of joining the Confederation Cup should they be eliminated as the third best team at the Champions League quarters.

While the above figures compare favourably with what local teams earn from domestic competitions (KSh3m for winning KPL), it is important to note getting to the money bracket of CAF competitions is in itself an expensive venture.

On face value, KSh76m is a small fortune, but when one calculates travel costs across Africa in addition to ever-rising expenses of running such a club, this cash prize is already overdrawn before a club has played its final group matches.

Contrast with Europe where UEFA pay each team that qualify for their Champions League €3m and an additional €2.4m for reaching the group phase. A group stage win is worth €600,000 and a draw is worth €300,000.

UEFA pay each quarterfinalist €2.5m, €3m for each semi-finalist, €4m for the runners-up and €7m for the winners.

In Asia, the total budget for their Champions League is $20m.

Of that, 70 percent is dedicated to prize money and incentives, with the eventual winners taking home $1.5m plus bonuses from earlier rounds. A victory in the group stages will be worth $40,000.

The contrast in prize money has seen CAF begrudged for not aggressively marketing continental club football especially to terrestrial pay television viewers where football billions are across Africa and overseas.

Back here, reports that Leopards are struggling to raise the Ksh1.5m required for them to honour their Addis Ababa trip is more startling for a club of such stature that enjoys fanatical support.

Again, lack of a forceful selling strategy to tap on Leopards support base has not been evident, with wrangles over the control of the club that almost led them to be de-listed from the Confederations Cup taking centre stage.

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