Former Mamelodi Sundowns striker Cuthbert Malajila spent a year in North Africa shared between Tunisia and Libya.
After signing for Tunisian giants Club Africain in August 2010, the Zimbabwean striker was then sent on loan to Al Akhdar in neighbouring Libya.
That stint exposed Malajila to the rigours of North African football, a terrain he appreciates up close. That Morocco’s RS Berkane recently won the CAF Confederation Cup does not surprise Malajila. In fact, Morocco was ranked as the best-performing country in the CAF Champions League and the Confederation Cup over the last five years.
Huge investments made by clubs up north saw Morocco providing two teams each in both the semi-finals of the Confederation Cup and CAF Champions League.
Neighbours Egypt also had two teams in the Champions League semi-finals while Pyramids reached the Confederation Cup finals where they were beaten by Berkane.
“I played Moroccan teams several times while I was in North Africa and I picked that they have a very strong junior policy,” Malajila, who recently signed for GladAfrica side Royal AM, told FARPost.
The 2016 African Champions League winner with Sundowns believes development and proper player profiling puts the North Africans ahead.
“They prioritise the development of players and have good facilities. When they go into these competitions, they fight, they invest everything. I noticed that even with the signing of players, they do proper player profiling and sign the right kind of players,” added the 35-year-old.
For Berkane, they have been making steady progress over the years, culminating with their first-ever continental silverware. After their Confederation Cup campaign ended at the quarter-final stage in 2018, they went further last season and lost the final to Zamalek.
But this term they claimed the trophy after reaching the final again. Past experiences before winning it this season came with valuable lessons as admitted by veteran defender Mohammed Aziz. “Last year’s experience in the same competition taught us a lot of lessons,” said Aziz after their 1-0 win against Egypt’s Pyramids to land the Confederation Cup title.
“This year we have fought until we reached the final game which reminded us of last season’s final that we lost in Egypt against Zamalek on penalties. As you have seen, we deserved our win…” Aziz was one of Berkane’s key players, featuring in nine Confederation Cup matches as a left-back.
Also playing a significant role was right-back Omar Namssaoui who made 10 appearances in this tournament. “It was a huge effort over a period of 15 months,” Namssaoui said.
“Last year we could not win the title after losing the final game, but this year we have worked hard to achieve this goal. I’d like to express my deep feelings and to thank all the fans of the club who could not be present here with us.”
One massive investment made by Berkane was the marquee signing of former Monaco midfielder Alain Traore, pictured above. The Burkina Faso international had the luxury of leaving the comfort of money-rich Qatar where he was now turning out for Am Markhiya and chose to join Berkane.
The arrival of Mauritanian midfielder Adama Ba from Turkish Super Lig side Giresunspor is another illustration of Berkane’s seriousness. Another midfielder Youssef Essaiydy was plucked from the French Ligue 2, another statement of intent which finally delivered them a continental title.
Amine El Kess agrees that investments in recent past years saw them winning this competition. “It was a hard and great work that the club has done for a few years and the hard work always pays,” said El Kess.
“I should thank all the supporters of the RSB who believed in us. This is just the beginning of other titles which still will follow. Congratulations to Moroccan football too for the title.”
Most huge player signings were done by the club’s former president Fouzi Lekjaa, pictured below, who is also a prominent figure in African football. Lekjaa heads the Morocco Football Federation and is also the CAF second vice-president.
RS Berkane’s Confederation Cup feat makes them the seventh Moroccan club to triumph in Africa. Raja Casablanca, Kawkab Marrakech, Royal Armed Forces, FUS Rabat, Maghreb de Fes and Wydad Casablanca are the other Moroccan teams to win silverware CAF inter-club competitions.
Raja remain the most successful Moroccan club on the continent with three Champions League titles, a Confederation Cup crown and two CAF Super Cups. They also won the now-defunct CAF Cup and CAF Cup Winners’ Cup each once.
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By Mthokozisi Dube