Africa / 4 December 2019, 1:30pm / Bonginkosi Ndadane
JOHANNESBURG - Class is definitely in session for the Clever Boys after years of struggling to reach the big boys’ grade in continental football. Bidvest Wits are involved in the group stage of the CAF Confederation Cup for the first time in the club’s history.
Their debut was far from spectacular, playing to a goalless draw with Horoya on Sunday at Dobsonville Stadium.
They will look to make up for that disappointing start when they take on Djoliba in Mali on Sunday.
This is unfamiliar territory for Wits, who have had a number of failed attempts to mix it with the big boys of continental football, starting with Roger de Sa and under current coach Gavin Hunt, who managed to take them to another level by winning the Absa Premiership with them for the first time.
Instead of that result being a catalyst for a great run, Wits went a step back as they struggled to constantly be great like their new status demanded them.
The club is in a rebuilding phase after some changes in management and looking to reclaim the glory days on the pitch and their participation in the Confederation Cup is a good platform to toughen the team in preparation of another assault of the league.
“Playing in Africa is nice and competitive,” Wits and Bafana Bafana centre-back Buhle Mkhwanazi said.
“It’s not easy, but then you know as a player that you need such games so that you can improve your game, so that you can see how far you can go in terms of your ability.
“It’s also a good test for your career, to see how far you can push it. It’s very competitive and it is never easy. It is very different from our league, our league isn’t that physical.
“Going into this tournament, you have to change your concept and approach to games when you face the different teams. It’s a great tournament for any individual to be involved in and grow as a player.”
Wits used to look down on continental football, arguing that there isn’t much enough money for the physically, emotionally and financially exhausting campaign.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) have since changed that by pouring more money in their competitions. A financial injection that comes from doing well in this competition will do Wits a whole world of good with their budgets having shrunk and key personnel being let go.
On the pitch they also haven’t done that well - since winning the league in the 2016/17 season, Wits have finished 13th and third. Their third-place finish last season earned them a place in the Confederation Cup.
Them reaching the group stage and with Mamelodi Sundowns doing the same in the CAF Champions League means that the country will continue having four representatives in continental competitions in the foreseeable future.
The squad that Hunt is building will benefit from this gruelling campaign, along with fighting for the championship in the domestic setup.
Wits’ run is part of a growing positive attitude from South African clubs on competing in continental football and the game in the country can only grow from such an attitude.