For a competition that was four years in the making, the inaugural African Football League (AFL) was something of a damp squib.

It has come and gone, just like that, like a movie trailer, except the trailer was the full movie.

But first things first.

Congratulations to South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) side Mamelodi Sundowns on winning the inaugural AFL title.

Congratulations to Mamelodi Sundowns

‘The Brazilians’, owned by CAF president Patrice Motsepe, one of the principal drivers of the AFL project, beat Moroccan outfit Wydad Casablanca 3-2 on aggregate to write their name in African club football history. 

It is a feat Sundowns richly merit. It would be unsporting to begrudge them the plaudits. They are a well-run and well funded club with a talented bunch of players, the best money can buy on the continent and beyond. They play very good football too.

Sold a dummy?

There had been so much hype about CAF’s new football baby. After UEFA stonewalled the European Super League, the launch of the AFL would see Africa put one over Europe.

However, when the competition finally arrived, it was nothing like what African football fans expected, and arguably not worth the four-year wait.

The shape and form raised some eyebrows. After a few false starts, it felt like CAF was impatient to get the product on the shelves, however defective.

Mind you, when the idea was initially mooted, the competition was supposed to have 24 teams playing in a round robin format, either as one big league or ideally broken into groups, with agreed group placements guaranteeing advancement to the knockout phase.

That overly ambitious proposal was scratched off and an aggressive downscaling settled on eight teams for the first instalment.

The reconfigured offering was supposed to showcase an exciting future for continental club football. It’s debatable it achieved that purpose. recommends

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‘Plastic’ jibes

Compared to the grandiose proposal we were sold, the final delivery was a complete fudge.

En route to the title, Sundowns only needed to beat three teams; Petro de Luanda (Angola), Al Ahly (Egypt) and Wydad (Morocco) to earn $4m (R75m).

This has left a significant few observers thoroughly unimpressed, causing some to describe the competition as “plastic”.

For starters, the ‘league’ in the African Football League name is a bit of a misnomer. What we witnessed was a knockout competition that wasn’t even preceded by a mini round robin. The whole competition took place in under three weeks, giving it the appearance of a tournament.

The format

After the reduction from 24 to eight teams, a league format on a home and away basis would have seen the teams play 14 games each, or at least six each had the teams been divided into two groups of four before going to the knockout phase.

Instead, the AFL followed a typical cup knockout format, with fixtures played home and away. Because there were only eight participants the competition started with a draw at the quarter-final stage.

So four clubs fell by the wayside at the first hurdle. Two more at the next, with the remaining two contesting a two-legged final.

Product competitiveness

Despite being widely regarded as the sport for the masses, football in South Africa in particular, still struggles to put bums on seats at the stadiums. This can be attributed to the quality of the fare being served up and the fact that the South African game is in direct competition with the English Premier League, a much bigger and better product with a captive global audience. Premier League matches are readily accessible on TV especially in South Africa where SuperSport has multiple dedicated sports channels.

The first instalment of the AFL, held between 20 October and 12 November, also suffered from product competition. It was during a time when sports fans were spoilt for choice, bang in the middle of the rugby and cricket world cup extravaganza. The World Cup euphoria drowned everything else and made it difficult for sports fans to look beyond rugby and cricket.

Lessons gleaned

There are important lessons to be gleaned from the competition, particularly around scheduling,  especially if CAF plans to expand the competition to 24 teams next year as reported.

Sundowns and Wydad played a total of six games each in the competition. Those commitments saw them fall behind in their respective domestic leagues.

On their triumphant return, Masandawana, had three games in hand over most teams in the division, while losing finalists Wydad had two.

It gets worse. As their countries’ respective representatives in the Champions League, they are likely to fall further behind in their domestic leagues owing to their continental commitments. At the time of writing, Sundowns and Wydad had five and four league games in hand respectively.

Both clubs have some catching up to do in their respective domestic leagues. How do they get on an even keel without being asked to play back-to-back fixtures with short recovery periods between matches?

Quite clearly, this is a conversation CAF will need to have with its affiliates.

The future

What African football has going for her is a visionary and enthusiastic leadership under Motsepe. The powers that be are determined to grow the game and facilities on the continent. It also helps that they enjoy FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s support.

However, as things stand, the AFL has the look of an ongoing experiment with regular refinements along the way in search of the perfect competition

With time, CAF will get it right, but the first instalment was a bit of a damp squib.

Africa AFL Competition


Date Score
12.11 Mamelodi Sundowns 2 – 0 Wydad
05.11 Wydad 2 – 1 Mamelodi Sundowns


Date Score
01.11 Al Ahly 0 – 0 Mamelodi Sundowns
01.11 Esperance Tunis 1 – 1 (Pen) Wydad
29.10 Wydad 1 – 0 Esperance Tunis
29.10 Mamelodi Sundowns 1 – 0 Al Ahly


Date Score
26.10 Wydad 3 – 0 Enyimba
26.10 Esperance Tunis 3 – 0 Mazembe
24.10 Mamelodi Sundowns 0 – 0 Petro Atletico
24.10 Al Ahly 1 – 1 Simba
22.10 Enyimba 0 – 1 Wydad
22.10 Mazembe 1 – 0 Esperance Tunis
21.10 Petro Atletico 0 – 2 Mamelodi Sundowns
20.10 Simba 2 – 2 Al Ahly

I'm Barrie Jarrett, born in Leeds, lived over a decade in South Africa, CEO And Co Founder of Planet Sport Limited and Planet Bet Limited.

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