The semi-finals of the African Champions League, refuge of the powerful

The semi-finals return of the African Champions League (C1) will pit four of the most successful and richest clubs on the continent on Friday April 26

The semi-finals of the African Champions League, refuge of the powerful

The semi-finals return of the African Champions League (C1) will pit four of the most successful and richest clubs on the continent on Friday April 26. Holders Al-Ahly SC of Egypt will host Congolese Tout Puissant Mazembe after a 0-0 first-leg draw, while Esperance de Tunis travel to Pretoria to face strong Mamelodi Sundowns FC of their 1-0 first leg victory on April 20. The finalists will meet again on May 18 and 25.

The Cairo club has the most extensive world record, with 151 titles won. The Red Devils have notably won the Egyptian championship 43 times and the African Champions League 11 times, including the last edition. Al-Ahly SC boasts nearly 70 million supporters worldwide, including more than 50 million in Egypt.

Chaired by Mahmoud Al-Khatib, one of the glories of Egyptian football, it has an annual budget of more than 60 million euros, the highest in Africa. The club was thus able to attract Swiss coach Marcel Koller, who earns 140,000 euros per month. The financial strength of the Cairo team also allows it to recruit very good players, such as the Tunisian defender Ali Maaloul or the South African attackers Percy Tau and the French Anthony Modeste, and to pay them respectively 95,000 euros per month for the first two and 115,000 euros for the third. Salaries supplemented by attractive bonuses which hardly encourage Egyptian players, many of whom are international, to go into exile.

Its last victory in the Champions League dates back to 2015 and the Lubumbashi club had not reached the last four for five years. Tout Puissant Mazembe, who has won the competition five times, is also the most successful in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he has won the championship 19 times. But in recent years, businessman Moïse Katumbi, who took over the reins of the Ravens in 1997, has been forced to reduce the club's lifestyle, notably due to his forced exile between 2016 and 2019.

The budget for the current season is around 10 million euros and the salary policy no longer has much in common with that of the first half of the 2010s. “Some players could earn 50,000 euros per month. Today, the highest paid earns around 18,000 euros. But Moïse Katumbi is capable of offering very good bonuses, as during the qualification for the semi-finals against the Angolans of Petro Atletico de Luanda (0-0, 2-1), where each player pocketed nearly 10,000 euros,” explains someone close to the club.

Tout Puissant Mazembe, who brought Senegalese coach Lamine N’Diaye, winner of the competition in 2010, back to Haut-Katanga for a monthly salary of 20,000 euros, remains very attractive on the continent. If the majority of foreign players this season come from French-speaking Africa – Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Niger and Congo – the club regularly recruits from nearby countries, notably Zambia.

The Pretoria club, founded in 1970, has established itself at the top of the South African football hierarchy, relegating Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, the two Johannesburg giants, to second place, by winning the last six championships. One of the first African fortunes, Patrice Motsepe, current president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), bought the club in 2004, granting it substantial financial resources. Since his election as head of the body in March 2021, the businessman is still the owner of the Brazilians, but he has delegated the presidency to his son Tihopie. No decision is made without his agreement.

Thanks to a comfortable budget of 30 million euros, Mamelodi Sundowns FC offers very good salaries to its players, some of whom can earn between 25,000 and 35,000 euros per month, excluding bonuses. The presence of many South African internationals in the squad – the national team, third at the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast – was made up of 80% players from Mamelodi Sundowns FC. The trainer, Rhulani Mokwena, earns 41,500 euros.

The club recruits not only in Africa, including Morocco, but also in South America, like the Chilean international Marcelo Allende. Although it has not won the Champions League since 2016, the club from the South African capital, in addition to its numerous national titles, distinguished itself by winning the first edition of the African Football League in November 2023 .

Most Tunisian clubs are struggling to make ends meet. A problem that does not concern Espérance de Tunis. The Sang et Or are chaired by Hamdi Meddeb, one of the richest men in Tunisia, also at the head of the powerful Délice Group in the agri-food sector. Espérance de Tunis, which has won the championship thirty-two times, also demonstrates great consistency on the continental scene.

The Tunisians have won the Champions League four times (1994, 2011, 2018 and 2019) and regularly reach the last four. Performances which offer them interesting financial revenues. “With the financial strength of its president, Esperance has no money problems. The budget for the current season is around 17 million euros and the players' salaries range from 10,000 to 30,000 euros per month,” said an internal source. Portuguese coach Manuel Cardoso receives 35,000 euros. Hamdi Meddeb will also be very generous if his players win the Champions League. He promised them an individual bonus of 30,000 euros.