Issa Hayatou was a behemoth as he led African football for almost 30 years. On Thursday, in Addis Ababa, Ahmad Ahmad, a 57-year-old Madagascan, toppled the septuagenarian in a “bloody” coup.
The scenes of victory recorded were like that of a General who had triumphed on the war front. Ahmad was carried shoulder high by singing and dancing supporters, as there was a collective sigh of relief from all involved at getting rid of the sit-tight Hayatou.
Nigeria Football Federation president, Amaju Pinnick, was a major protagonist of this “change” and he more than many trumpeted this changeover even when many believed that Hayatou was still the cat with nine lives.
Now that his candidate is head of CAF and he has also been voted into CAF, what happens next?
As my senior colleague, Olukayode Thomas, wrote in Sahara Reporters, there is no discernible difference between Hayatou and Ahmad apart from rhetoric. He said both are establishment men, and only differ by age and the switching of camps between disgraced former FIFA strongman, Sepp Blatter, and successor, Gianni Infantino.
Africa’s football is seriously challenged. And every sane person can see the challenges facing the continent in its development of the game. But the technocrats that are supposed to come up with solutions have been more apt at designing ways of enriching themselves – this must stop!
African football needs stronger local leagues, better trained coaches, and well remunerated players.
Improving the local leagues would take integrity from the headquarters of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). CAF must understand that the bedrock for development is the various local leagues that are grossly under-funded to the detriment of age-grade tournaments and the World Cup. Case in point is the allure of the UEFA Champions League, which year after year continues to grow because the associating federations are developing their local leagues and the standard gets better by instituting deliberate plans.
Coaching would continue to be a great challenge as long as CAF does not come out with a way to grade coaches in a coherent manner across the continent. When a good coach in Nigeria is unable to get coaching jobs across Africa, then coaches from Europe and Asia will continue snagging jobs on the continent. The grassroots will also continue to suffer degradation because the youths would not be properly trained.
Also, players from Africa will continue to make missionary journeys to places like Afghanistan, Moldova and the likes because they are not well paid in their various countries, which means that talents that should develop the local leagues would continue to develop European leagues. There must be a way that CAF would intervene and ensure that players develop and are well remunerated.
These are some of the challenges facing African football and the millions of talented players on the continent do not care whether it is Hayatou or Ahmad. Pinnick and Ahmad now have the mandate they fought so vigorously for but they now have to be more vigorous in achieving the change they preached.