Crows rising from the flames
TP Mazembe enjoyed a year of renaissance in 2009. Some 41 years on from their previous continental triumph, the side from Congo DR defied the odds to win their third CAF Champions League trophy in front of their home fans in Lubumbashi.
Fresh from this success, the Crows flew to the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009, where they were unable to do themselves justice, finishing the tournament in sixth place. Even so, the experience was a positive one, and the reigning African champions have every right to be confident as they prepare for a new domestic season; one in which they hope to build on last year’s achievements.
French-Italian coach Diego Garzitto is determined to see his side go out and do just that. “We’ll now do our best to defend our title in Africa, and come back stronger next year,” he told FIFA.com at the end their participation at UAE 2009. Echoing his coach’s thoughts, club president Moise Katumbi added: “We’re going to be bringing in four or five new faces with that in mind and to help us become more competitive.”
Reinforcements at the ready
Garzitto has not had to travel that far to find his flock of replacements. Taking his players south to Zimbabwe to prepare for the upcoming campaign, he took the opportunity to pick up some players from local club Monomotapa United, with midfielders Mthulisi Maphosa, Darryl Nyanadro, Christopher Samakwere and forward Daniel Zokoto all signing on the dotted line for Mazembe.
That was not the end of their shopping spree, however. A keen student of the game, Garzitto stopped off in neighbouring Zambia to add international defenders Hichani Himoonde and Stopilla Sunzu to his rearguard. The duo had impressed in the Copper Bullets’ fine showing at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Angola 2010, which ended when they were knocked out on penalties by Nigeria in the quarter-finals.
Making time for one last acquisition, the Crocodile Eaters, as they are also known, swooped for Congolese centre-half Joel Kimuaki, who made his name with Belgium’s Standard Liege. As a sign of appreciation for his decision to move to the club, Mazembe goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba and star player Tresor Mputu Mabi travelled to the airport to give their new team-mate a warm welcome.
TP’s strengths lie in attack, a fact acknowledged by their coach before the FIFA Club World Cup quarter-final against Pohang Steelers: “We have three very effective front men who have scored 126 goals in 62 matches this year. We’re looking good up front.”
Yet by reinforcing the midfield and injecting fresh blood into a backline weakened by the long-term absence of Leopold Bagnack following a serious car crash, the double winners look well equipped to go out and repeat what they did last year.
New recruits aside, the Lubumbashi club’s biggest achievement of the close season was persuading the talismanic Mputu to stay put. Voted player of the tournament at the African Championship of Nations 2009, the 24-year-old goal-getter was one of the five nominees for the African Footballer of the Year award for 2009, prompting Mazembe chief Katumbi to pay him this glowing tribute at the end of the year: “Tresor is a much-loved son and I will never forget the promise he made to TP Mazembe that he would never leave without bringing the CAF Champions League trophy here first.”
Mputu’s decision to remain with his beloved Crows has just been rewarded with yet another piece of silverware to add to last year’s haul and the Congo DR league titles he helped the club win in 2006 and 2007. The trophy in question is the African Super Cup, which TP collected last Sunday following a 2-0 defeat of CAF Confederation Cup winners Stade Malien, the goals coming from the Zambian duo of Sunzu and Singuluma either side of half-time.
That latest success will no doubt strengthen Garzitto’s belief that his side can join the global elite once more in the United Arab Emirates next December, a goal shared by forward Mulota Kabangu, who made this vow at the end of their recent Abu Dhabi adventure: “We're going to get straight back into training, work hard and do things better. Our aim is to return to the Club World Cup one day.”
Given their resolve and their sound investments in the transfer market, it would be foolish to bet against them making a return journey at the year’s end.