OSAKA – With two clinics, a much-envied youth academy, a modern stadium and their own 40-seat jet, life for African champions TP Mazembe is a world apart from that of their local rivals.
The team from the Democratic Republic Congo, which produced the biggest upset in Club World Cup history by reaching the final in 2010, is once again back in the tournament after winning the African Champions League again this year.
Simply getting to Japan is a remarkable achievement for a team which, according to FIFA presidential candidate Jerome Champagne, comes from a country which has fewer grass soccer pitches than a single Zurich suburb.
But, thanks to investments from chairman Moise Katumbi, the team known as Tout Puissant (all-powerful) enjoys conditions that its domestic rivals can only dream about.
The Stetson-wearing Katumbi, who has made a fortune from mining and other investments, has pumped millions into the club since he was elected chairman in 1997 and his name has become practically synonymous with Mazembe.
Mazembi scout thousands of youngsters for places in their prestigious academy and, by paying generous wages, are less likely to lose their top players to clubs abroad.
Their 18,000-capacity stadium with its modern artificial pitch is a far cry from, for example, AS Dauphins Noir, who play on a surface of black volcanic sand in their stadium in Goma.
Having their own plane means they avoid the uncertainties and complexities of flights around Africa.
“We have a president who has revolutionized the club,” said coach Patrice Carteron, whose side faces Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the quarterfinals on Sunday.
“But we are effectively a club apart and the rest of Congolese football is certainly in a different situation, the infrastructure and the conditions are very different.”
The Frenchman said it was difficult to manage expectations after their progress to the final five years ago, when they beat Brazilian side Internacional before losing 3-0 to Inter Milan in the final.
“People don’t realize how difficult it is to reach the final, to beat the champions of Japan and then the Champions of South America,” he said.
“The team had less pressure five years ago. The trouble is that when you’ve done it once, people don’t realize how difficult it is to do it again. We just have to go step by step.”
“We have to respect the 2010 team, but this is not the same team. It’s a new era and a new generation.”