A chance meeting with the President of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) has provoked the most stinging verdict on Ghana’s (local) Black Stars (class of Sudan 2011).
The magnificent five star Burj Al Fateh hotel sits at the nerve centre of Khartoum and aptly provided the backdrop for Issa Hayatou’s remarks. Clearly puzzled by the awful performance of Africa’s number 1 ranked team, the Fifa vice President asked openly “why, why Ghana?” before describing the Black Stars team of CHAN 2011 as the worst team he had seen in his over 40 years association with African football.
The point blank admission by the former 400 metres Cameroon national champion, took many by surprise. It was a frank and sincere attempt to grab some answers rather than an outright condemnation of Herbert Addo’s inexperienced players.
It also afforded me a few precious moments to steal a couple of quick questions as Hayatou struggled to comprehend how a team representing Ghana could deliver so little when so much was expected.
Perhaps the inspirational setting played a part in enticing the fifth president of the Caf to open up without invitation in a hotel built and financed by the Libyan government at a cost of over USD $80 million.
The building has an oval curved facade and is designed to resemble a sailing boat which has come to be known as ‘‘Gaddafi’s Egg’’.
In recent times, Hayatou has often been portrayed as a corrupt football dictator and he is still sore from a BBC Panorama allegation that he took a bribe of $10,000. However, the FIFA vice president claims the monies received were not illegal and were used to fund Caf’s 40-year anniversary.
“This money was not for me it was for the 40th anniversary of CAF,” he said. “What Panorama also did is that they are saying I have been bribed now rather than something that happened 16 years ago.
Speculation has been growing that due to age and health concerns, the Cameroonian would step down this year. So I asked him if he had anyone in mind to succeed him as President? “We are here for this new competition, dialogue and our congress so I am looking forward to it,” he said.
When I pushed regarding his intention to stand for the Fifa presidency again, he replied; ‘‘I have said that at this moment we are working well with Fifa and things are moving nicely. I have no interest in challenging my friend Sepp Blatter when the time comes. We have been making progress’’ Just as I readied to ask another question, Caf vice President General Memene Seyi of Togo,who had sat silently next to Hayatou all this while, turned to his long time friend and asked; ‘‘is this an interview.’’ That was my cue to shake hands and say thank you and leave. Upon reflection, it was a priceless 10 minutes with the man who has ruled African football for over 24 years.
Few however talk about the fact that Hayatou is a family man married with four children.
Born in Garoua, Cameroon the son of a local Sultan, he became a middle distance runner and a physical education teacher. Hayatou had a successful career as an athlete, becoming a member of the Cameroonian national squads in both Basketball and Athletics, and holding national record times in the 400 and 800 metres.
Remarkably in 1974, aged just 28, he became Secretary General of the Cameroon Football Association and Chairman of the FA in 1986. As chairman, he was chosen the same year to sit on the CAF Executive Committee and following the retirement of Ethiopia’s Ydnekkatchew Tessema from the CAF presidency in 1987, Issa Hayatou was duly elected as the fifth president in the body’s history.