Mind over money
Is the attraction of money losing value in football? This is the question one is tempted to ask after the drama that football fans have watched play out this week at two clubs willing to break the bank.
Manchester City and Mamelodi Sundowns may be miles apart in more ways than one, not least the fact that it would be unreasonable to compare the profile of playing in the English premiership with South Africa’s top flight league. However, one cannot help but admire the two owners of these clubs —- Sundowns’ Patrice Motsepe and City’s billionaire benefactor from Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mansour —- in their efforts to acquire the best talent money can buy.
Grooming players is increasingly taking a back seat to dollar power, as football becomes big business on the world stage.
It has been no different with Motsepe, who has not looked back since he purchased 51% of the Brazilians in 2003 and then snapped up the remaining shares the following year in a move that transformed the game in the country.
The arrival of the billionaire-mining magnate on the football scene heralded a new era of improved remuneration for players and is attracting some of the better talents in the world to the South African premiership.
The R100 000 per month figure he paid Zimbabwe international Peter Ndlovu when he arrived from England in 2004 and the introduction of Venezuela national team player Jose Torealba have enhanced the profile of the PSL. The attractive salaries offered at the Chloorkop have been a source of envy for many clubs which have watched Sundowns assume the position of first choice of any player or coach moving to the South African premiership.
The Brazilians have in their books Sibusiso Zuma, Mozambican Dario Monteiro, Collins Mbesuma and Benedict Vilakazi—players who have plied their trade in some of the best leagues in the world.
The general trend in recent years has been: what Sundowns want, Sundowns get—no doubt making quite a few enemies in the process—particularly at Orlando and the Naturena. Pirates and Chiefs fans found it a most bitter pill to swallow because they were no longer top destinations for any professional worth his salt.
However, the events of the past week could offer some comfort to the unfortunate clubs that do not have the financial muscle of a sheikh or the liquidity of a mining magnate to attract the best talent.
If anything stunned the followers of the beautiful game more than the audacious €100-million bid Manchester City threw at AC Milan for Brazilian forward, Kaka, it was the refusal by the player to accept the offer this week. Turning down more than £500 000 a week to kick a ball is nothing short of a dramatic end to this soapie. Paying anybody an obscene annual salary of £13,6-million after tax to score goals, no matter how spectacularly, borders on madness, but many will feel it is Kaka who needs his head examined for spurning the offer on the grounds that he harboured ambitions of someday “captaining a great club like AC Milan”.
While most would not need a second invitation to such misplaced generosity in a world gripped by a crippling economic downturn, more so in sport where careers tend to be shorter than most, it appears the Kaka syndrome has also affected poor rich Sundowns in recent days.
The exodus of key players at the club has given new meaning to the adage “money isn’t everything”. Bafana Bafana fringe player Lerato Chabangu is on his way out of the Chloorkop set-up and has signed a pre-contract with neighbours SuperSport that will see him join the defending league champions at the expiry of his contract at the end of June.
Sadly, Chabangu is not the only loss the Brazilians have to contend with. The vastly talented Josta Dladla is in talks with Chiefs for a possible move to the Naturena, while Dillon Sheppard will also leave Sundowns in July to join Platinum Stars. The pending departure of these key players may not have diminished Motsepe’s spirit to bring out the chequebook, as evidenced by the club’s R2,8-million acquisition of Free State Stars striker Diyo Sibisi this week, but it has certainly dealt a serious blow to the club’s status as the place to be.
An official at the club, who asked not to be named, confirmed that these players were leaving for reasons that had nothing to do with money. “The three players have informed me in confidence that their reasons for leaving are not monetary. They feel their new clubs offer more in terms of long-term contracts and a better working environment,” he said.
Sundowns unveiled 13 new signings at the start of the season, including Mbulelo Mabizela, Zuma, Mbesuma, Vilakazi and later added Frenchman Henri Michel as coach, at a staggering salary of about R760 000 a month.
It was a clear indication that they were determined to not only launch a serious challenge for the league title but to also become one of the best clubs in the continent. A far cry from their 10th spot on the log.
However, like his Chelsea counterpart Roman Abramovich, it seems merely pumping money into the club will not guarantee success for the Sundowns boss—at least this season. The Russian billionaire forked out more than £600-million at the English club hoping that it would translate to a series of European and world titles, but that has not been the case. Manchester United and Liverpool have enjoyed more success for not even close to half that investment.
As it stands, Mabizela has been transfer listed for indiscipline, Mbesuma and Vilakazi are struggling to justify the multimillion-rand payout that brought them to the Mamelodi outfit, while Zuma has been plagued by injuries as the club remains rooted at the wrong end of the log going into the second half of the season.
Moreover, the motivation that is usually associated with a workforce that is well remunerated is clearly lacking with a coach who claims, despite his rich pickings every month-end, he has only a gentleman’s agreement to work with players he has infamously labelled “average”.
Football is surely an unpredictable game; as big-spending Sundowns can only look on as smaller clubs such as Ajax Cape Town enjoy more success for much less. It will be interesting to see just how much Ajax—mostly composed of young, enthusiastic talent—has invested in their 2008/09 league campaign.