Football - Benin: Tussle over championship format

Football - Benin: Tussle over championship format

Benin's professional football championship came to an end on 25 June 2023 with the triumph of Coton FC.As the season draws to a close, the players involved are not hiding their frustration with the 36-club championship format.

On 22 December 2020, the Benin Football Federation opted for a 36-club professional league.The decision was taken at an extraordinary general meeting held in Grand-Popo. According to the decision-makers, the Super League would be contested in two phases. The first, known as the Pro League, would see 36 clubs divided into 4 zones of nine teams each. At the end of this first phase, the top four clubs in each zone qualify for the 16-club Super Ligue Pro. The others are then transferred to the 20-club Pro Suite League for the second phase of the championship.

In the Pro Super League, where clubs from the same zone do not play against each other, the first-placed team represents Benin in the African Champions League preliminaries, while the second-placed team plays in the CAF Cup preliminaries. In the Pro Suite League, clubs compete in a two-zone tournament. The bottom two teams in each zone are relegated to League 3, while the top two teams in the third division go straight into the top flight. Three years on, however, coaches and players are taking stock of the situation, and do not see much enthusiasm for this reform, which the initiators have never justified.

"There is a glaring disparity in levels"."This zonal format makes you less competitive. There isn't really any competition.After all, a club can be champion (of the Super League) without necessarily having played against all the others.Coton FC are champions of Benin today, but they didn't play Avrankou Omnisports and Hodio FC, who did play in the league," points out Feliciano Montcho, left-back for ASPAC.

Victor Zvunka, coach of Coton FC, who retained their title after a long championship, deplores the lack of competitiveness towards the end of the season."When you're in the league and there's no drop-off, in the last five games, the last teams, you don't fear anything because you know that next season you'll be playing in the Pro League again," he laments.The assistant coach of Benin runners-up Loto-Popo goes further, saying that "the original idea wasn't a bad one, but after three years we've realised that the format has shown its limitations.There is a glaring disparity in the level of play in certain zones," observes Ouzérou Abdoulaye. "We need to move to a league with 14 or 16 clubs". In recent years, the level of the Super League has been heavily criticised.The country's representatives in CAF's interclub competitions have exited at the first round stage with catastrophic results. For observers of local football, these poor performances reflect the level of the league.

Among the coaches, there is no shortage of proposals for a return to the old formula. "If we want to improve the quality of our championship so that teams can progress, we need to move to a phase with 14 or 16 clubs and create a second division.The directors should get together and say that the championship will start with 4 pools of 9 clubs.The two phases would be repeated. The top two teams in the Ligue Pro Suite would move up to the D1 and the bottom two would move down," suggests French coach Victor Zvunka, who has played for Toulouse, Guingamp, CR Belouizdad and Horoya FC.

Sakibou Madougou, assistant coach at Bani Gansè Fc, makes two suggestions."I'd like to see the 16 clubs in the Super Ligue Pro plus the top two in the Ligue Pro Suite make up the first division.In a pinch, we keep the 16 teams from the SLP to form the first division and the rest will discuss the second division"."If we keep the same mentality, we'll have the same problems".

Ouzérou Abdoulaye agrees, but maintains an open mind. "Maybe we need to go back to a League 1, 2 and 3 format, but if we keep the same mentality we'll always have the same problems. To move forward, we need to think about training and youth leagues.It's not the 36-team format that prevents us from respecting the specifications or having youth category teams. I think it's the way we behave that prevents us from performing well," says the former Benin international. In Benin, the majority of the members of the FBF Executive Committee have at least one club in the Super League.And as soon as personal interests come into play, there is no shortage of decisions to keep the club in the top flight, to the detriment of the general interest.

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