Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor—
FIFTEEN months ago, the global football family barely knew him, but ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa’s whirlwind start to life in the trenches of the game’s leadership is taking the world by storm and shaking an establishment amazed by his colourful adventure. It has catapulted him into something close to a rock star, in a game where his fearlessness is rocking the boat as he leads a campaign to destroy one of the game’s strongest dynasties.
The 58-year-old Harare businessman, who produced a shocker when he won the ZIFA presidency by a landslide before even producing the Mother-of-all-Shocks by capturing the COSAFA presidency 12 months down the line, is pushing for the removal of long-serving CAF president Issa Hayatou from his position.
Chiyangwa is the campaign manager of challenger Ahmad Ahmad and claims his camp has already bagged 34 votes, with more coming their way, ahead of the CAF presidential elections in Ethiopia on March 16.
Given the way he punched above his weight to capture the ZIFA and COSAFA leadership in a blitzkrieg that stunned observers, those who doubt Chiyangwa’s capacity can only be doing so at their own peril and Hayatou, a wily old fox in the game, who has survived the FIFA tsunami of scandals that brought down Sepp Blatter, isn’t taking anything for granted.
Zambian legend Kalusha Bwalya’s decision yesterday to pull out of the battle for the FIFA Council seat against Ghana FA president Kwesi Nyantakyi on March 16 suggests the winds of change are blowing.
Bwalya is regarded as a member of the Hayatou camp while the Ghanaian, who was in Harare for Chiyangwa’s bash last week, is in Ahmad’s camp.
But the decision by the Comoros Football Federation, a member of the COSAFA regional grouping, which Chiyangwa leads, to say they will be voting for Hayatou despite having been part of the initial decision to vote for Ahmad en-bloc should tell the Harare property tycoon that nothing is what it seems when it comes to the CAF elections.
Comoros Football Federation’s Secretary-General Mariyatta Abdou Chacour sent a letter to the CAF headquarters in Cairo on February 18, saying they will back Hayatou.
“At the General Assembly of the Confederation of African Football, which will be held on 16 March 2017 in Addis-Ababa, the Comoros Football Federation gives its total support to President Issa Hayatou for his re-election to the post of CAF President,” read the letter.
But Ahmad’s camp will say that the secretary-general doesn’t vote and, after all, even Zimbabwe can publicly say they will vote for Hayatou, then on election day go for the Madagascar football leader.
However, what can’t be argued, whether Ahmad wins or loses on March 16, is that Chiyangwa has transformed himself into a global football figure and, for a man who was outside the game just 15 months ago, this is quite phenomenal and testimony of his character where he believes mountains can be moved.
His name is now being splashed in such influential international newspapers like USA Today, Boston Herald, New Zealand Herald and on such major sports channels like ESPN.
This means that Chiyangwa’s name this week was a subject of articles written throughout the globe, from New Zealand to the United States of America.
A story written by local journalist Enock Muchinjo and South African sportswriter Gerald Imray for the Associated Press this week has been the game-changer in taking Chiyangwa’s name around the world.
It has been published in hundreds of newspapers and online sites and in such influential papers like USA Today, New Zealand Herald and Boston Herald and run on the websites of such influential organisations like ESPN.
“The man driving the campaign to unseat long time African soccer boss Issa Hayatou is a multi-millionaire Zimbabwean property tycoon, who dabbles in politics and was once accused of being a spy,” reads the story.
“He has a love of brightly coloured designer suits — pink is his latest — and for posting cellphone videos showing off his flamboyant lifestyle.
“Zimbabwe Football Association president Philip Chiyangwa was a nobody in soccer, even in his home country, just over a year ago.
“Now he gets FIFA president Gianni Infantino to come to his birthday party and dance with him.
“He also has the attention of Hayatou, the Confederation of African Football president and FIFA senior vice president often thought to be immoveable in his rule of African soccer for 29 years.
“Chiyangwa is not standing against the 70-year-old Hayatou on March 16 in the CAF presidential election in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Rules Hayatou ushered through mean only members of his own executive committee can challenge him. Madagascar football head Ahmad is the candidate, but “Chiyangwa is Ahmad’s campaign manager and pivotal in maybe the biggest threat yet to the long reign of Hayatou, who was first elected in 1988.
“Chiyangwa claims to have won over 35 of Africa’s 54 federations to Ahmad’s cause. If true, that’s enough to remove Hayatou and cause a seismic shift in African soccer.
“Few federations have come out publicly in support of Ahmad to verify Chiyangwa’s claims, although Nigeria is one, but Chiyangwa’s influence has still reached a long way in a short time. All the way to the top.
“At his 58th birthday party in Harare on Friday, Chiyangwa, in his pink suit, recorded one of his selfie videos with world soccer head Infantino. They’re both smiling and laughing. ‘You guys, guess who I’m standing with?’” Chiyangwa asks.
“The FIFA president, in a more measured dark suit, points to Chiyangwa and says ‘He’s the man!’
“Light-hearted fun, but Infantino’s decision to party with his senior vice president’s enemies just before African soccer’s big election gave serious credence to the theory that Chiyangwa is turning the tide against Hayatou.
“Ahmad was also at Chiyangwa’s lavish celebration, where bottles of expensive whiskey were delivered to guests at their tables. A number of other African federation heads attended.”
And his swag has also caught the eye.
“His wealth is primarily in property, and glimpses of his lifestyle are on offer in the videos posted on the internet,” noted the Associated Press.
“Some of the most eye-catching feature his fleet of luxury cars, including an $800 000 Hummer limousine he named ‘The Transformer’ and which resembles a nightclub inside, all flashing neon lights. He calls his mansion, with its 33 bedrooms and 25 lounges, the White House.
“‘I’m trying to have fun,’ Chiyangwa says in another video as he pans the camera from a view of himself to his huge home and then to a cherry-red Mercedes sports car parked among a collection of luxury SUVs in the driveway.
“His first step in soccer came only in December 2015 when he became president of ZIFA. His second move was to rise to the head of the southern African union.
“Now he’s openly goading Hayatou, one of international soccer’s veteran leaders, the longest-serving executive on FIFA’s ruling council and previously the acting FIFA president, doing it with a swaggering style that contrasts the aging Hayatou’s gruff, almost dour, way.
“In Chiyangwa’s latest video on Twitter, he sits in the back seat of a car wearing sunglasses and singing along to a Zimbabwean pop tune. He occasionally raises two fingers in a kind of salute to the music and deftly changes the song’s lyrics at the end: ‘Oh, Lord, please carry me. Carry me, please. That’s the same route . . . to remove Hayatou.’”
World football has never seen anything like this.