On Saturday, December 11, something of great significance happened in African football as one of Africa’s most decorated footballers, Samuel Eto’o Fils, was elected president of Cameroon’s Football Federation (Fecafoot).
It was a convincing victory for the legendary striker who polled 43 votes to beat interim president, Seidou Mbombo Nyoya, who won only 31 votes in the football federation election.
So popular was the 40-year-old former Indomitable Lions marksman that a few hours to the election, five other candidates voluntarily stepped down for him. That paved the way for the victory which he described as the most memorable moment of his life. Immediately after he achieved his political ambition, the four-time winner of the prestigious African footballer of the Year Award said the time to re-launch Cameroon’s football had come.
His victory didn’t come to many as a surprise because it is an open secret that Eto’o Fils wasn’t only passionate about playing for the Lions of Cameroon, he went the extra mile to motivate his teammates to give their best. No wonder, before he retired from international football, he amassed 115 caps for the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, scored 56 goals and served as captain of the team.
At the club level, Eto’o played for 13 different clubs in Europe and Asia. Most prominent among the clubs were Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Chelsea, Everton, Inter Milan, Espanyol, Sampdoria and Mallorca. He retired from international football in 2014 after he signed for Everton.
Now saddled with the responsibility of leading FECAFOOT for the next four years, the brand-new president, Eto’o Fils, will be the cynosure of all eyes, when the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament gets underway on January 9, in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Undoubtedly, his first major assignment will be to ensure that Cameroon clinches her sixth AFCON title. In his active days, the new president won two AFCON titles in 2000 and 2002.
It is pertinent to say that Eto’o Fils’ victory is worthy of celebration because it has amplified the recent clamour that former African football stars who have the prerequisite administrative acumen should be given the opportunity to administer the game of football in their respective countries.
Although such appeals had fallen on deaf ears, it is imperative to note that before now, Kalusha Bwalya had served as the president of the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) between 2008-2016. The legendary Bwalya was in charge of FAZ when the Chipolopolo won their first and only AFCON title in 2012 when the tournament was co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
The Christopher Katongo inspired Zambia defeated highly rated Elephants of Ivory Coast in a marathon penalty shoot-out. After the historic victory with the Chipolopolo, Bwalya presided over the football federation for another four years.
Although he was later banned by FIFA on allegations of corruption, it would be unfair to say Bwalya was a total failure. The transition of the Zambian legend from football player to administrator didn’t open the doors for his colleagues.
In Africa, people who never sweated or dirtied their socks on the field of play have continued to call the shots in football administration. Former internationals who aspire to lead are easily outsmarted by politicians in football.
For instance, in 2020, Chelsea of England legend, Didier Drogba, failed in his bid to be elected president of the Ivory Coast Football Federation. The major stumbling block for him was his immediate constituency, the Ivory Coast Footballers Association (AFI) which rejected him outrightly to pitch tent with one of his opponents. He is still licking his wounds.
Here in Nigeria, our own Chief Segun ‘Mathematical’ Odegbami has failed at least twice in his attempt to lead Nigerian football as NFF president. Another former Super Eagles striker, Dominic Iorfa, suffered a similar fate when he aspired to be the NFF president.
Therefore, the recent success of Eto’o Fils offers a ray of hope. Maybe other football stakeholders across Africa may be willing to accommodate more former players. If that happens, we might see an additional number of ex-footballers at the helm of affairs in the African football administration.
However, it must be said that such opportunities will never fall in the laps of the former players. They must be ready to fight like Eto’o Fils to take what rightly belongs to them.
Consequently, I want to call on all gullible former internationals who have consciously or ignorantly joined forces with the enemies of football in Nigeria to have a rethink. It is indeed shameful that most of our ex-players don’t even consider themselves as being good enough to serve as NFF president.
Indeed, they are easily distracted by inconsequential appointments. Those who are given Greek gifts by the NFF are willing to be the federation’s attack dogs. It becomes difficult for them to see that football in Nigeria is dying at an alarming rate.
For instance, it is said there are clandestine moves to amend the 2010 NFF Statues to allegedly extend the tenure of the present board and if possible, help Pinnick Amaju with a third term but Eto’o’s mates in Nigeria are unperturbed.
Rather than come together to wrest power from self-serving football administrators, they are busy fighting perceived enemies of their benefactors. This is disturbing because immensely talented Nigerian players once mentored and served as trailblazers for African stars like Samuel Eto’o but as if they don’t know their worth, most of them are now content with playing in politically motivated novelty football matches and enjoying undefined ambassadorial roles.