Mohamed Kallon will spend this weekend in Monte Carlo as his French club, Monaco, play host to Rennes in Ligue 1 . However, it is safe to assume that the Sierra Leone striker, whose future in the principality is currently in doubt, will be keeping one eye on events in his homeland.
That's because there, in Freetown, FC Kallon - the club owned and bankrolled by the West African country's most famous footballer - will make their CAF Champions League debut in a tough baptism against Nigerian champions Ocean Boys at the weekend. Winners of Sierra Leone's premier league last season, FC Kallon travel to the provincial town of Yenogoa to face the highly-rated Nigerians, who are also making a debut in continental club competition after their surprise success in the championship play-offs late last year.
Kallon himself, who won the AFC Champions League while on loan at Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia, has left the running of his side to Abu Sankoh, who is confident FC Kallon can cause an upset in their first Champions League encounter. Sankoh, just back from updating his coaching qualifications in Germany, said: "My boys are enthusiastic and want to go into action. They are prepared to face any challenge."
The club, which had been previously known as Real Republicans, was bought by Kallon in 2002 for 30,000 USD. It did not take them long to dominate the domestic scene and now a bigger prize awaits them in Nigeria, although ambitions of winning the overall prize will be tempered by the reality of another strong field with ten former winners among the entrants.
Seven of them play in the first round this week, including Zamalek of Egypt (five wins), Cameroonians Canon Yaounde and Asante Kotoko, the Ghanaians who were African champions in 1970 and 1983. Zamalek watched from the sidelines last year as their record of five Champions League titles was equaled by their archrivals Al Ahly , but this year Zamalek have a chance to reestablish their form.
The Cairo giants, who won the last of their Champions League titles in 2002, start their latest campaign with a home match against Vital'O of Burundi in the Egyptian capital at the weekend. It is a return to African competition for Zamalek's new French coach Henri Michel, who last year took the Côte d'Ivoire national side to the final of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations and onwards to a creditable FIFA World Cup™ debut.
Zamalek have won their last three games under Michel and have seemingly restored some confidence after the demise of their previous coach, the Portuguese Manuel Cajuda. Canon Yaounde have signed two Brazilians in their effort to reclaim old glory while Kotoko have undergone a massive clear-out of personnel ahead of their Champions League campaign, this after a run of defeats in domestic competition. 'Ready to launch our name'
The other former winners in this year's field are TP Mazembe Englebert (Congo DR), JS Kabylie (Algeria), Wydad Casablanca (Morocco) and Tunisia's Esperance. ASEC Abidjan from Côte d'Ivoire, Morocco's Royal Armed Forces and defending champions Al Ahly of Egypt have all been given byes and will enter the fray in the second round.
For the rest, there will be unheralded competitors with realistic hopes of their own, such as Madagascar's AS Adema, who have bought eight new players from clubs across the island nation for their expedition. They start with a home tie against Anse Reunion from the Seychelles this weekend. "We are ready to launch our name in Africa," said an optimistic coach Auguste Raux, previously in charge of Madagascar's national team. "We've done some homework as well on the opposition and we want to progress as far as we can this year."
Already through to the second round are St George of Ethiopia and Mozambique's Desportivo Maputo, whose respective opponents have withdrawn.
* CAF Champions League first round, first leg fixtures*
Friday, January 26:
In Tripoli: Al Ittihad (Libya) v Mogas '90 (Benin)
In Tunis: Esperance (Tunisia) v Renaissance (Chad)
Saturday, January 27:
In Algiers: USM Alger (Algeria) v AS FNIS (Niger)
In Bamako: Stade Malien (Mali) v AS Douanes (Senegal)
In Cairo: Zamalek (Egypt) v Vital'O (Burundi)
In Dakar: Diaraf Dakar (Senegal) v Maranatha Fiokpo (Togo)
In Dar-es-Salaam: Young Africans (Tanzania) v AGSM (Comoros Islands)
In Khartoum: Al Hilal (Sudan) v Polisi SC (Zanzíbar)
In Kinshasa: FC St Eloi Lupopo (DR Congo) v APR FC (Rwanda)
In Luanda: Petro Atletico (Angola) v Civics (Namibia)
In Maseru: Likhopo (Lesotho) v ZANACO (Zambia)
In Pretoria: Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa) v Royal Leopards (Swaziland)
* Sunday, January 28:*
In Algiers: JS Kabylie (Algeria) v OS Balantas (Guinea Bissau)
In Antananarivo: AS Adema (Madagascar) v Anse Reunion (Seychelles)
In Bulawayo: Highlanders (Zimbabwe) v Pamplemousse SC (Mauritius)
In Casablanca: Wydad Casablanca (Morocco) v ASC Mauritel (Mauritania)
In Conakry: Fello Star Labe (Guinea) v Sporting Praia (Cape Verde Islands)
In Garoua: Coton Sport (Cameroon) v Uganda Revenue Authority (Uganda)
In Kinshasa: TP Mazembe Englebert (DR Congo) v Police XI (Botswana)
In Luanda: Primeiro Agosto (Angola) v Mangasport (Gabon)
In Malabo: Renacimiento (Equatorial Guinea) v AshantiGold (Ghana)
In Ouagadougou: ASFA Yennenga (Burkina Faso) v Nasarawa United (Nigeria)
In San Pedro: Sewe Sport (Côte d'Ivoire) v Mighty Barolle (Liberia)
In Yaoundé: Canon Yaounde (Cameroon) v Etoile du Congo (Congo)
In Yenagoa: Ocean Boys (Nigeria) v FC Kallon (Sierra Leone)
Sunday, February 3:
In Obuasi: Asante Kotoko (Ghana) v Gambia Ports Authority (Gambia)
The return legs will be played on the weekend of 9-11 February.