Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
CAF president Ahmad Ahmad risks torching a storm after seemingly overlooking southern Africa’s finest football sons — including former Bafana Bafana skipper Lucas Radebe and the Warriors’ most successful captain Peter Ndlovu — on his proposed panel to help him boost the development of the game on the continent.
The Malagasy football chief, whose stunning victory which ended Issa Hayatou’s 29-year reign as CAF president was built on a foundation of a rebellion against the Cameroonian strongman started by the southern African football leaders, announced he will work with a panel of some of the continent’s legendary footballers to help him develop the game.
Ahmad wants former African footballers to play a leading role in helping shape the future of the game on the continent, in what represents a major and defining policy shift, after they were largely sidelined by Hayatou and his cabal during a period in which the Cameroonian — whose sporting roots were in athletics — ruled the African game with an iron fist.
The new CAF president feels the input of former footballers will be key in the way he intends to improve the fortunes of football on the continent and leave a legacy of success, rather than the controversy that littered Hayatou’s rule, and appears desperate to avoid the way his predecessor ran a show in which he became the be-all-and-end-all of the game in Africa.
Ahmad says he has already contacted Ghanaian football legend Abedi Pele, who was isolated from playing a big part in the administration of African football by Hayatou for about two decades after he chose to back Sepp Blatter in the race for the FIFA presidency in 1998 — instead of the Cameroonian strongman’s candidate Lennart Johansson — to be part of a panel of former players who could help him run the game on the continent.
Pele was thrown out of a CAF committee by Hayatou for daring to oppose him during landmark elections, which Blatter won, and was one of the high-profile victims of the brutal assault on dissenting voices that followed the Cameroonian strongman’s humiliation in Paris.
Zimbabwe also paid a huge price for being part of a southern African bloc that rebelled against Hayatou and, rather than vote for Johansson, voted for Blatter with the country being stripped of its rights to host the 2000 Nations Cup finals although the official excuse from the CAF leadership, camouflaging the brutality of that purge, was that preparations for the tourney were not going according to schedule.
However, that foolish excuse was exposed when Hayatou — irked by Ahmad’s decision to come forward and challenge him for the CAF presidency — played the same card when he moved the CAF Under-17 championship finals from Madagascar to Gabon this year as a way of punishing the Indian Ocean country for the alleged sins of its football leader.
Ahmad said Pele was one of the iconic former African footballers he would be consulting as he charts a new chapter for African football.
“I have spoken to Drogba on the telephone, I saw Abedi Pele, my colleague has seen Samuel Eto’o, I talked to Patrick M’boma,” Ahmad said in statements that have been carried on the CAF website.
“CAF will organise a meeting soon with representatives of these African stars to discuss their future collaboration with the Confederation of African Football.”
Pele, Drogba, Eto’o and Mboma are some of the greatest African football stars of all-time.
However, by concentrating on legends from one part of the continent, and seemingly not including southern African legends — especially given some of the great footballers from this region felt marginalised by the previous leadership which neither tapped into their knowledge nor accepted their status as people who could make a huge difference in the way the game was administered in Africa — Ahmad risks duplicating the template that left the region’s icons in the cold.
And, possibly, alienating himself from the very constituency that provided the foundation for him to turn what was largely viewed as Mission Impossible into a one of the greatest boardroom coups in the history of world football as his quest to dethrone Hayatou, which was largely dismissed at the start as a hopeless adventure, ended as a success story.
Southern African legends like Radebe, the former Bafana Bafana skipper who rose to captain a very powerful and successful Leeds United during this English side’s time in the Premiership, is one of those iconic footballers from this region whose input has largely been ignored.
His leadership qualities shone brightly as he led Leeds to fourth place in his first season as captain, and a place in the old UEFA Cup, and then third place in the championship race the following year, and a place in the UEFA Champions League where they reached the semi-finals. Radebe, at his peak, turned down the chance to join Manchester United and AC Milan and in 2000 was awarded the FIFA Fair Play award while he also played at the ’98 and 2002 World Cup finals as the leader of his country during an adventure in which he collected 70 caps for South Africa.
He was also heavily involved in his country’s successful bid to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals.
Ndlovu, the most successful Warriors skipper after leading this country to the 2004 and 2006 Nations Cup finals, is another fountain of football knowledge from this region having spent 13 years playing in England where, at one stage, he was considered a raw talent who could become the next George Best.
The other is Bruce Grobbelaar, the Zimbabwean goalkeeper who made 628 appearances for Liverpool — during a 13-year period when the Reds were the dominant force in European football — winning six league titles, three FA Cups and being crowned a champion of Europe.