By Isidore Lewis
A closer look at shock Club World Cup finalists, TP Mazembe of Congo, suggests the Lubumbashi-based side are not quite as small as some people may think.
Relatively speaking, Mazembe are of course but a patch on fellow finalists Inter Milan. Inter haved the sort of rich history, global fanbase and financial capacity that Mazembe could only dream of.
However, the myth that this is a side that have literally come from nowhere to be where it is now is, I’m afraid, a little out of perspective. Mazembe may be tiny in comparison to Inter Milan but it is not so tiny in its native Africa.
Rebuilt by local businessman turned politician Moise Katumbi in the mid-1990s, Mazembe have now won five Congolese league titles in ten years. They have also won the African Champions League for the past two years in a row. Having won back to back African championships in 1967 and 1968, the club also has a solid history.
Katumbi himself is an interesting character. Having built a reputation as a successful businessman and football club owner, Katumbi has since also established himself as a politician. In February 2007, he was elected as Governor of the Katanga province of Congo, during which time he has been credited with transforming both the economy and the social conditions of the province. An outspoken, confident and proud man, whilst Katimbi is very much a local hero to many, he is also something of an egotist and a populist to others.
Katumbi has poured money into the club since his arrival, so much so that Mazembe are now viewed as something similar to the way Manchester City or Chelsea are to the rest of Europe. Earlier this year, he announced an annual budget of $10 million on the back of a $2 million release for the building of a new stadium, the first of its kind in Congo.
Reaching the final of the competition was an historic triumph for the Congo club. Especially when you think they did this all without their captain – and arguably their best player – Tresor Mputu, who was banned for a year after having aggressed upon an Ethiopian referee back in May (an incident in which his teammate, Guy Lisadisu, was also punished having launched a disgraceful karate-kick on the official).
Even in the absence of Mputu, Mazembe held their own in the competition, and they evidently have some other good players, particularly in attack through left-sided front-man/winger Dioko Kaluyituka and the lively Mulota Kabanga, both of whom might well have caught the attention of some other major European clubs.
However, having spent a few weeks getting used to the role of underdogs, Mazembe will have to go back to being the big fish in the small pond that they are in Congo.