Alex Song used to play for marquee European clubs Arsenal and Barcelona. Now, he is preparing to line up with Arta Solar 7 of Djibouti in the CAF Confederation Cup.
It will be a tall order for the 33-year-old Cameroonian as the team from the tiny Horn of Africa nation drew Al Mokawloon Al Arab (formerly Arab Contractors) in the preliminary round draw in Cairo Monday.
While success in Africa has eluded the Cairo outfit of late, they won the now defunct African Cup Winners Cup three times between 1982 and 1996.
Mokawloon qualified by finishing fourth behind African giants Al Ahly and Zamalek and 2020 Confederation Cup runners-up Pyramids in the Egyptian Premier League.
The route to Africa for Arta was less daunting as they lifted the FA Cup in Djibouti, a country ranked 51st in Africa and 185th in the world. This will be their third consecutive Confederation Cup appearance with a heavy defeat by Kariobangi Stars of Kenya in 2018 followed by a better showing when going down to Al Khartoum of Sudan.
Should the virtually unimaginable happen and Arta eliminate Mokawloon, they would face an even bigger obstacle in continental giants Etoile Sahel from Tunisia. Etoile are the only club to have won all five current and now defunct CAF competitions — the Champions League, Confederation Cup, Super Cup, African Cup Winners Cup and CAF Cup.
Apart from playing for the senior team, Song will supervise youth development at Solar during his two-year contract.
– Refused pay cut –
The Douala-born relative of Cameroon football legend Rigobert Song was ditched by Swiss side Sion this year after refusing to take a pay cut necessitated by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Apart from wearing the colours of Arsenal and Barcelona, Song played for Bastia in France, Charlton Athletic and West Ham United in England, Rubin Kazan in Russia and Sion.
Meanwhile, Confederation Cup title-holders Renaissance Berkane of Morocco received a preliminary-round bye and await the winners between AS Kaloum of Guinea and Tevragh-Zeina of Mauritania. Berkane hail from the citrus fruit-producing northeast of Morocco so it is no surprise that followers of the team fondly call them the ‘Orange Boys’.
They have made steady progress in four Confederation Cup appearances, going from preliminary round losers in 2015 to quarter-finalists three seasons later and runners-up in 2019.
A new goal for Renaissance will be to emulate CS Sfaxien of Tunisia and TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo and win back-to-back titles. Those who could stand in their way include the four former African champions in the field — Entente Setif and JS Kabylie of Algeria, Orlando Pirates of South Africa, and Etoile Sahel.
Preliminary round matches are scheduled for November 27-29 and December 4-6 and those in the last-32 stage will be played on December 22-23 and January 5-6.
The 16 survivors of the qualifying rounds go into a separate draw against the CAF Champions League last-32 losers with places in the group draw up for grabs.