Inside Sundowns' bid to build a Champions League-winning squad
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Inside Sundowns' bid to build a Champions League-winning squad
by Jack Hyom

South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns are hoping that using TransferRoom can help them recruit the talent to become the continent’s top club.

For me TransferRoom is about giving us a lot of possibilities and knowledge, so we don't waste time. I think in general our scouting department previously has wasted so much time on players that in the end you find out they were not a possibility anyway. On TransferRoom, you know straight away.
Flemming Berg
Sporting Director, Mamelodi Sundowns

Becoming Africa's best


The 2021-22 season was historic for South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns, winning the domestic treble of the Premier Soccer League, Nedbank Cup and MTN 8.


Now they’re looking to go one better and win Africa’s elite competition, the CAF Champions League, for the second time as they aim to become the continent’s top team and compete again in the FIFA Club World Cup.


To do that they’re looking to maximise the South African league’s limit of five foreign players per club, to compliment their core of homegrown talent and to gain a greater edge over the competition.


Flemming Berg only joined the Sundowns in April, following seven years at the Danish Football Association, and one of his priorities as the new Sporting Director was to join TransferRoom.


As the first African club on the platform, the Sundowns are now looking to get ahead of their continental competitors in the transfer market. 


“The main target for me is to win the Champions League, and that’s what I’m trying to build a squad for,” Berg said while negotiating summer transfer business fast at this month’s TransferRoom Summit - Deal Day 2022 in Madrid.


mamelodi sundowns new signing 2

Sundowns won the domestic treble in South Africa last season


A buying club


As the dominant force in South Africa, Sundowns are not as reliant on selling their top players as their domestic rivals, meaning their focus tends to be on incomings.


Berg explained: “We're mainly a buying club. We also have one player we would like to sell, but besides that we're looking for players to buy.


“We have a five-player foreign limit to be registered in the whole squad, not just on matchdays, so it's not a lot. They need to mainly be the best players, playing the biggest percentage of our games.


“We have to do that mainly with South African players, and also we have to compete with Europe for the best South African players, but that’s the way it is.”


It is a challenge for an executive who has spent his career with European football, where employment laws are not as restrictive.


He continues: “The biggest challenge I have? You have to work within the structures, the rules and limitations that are given to you and do it as best as possible, but to gather a strong enough squad to be able to compete with the North African clubs that are very strong, and later the Club World Cup.”


However, Berg believes the combination of TransferRoom’s digital platform and in-person events like June’s Deal Day will make it easier to recruit from markets worldwide that up until now have been difficult to reach for the club.


In particular, having access to real-time information means the entire recruitment team at Sundowns can work more efficiently.


“For me TransferRoom is about giving us a lot of possibilities and knowledge, so we don't waste time,” Berg says. “I think in general our scouting department previously has wasted so much time on players that in the end you find out they were not a possibility anyway. On TransferRoom, you know straight away.


“So it makes us a bit more efficient in that scouting work, but also gives us some possibilities to get into some markets that are otherwise difficult to get into.”


South American strategy


Nicknamed the Brazilians, as they wear the iconic yellow and blue colours of the five-time FIFA World Cup champions, it’s fitting that South America is the key transfer market that Sundowns are looking to tap into.


And it's a market that Berg knows well, having previously scouted the continent during his time at English giants Chelsea FC in the mid-2000s.


The club's current foreign contingent includes Uruguayan winger Gastón Sirino, while another Uruguayan, striker Mauricio Affonso, Venezuelan attacker Jose Ali Meza and Argentinian forward Emiliano Tade have all represented Sundowns in recent seasons.


Berg says that Sundowns are partly targeting South America to make it easier for new signings to adapt to playing at similarly high altitude levels, with the city of Pretoria, home to the club’s 28,900-seater Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium, more than 1,300 metres above sea level.


“We're looking quite a lot into the South American market. We've had good luck with South American players before and they seem to integrate pretty well with us, and we also have an altitude issue,” he notes.


“We play in altitude and so do they. For some players it takes a while to adjust to that. Also, the quality we can get there, for what we need and the price we need, South America is an interesting market for us.”


Trend setters


As the first club from the continent of Africa on TransferRoom, the Sundowns are entering relatively newfound territory. However, Berg believes it is only a matter of time before other top African clubs join the platform to gain direct access to a worldwide network of decision-makers at more than 650 clubs and real-time intelligence on the global transfer market.


“We're one of the six biggest clubs in Africa,” he Berg notes. “When they see that we are there, they will also start coming. They will see there is potential in doing some deals.”


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