Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
ANTONIO BARRADAS, the leading representative of La Liga in Africa, is set to make a landmark visit to Harare on Friday to explore partnerships that could, among other things, open avenues for Zimbabwean footballers to ply their trade in the Spanish top-flight league.
La Liga clubs, led by their heavyweight brands Real Madrid and Barcelona, have dominated world club football in recent years with the last three winners of both the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Champions League coming from Spain.
The Spanish top-flight league has also supplied winners of the last three UEFA Europa League titles, which have all been captured by Sevilla, while five of the last seven winners of the tournament have also come from La Liga in what has clearly been a ruthless domination of the European club football landscape.
But, for all its recent dominance of the world club football, La Liga still trails the vastly popular English Premiership in terms of both global appeal and the billions of dollars generated by England’s top-flight clubs, whose value as a business entity continues to soar as it feasts on its growing global popularity.
The La Liga leaders have been trying to counter the English Premiership’s appeal around the world and, two years ago, they opened an office in Africa — whose headquarters are in South Africa — as part of the initiatives to take their top-flight league around the globe.
They have since spread their tentacles to Nigeria and Kenya.
Now, the man who leads that project in Africa, Barradas, is coming to Harare this week for a landmark meeting with ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa to explore a number of business opportunities, including unlocking the doors for Zimbabwean football players to ply their trade in Spain.
“There are a number of issues on the agenda and Antonio is set to arrive in Harare on Friday and will meet the ZIFA boss Philip Chiyangwa and his team and explore areas that could be beneficial for both parties,’’ those who are organising the trip told The Herald yesterday.
“Clearly, La Liga have seen the potential that Zimbabwe provides, in terms of expanding its business around the world and also offering opportunities for Zimbabwean footballers to take their talents to Spain through established partnerships that will make it easy for them to pursue their dreams.
“Football is a huge industry around the world and it has been sort of stagnant in Zimbabwe, in terms of its evolution from the amateur to professionalism, and you can’t make that massive jump without having the right contacts around the world who only need just a phone call to open opportunities for you guys.
“The fact that Zimbabwe was the only country from Southern Africa at the recent Nations Cup finals caught the eyes of those who know what value means and there are a number of your players who also impressed even though you were knocked out in the group stages of that tournament.
“There has always been this question as to why it’s difficult for Zimbabwean players to crack it into the major leagues and I don’t mean playing for Barca or Real Madrid, but the smaller teams in La Liga and only a few months ago the whole continent was buzzing that Khama Billiat was a genius, but he is still in South Africa and these are the opportunities that we are talking about.
“La Liga is a big brand now and the game is technical and that is why the clubs from that league are dominating the game in Europe and in the world and it’s important that Zimbabwean players, the exceptional ones, also get a chance to play there instead of just focusing on playing in England.
“There is also the issue of academies and how talented young players from your country can be taken to Spain for the development of their talents at a very young age.’’
CAPS United’s success in the CAF Champions League this season, where they eliminated five-time African champions TP Mazembe, has also not gone unnoticed.
The Green Machine are reported to be close to concluding a three-year sponsorship deal with the country’s fastest growing mobile network provider.
The two parties are reported to have met on Monday although neither party was prepared to confirm the meeting.
The La Liga bosses have also warmed up to Chiyangwa’s rise in football on the continent and his growing influence in the game around the world and want to exchange notes with him.
“Clearly, your FA boss has enjoyed a stunning rise in the boardrooms of African football and the world has been watching what he has been doing, the mountains he has moved, and it’s natural that those who make decisions would want to interact with him and find ways of how they can move forward together,’’ the sources said.
“He has big connections at FIFA and CAF now and it’s only natural that those who have a vision for the future find a direct line to him and that is why you see all these heavyweights coming to your country and this is just a start.’’
Chiyangwa has denied social media reports claiming he had been appointed the CAF secretary-general.
“I understand that there is a story circulating on the social media, insinuating that I have been appointed to the position of CAF secretary-general. There is no such development, and these are absolute falsehoods,’’ he told the official ZIFA website.
“A CAF secretary-general is the head of CAF’s secretariat, and a full-time employee of the confederation.
“This is an inferior position to the ones I hold now, therefore, I do not harbour any ambitions whatsoever of landing that position.
“Above all, I currently hold far more superior positions to the vacant post, I am the President of both the Zimbabwe Football Association and COSAFA and it will be illogical for me to be appointed as the CAF Secretary- General.
“I am also an advisor to the CAF President, Ahmad Ahmad, who is also the Vice President of the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA); zvidiki here izvozvo?” (is that a small responsibility?) Dr Chiyangwa said.
CAF secretary-general Hicham El Amrani quit his post on Sunday.