Don’t bite the hand that Feeds You Pt. 2
In addition to the European influence of ultra groups, North African also benefit from their proximity to Europe when attracting players from their talented diasporas.
Anice Badri, at Esperance de Tunis, is the best example of a player from the diaspora having a direct impact at an African club. After cutting his teeth at Olympique Lyonnais, Badri meandered through the lower leagues in France and Belgium before crossing the Mediterranean to play for Tunisia’s most successful club.
Badri has since become a fixture for both the Blood and Gold and the Tunisian national team. Not only did he score the goal that qualified the Carthage Eagles to the 2018 World Cup, he also started all three World Cup matches in Russia, scored the winning goal in the 2018 CAF Champions League and finished as the competition’s leading scorer.
During the 2018/2019 CAF Champions League campaign, clubs from the Maghreb used five players who were born abroad and returned to play for clubs in their country of origin.
Arab cultural crossover pays off
The cultural ties North African nations share with other countries in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) also provides an opportunity other African nations are simply not afforded.
In 2017/2018, the United Arab Football Association (UAFA) announced the return of Arab Club Championship, a competition in which 22 Arab nations send clubs of their choosing to participate in a 32-team knockout tournament.
Though the competition also includes clubs from Comoros, Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan, each of its African winners has hailed from North Africa.
An enticing $7.5-million (over R107 million) purse is reserved for the victors, exactly three times more than what the Confederation of African Football offers the winners of the Champions League.
For many Tunisian, Algerian, Moroccan and Egyptian supporters, the Arab Club Championship provides direct competition to the CAF Champions League.
“Tunisian clubs try to find the balance between African cups, linked with recent history, but they are also interested in Arab cups, because you can earn more money. For some supporters, you can also play in better conditions, with better officiating and pitch quality,” says Farouk Abdou, a freelance journalist who covers North African football.
On April 18, Etoile du Sahel defeated Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal and captured the Arab Club Championship. Apart from the hardware, the Sousse outfit will also benefit from a sorely needed lump sum, giving the Tunisians a healthy head-start ahead of the upcoming transfer window. Added to talent from the diaspora and the stadium fear factor, it’s such financial muscle that has powered North African teams to dominating African football.