Watching the UEFA Champions League Final last night between Manchester United and Barcelona I saw the way forward for the African version of this tournament in the future. One day when the majority of Africans can afford to travel around the continent due to the existence of a high-speed but cost effective rail network and when the per capita income of the average is high enough to enable people to have the disposable income to travel internationally.
When this day comes – and I believe we will get there in my lifetime – then the format of the African Champions League will surely have to change for the economic good of African club football in general. Last night’s final gave me a vision of what must be done. First of all the format of the tournament will have to radically change.
The tournament will eventually have to lose its staid two-legged final and end in a once-off final. This way the country can be hosted by a different African city each season with different cities being required to submit bids to host the final therefore spreading the commercial benefits of hosting around the continent. This would in turn enable CAF to elevate the event into a showpiece that will be able to be marketed to a global TV audience.
CAF must set high standards that bidding cities will have to reach in terms of infrastructure and eventing levels. There will therefore be a build up to the final over a whole week. This would turn the event into a brand with scope for a high degree of merchandising activity. The trophy would also be required to be on display in the host city for that entire week at a secure fan-zone where fans can take pictures of the trophy and other fun activities can be planned for the fans of the finalist teams.
An entertaining programme would encourage visiting fans and dignitaries to come a couple of days at least before the final therefore boosting tourism in the city. The city should make sure that visitors are given full access to all places of interest to tourists in that week so that the visitors can also tell people in their home countries about the host city later.
The finalist teams would also be required to arrive in the host city two days before the final so that they can both train at the venue in front of the media to create more hype around the event. Then each club would have a media day in which everything about the club can be known including coach and player interviews.
This will help to promote the image of the participating clubs internationally. Then the day of the final should have a high quality programme of events building up to kick off starting with activities around the city and finally ending with a spectacular pre-match show inside the stadium whose theme must be of a key part of the host city’s culture to show the diversity of our continent.
There must be powerful VIP delegations from the finalists’ countries and the host. After the game there should be an equally spectacular trophy handover ceremony that will capture the imagination of the world. This is my dream.