By Robson Sharuko
Revelations by youthful Tanzanian billionaire Mo Dewji that he poured about US$2 million into the payroll at Simba SC last year should provoke a soul-searching exercise in the domestic Premiership.
After all, it once again highlights how far domestic football’s traditional giants — Dynamos and Highlanders — are falling off the pace being set by others, in the quest for greatness, on the continent.
It also puts into perspective the differences between what is happening elsewhere, where millions of dollars are being injected to strengthen the giants, and at home where the big boys are struggling for a kiss of life.
DeMbare and Bosso, the country’s two biggest football clubs, have been pushed into the shade by ambitious giant-killing challengers like FC Platinum, who have won the last three domestic league titles.
The two giants find themselves trapped in the past, which offered success, and a future which appears unpredictable as their poor financial muscle limits their ambitions in a brutal world now largely influenced by the power of the bank balance.
Bosso have not won the league title for 14 years, the longest barren run they have endured since Independence, and they cannot even commit themselves to playing in the CAF Confederation Cup, because of the high costs involved.
It’s the same tournament in which minnows Triangle, because of their superior financial muscle, took part last year without even blinking about the costs related to the adventure.
Bosso have also lost their Dutch coach, Hendrikus Pieter de Jongh, to FC Platinum.
Dynamos have not won the league title for six years now, the second longest barren run for the Glamour Boys since Independence, and were not even a factor in the championship race last year.
The Glamour Boys have disappeared from the continental football radar, after having reached as high as number six on the rankings in their halcyon days, when they regularly battled on that front.
Interestingly, both DeMbare and Bosso have resisted calls from many sections to dump their structure, where the ownership is entrusted in the hands of some registered founder members, and transform themselves into private entities.
Simba SC — who were formed 10 years after Bosso by a group of community leaders in Dar es Salaam — used to have a similar structure like Highlanders and Dynamos.
However, four years ago, they dumped the old structure, after years of financial challenges, and sold 49 percent of their stake to billionaire businessman Dewji for US$10 million.
The other registered club members remained with 51 percent of the stake in the team.
“Simba fans need to see their club winning top honours and it’s important that we recruit quality players, hire outstanding coaches and if we set aside 4 billion Tanzania shillings (about US$1,738 million) per season, we will certainly have an edge above our competitors — Young Africans and Azam FC,” Dewji said back then.
“I want to see Simba win the CAF Champions League, our club isn’t where it is at the moment, running four seasons without the league title is unacceptable.”
Since then, Simba have won the last two league titles in Tanzania and reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, for the first time in their history, last year where they recorded the highest average home attendance figures.
The billionaire has also built the club’s training ground, the Mo Simba Arena.
Dewji, just like Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa in Zimbabwe, is the only billionaire in Tanzania and with an estimated net worth of US$1,9 million last year.
He is Africa’s youngest billionaire.
He runs MeTL, a Tanzanian conglomerate founded by his father in the ‘70s which has a giant footprint in East Africa, employing about 20 000 people.
Dewji intends to grow his company to ensure it gets revenues in excess of US$5 billion a year and employing more than 100 000 people across the continent.
On Monday, the billionaire businessman revealed he had injected about US$2 million into the payroll of Simba, in the past year alone, and this is separate from other costs related to running the club.
After his team lost 0-1 to underdogs Mtibwa Sugar in the final of the Mapinduzi Cup, Dewji turned to Twitter to vent his frustrations.
“It’s a pity that Simba could not win. After paying salaries of close to Sh4 billion a year, I resign as chair of the board and will remain as an investor,” he told his Twitter followers.
“I will focus on developing infrastructure and a youth academy.”
However, a few hours later, Dewji changed his tune.
“What happened to my (social media) accounts yesterday was unfortunate,” he tweeted. “We are together. We are going back to the league strong.”
Dewji’s financial muscle has seen Simba invest in coaches from Belgium, Patrick Ausseus and Sven Vandenbroeck, and Frenchman Pierre Lechantre in the past three years.
They have a fitness coach from Tunisia and players from Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, the DRC, Sudan, Mozambique and Rwanda.
It’s a model Malawian football consultant Felix Sapao, who has interests in domestic football, believes Dynamos and Highlanders should consider adopting.
“What Simba SC (have done) is to solve their perennial problem of not getting enough money and going begging to get sponsors,” he told The Herald.
“If Dynamos do what Simba have done, financially they would be stable, and I would recommend they do so.
“If some billionaire offers US$10 million, with a bank guarantee that it will not fold within an agreed period, and then use the interest incurred for the club’s annual budget, it could change things in a big way.
“Orlando Pirates solved their problem as well. There are different ways about how financial stability can be brought to football clubs, especially in territories where marketing rates are low and a sponsorship cannot sustain the annual budget of a club.” The Herald