Issa Hayatou, who as president of the Confederation of African Football dominated the African soccer world for 29 years, finally leaves the field to the hitherto unknown Ahmad Ahmad of Madagascar. His big boots will be hard to fill. Anver Versi looks back on the highlights of the career of Africa's Mr Football.
The Cameroonian Issa Hayatou became the first "truly sub-Saharan" leader of the pan-African organisation when he was elected in 1987. After 29 years, he was still prepared to continue before his marathon stint was brought to an end by Ahmad Ahmad from Madagascar last month.
Hayatou had taken over an ossified organisation that seemed far more concerned with internal power and privilege politics than the development of African football. World soccer had moved on but continental football remained stagnant and focussed on North Africa.
A change was desperately needed ana Hayatou provided this. New African, which had begun campaigning on behalf of African soccer and players and carrying the message not only all over the continent but also into the centres of global soccer abroad, put its considerable influence and reach behind Hayatou.
He deployed his own substantial diplomatic and leadership skills and his wide contacts to move African soccer swiftly and surely out of the ghetto it has been stuck in and onto the world stage.
He increased the number of spots for African teams in the FIFA World Cup finals from two to five (six during the 2010 South African World Cup); he expanded the number of teams in the finals of the African Cup of Nations from eight to 16 teams; he expanded regional club competitions and oversaw the solid growth of youth and women's football; under nis leadership,
African soccer performances improved markedly, with Cameroon and Senegal reaching the quarter-finals of the 1990 and 2002 World Cups respectively, while Nigeria and Cameroon won Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2000.
He held the then FIFA president, Sepp Blatter to his pledge to bring the World Cup to Africa and worked with various organisations, including global sponsors and media, to deliver one of the best tournaments in FIFA's history. He was an astute deal-maker, ensuring that billions of dollars flowed into the sport in Africa, and also worked with great global African stars such as George Weah, Samuel Eto'o, Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and...