Time Out! – John Paintsil needed this latest sack.

It’s just what the doctor prescribed for John Paintsil: a fresh start.

Days after announcing his decision to retire from active football and stating his intention to go into coaching, the veteran Ghana full-back landed his first managerial gig — and, given his next-to-no experience in management, it could hardly have been bigger. The former Berekum Arsenal man was unveiled as one of the new faces who was to grace the technical bench of South African giants Kaizer Chiefs nearly a year ago, joining the Amakhosi as assistant to head Steve Komphela. That was really no more than the merits he could legitimately claim after all he’d been through in recent years.

Paintsil, a two-edition Fifa World Cup participant and 89-game member of the Black Stars over several years, received his last Ghana call-up in 2012. His club career — the heights of which saw him represent Fulham and West Ham United in the English Premier League — dragged along to a slow, painful death not long afterwards, eventually ending unceremoniously in the same country where he launched his coaching journey.

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Disturbed thus in his public business, there’s been precious little solace from Paintsil’s private life where a troubled marital relationship has only gone downhill since Paintsil was nabbed by the police in 2013 for allegedly assaulting his wife physically. For a man who’s had so little to celebrate over the years (albeit having himself to blame for some of it) and who has suffered a sudden demotion from being the lovable flag-waving patriot whose victory laps decorated almost every major Ghana win in his time to a deeply-loathed, woman-abusing villain, Paintsil deserved that big break he would have been the first to admit he’d barely earned.

Being at continental heavyweights Chiefs in his fresh role wasn’t necessarily going to cast his demons out, of course. Nor was it going to make him husband-of-the-year. It surely wasn’t going to rid him of the personal demons that seemed embedded in his worryingly worsening attitude… And so, it proved. After twelve months with the South African club, these same news worthy activities, that have come to typify john Paintsil as we’ve come to know him for so long came back to haunt him. The vicious cycle of getting into the headlines and featuring on the frontpages of newspapers for all the wrong reasons wasn’t something those in the helm of the Amakhosi were going to be taking lightly. This latest episode came with a prize tag he could barely afford to pay (all puns intended).

Having been relieved of his duties now, this new phase in his life, instead, represents a clean slate Paintsil would be a fool not to fill with glory. Should he make good use of this me-time, Paintsil could prove even better at coaching than he was at playing; mess this golden opportunity to regroup and restrategise up, though, and his mission of self-ruin would be complete.

Over to you, Jeonju Man.

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VAR needless: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it!

Change, they say, is good, but they also say it could be incredibly difficult to accept, and nowhere is the latter aphorism as truthful as in the world of football. In the last few years, football has proved it wouldn’t embrace any attempts to alter its long-standing traditions warmly — at least not without a fight.

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Indeed, unhappy were many when the ‘golden goal’ — and later the ‘silver goal’ — was introduced to decide the winners of games that extended beyond 90 minutes. And when the matchball for the Fifa World Cup was made considerably lighter for the competition’s 2010 edition, people complained. Goal-line technology and the presence of an additional assistant referee behind the goal-lines, though now fully incorporated threads in the football fabric, took a while in coming and some do still have their reservations about those novel concepts.

Football, to put it mildly, is highly resistant to change, and the latest instance — that of the video assistant referee (VAR) — at the ongoing Fifa Confederations Cup in Russia has, true to form, caused no mean a storm. The period of cruel uncertainty between incidents and the VAR’s reaction times has left many feeling they — and football — would be better off with its many flaws, unless the latest innovation’s own troubling errors are ironed out.

For the conservatives (the vast majority of those who have found joy in the beautiful game over the years, really), though, there may be many more months of heartache and accustomization ahead. Should the sport’s lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), have their way, football would soon give its pretty coat one trim too many.

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Among a raft of alterations to be made to existing football laws aimed at addressing the game’s “negativities”, IFAB hopes to make it possible: for a player to be able to dribble straight from a free-kick; for a player to pass to himself at a free-kick, corner-kick and goal-kick; to fix a stadium clock which stops and starts along with the referee’s watch; for a goal-kick to be taken even if the ball is moving; for a goal-kick to be taken on the same side that the ball went out on; for a “clearer and more consistent definition” of handball; for a player who scores a goal or stops a goal with his hands to get a red card; for a keeper who handles a backpass or throw-in from a team-mate to concede a penalty; for the referee to award a goal if a player stops a goal being scored by handling on or close to the goal-line; for referees to blow for half-time or full-time when the ball goes out of play; that a penalty kick is either scored or missed/saved and players cannot follow up to score; and for a game to be played in two 30-minute halves.

Now while the objectives toward which all that is geared is certainly noble — namely, “improving player behaviour and increasing respect, increasing playing time, and increasing fairness and attractiveness” — the actual measures meant to lead football there aren’t exactly going to please everyone; tell me you didn’t find quite a few somewhat ridiculous and barely imaginable as you went through them. Implement these and, at least at the outset, many fans, players, managers and journalists would almost certainly raise one loud, deafening howl in protest, even if — as with every form of change the world has ever experienced that stuck — with time we’d be forced to accept, if not love, them.

Football is already great as it is — though requiring the odd tweak here and there — but somebody shouldn’t have forgotten to attach that ‘DO NOT TAMPER WITH’ tag to the package.

Taking Over – shine on bright Black Starlets

Shatta Wale’s Taking Over isn’t just the most wildly trending song on Ghanaian radio today; it’s also the ‘official’ party song for the Black Starlets, Ghana’s national U-17 team, as they’ve marched from victory to victory at the ongoing Nations Cup in Gabon.

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Indeed, the Starlets have exuded much promise and maturity since their first game at the tournament when they beat Cameroon — incidentally the very nation responsible for Ghana missing out on the last edition of the event — 4-0. They went one better in their next outing, thumping the sorry hosts and qualifying for the knockout stages — and the Fifa World Cup to be held later this year — with a game to spare. That third fixture, versus Guinea, ended in a goalless draw, but on parade was a different Ghana side, one that had nothing to play for. The stakes were considerably higher, though, when the Starlets took on Niger (a team they had comfortably beaten in a two-legged friendly just before the competition) in the semi-finals. Again, the goals failed to come, stretching the affair to a series of spotkicks where Ghana’s superiority gave them the edge in a 6-5 victory.

 

Ghana’s ability in front of goal may have waned somewhat in those two matches — a reason for which many Ghanaians tinged their initial optimism with caution — but at least they have been consistently impervious in defence. The Starlets are the only team thus far not to have conceded, and that’s a run head coach Paa Kwesi Fabin would love to extend and preserve in the final against Mali. The Malians themselves are something of a free-scoring side, having put past opponents just one goal less than Ghana’s nine. Like Ghana, too, Les Aiglonnets booked their ticket to the final via a penalty shootout, albeit one of the worse you’d ever see, with neighbours Guinea missing four of their spotkicks to ease the former’s passage.

And, oh, again like Ghana, who seek to become the first nation to win the trophy for keeps (a feat to be sealed by a third triumph in the competition), Mali aren’t without extra incentive, namely, the quest to become only the first team to successfully defend the title and simultaneously pull level with Ghana, Nigeria and Gambia on two conquests. Clearly, Mali — hosts of the first ever continental U17 championship’s back in 1995, the current holders of the trophy, and [losing] finalists at the last World Cup — would be no easy prey.

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All of that makes Mali the most formidable, most motivated team Ghana could face at the tournament. All of that, too, makes this the one game Ghana have little option but to win. Per the expectations of the many Ghanaians who have waited 18 years since the country last won the trophy — and 12 after their most recent appearance in the final, when a goal scored under controversial circumstances saw them overcome by Gambia — the Starlets are obliged, not just to triumph, but to do it in style and with character. It’s the only climax that the creative brilliance of Emmanuel Toku (touted as the brightest among the bunch), the goalscoring prowess of skipper Eric Ayiah (joint leading scorer at the showpiece), the remarkable confidence of Idriss ‘Tampico’ Mohammed (scorer of that peach of a panenka versus Niger), and the entire team’s collective brilliance deserves. Winning may not be the prime objective at under-age competitions — though that is a point not quite drummed home fully to folks this side of the Atlantic — but it’s a reward that wouldn’t be rejected.

Glory beckons, and there could be no better time for the Starlets to do just as Wale said in the song referred to at the outset — show Ghana, go harder, and take over.

Higher, Higher! – Kwesi Nyantakyi goes Higher!

It’s sometimes easy to forget Kwesi Nyantakyi is only 48 — too young to even have witnessed Ghana’s first two Afcon victories and the nation’s attainment of Republican status — considering all that he has achieved in his career as a football administrator.

The ambition Nyantakyi exudes is infectious, a bug impossible not to catch if you ever get to interact with him on a personal level — a privilege I had sometime in December 2014. Across a table at the plush Best Western Premier Hotel — one of the finest in the Ghanaian capital — and in the company of a mutual friend of ours, recently deceased New Patriotic Party activist Kwabena Boadu, I engaged Nyantakyi in a lengthy discussion that dragged into the late hours of the night.

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That rare encounter came in the midst of perhaps the most challenging period of Nyantakyi’s tenure as head of the Ghana Football Association. It hadn’t been long since the Black Stars returned from a Fifa World Cup tournament where a series of incidents made the country an international laughing-stock. Instances of indiscipline by individual players — resulting in two of the team’s most high-profile members being dismissed before Ghana even played its final game at the event — and collective squad mutiny over unpaid fees shredded the nation’s image and left the team and its handlers hugely unpopular. The Stars’ coach at the Mundial, Kwesi Appiah, was fired after the competition — a decision that, though validated somewhat by a considerable measure of public opinion, didn’t go down well with everybody.

Nyantakyi had also [in]famously appeared before the Commission of Inquiry set up by government to investigate said mess at Brazil 2014, and some of his submissions on that platform convinced few of his integrity and the credibility of the organisation he runs. And, oh, need I include that, not long after this writer’s date with Nyantakyi, the Stars were due to participate at an edition of the Africa Cup of Nations that many feared could be the worst yet in the country’s proud footballing history?

Yet here Nyantakyi sat, talking about his personal ambitions after extensively addressing some of the controversies mentioned above. Though battling such an explosive cocktail of chaos, he didn’t possess the mien of a man overwhelmed by all that was going on around him. If anything, he looked like a leader calm and in firm control of what seemed a lost cause: picture the Titanic, half-sunk, but with its unruffled captain glued to a rare warm spot on the deck, with a glass of martini kissing his lips. Only that this ship, Nyantakyi’s, wasn’t going down — not on his watch. Much as Nyantakyi cares about Ghana football — and his passion about that subject is unrivalled, trust me — he knows he’d have a life to live long after he ceases to be the sports most powerful man this side of the Atlantic, and it’s a life he wishes to live while perched on much higher rungs of football’s political ladder.

It’s why, on this chilly December night, the one-time banker-lawyer shed light on his own goals, notably that of becoming president of the Confederation of African Football someday. Asked if he really had what it took to contest an office that had been one man’s since Nyantakyi himself was a teen, the boy from Wa simply shrugged, smiled, and said: “Why not?”

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That expression of belief in his prospects and abilities may have been surprisingly crisp, but it oozed sheer confidence. Three years later, Issa Hayatou finally got dethroned as Caf boss, but not by Nyantakyi. Egg on the Ghanaian’s face?

Hardly. Nyantakyi may not have had his name plastered on the big door, but he had been heavily influential –perhaps the most influential figure aside Fifa chief Gianni Infantino — in plotting Hayatou’s fall and anointing the despot’s successor, Malagasy Ahmad Ahmad. And, really, isn’t a kingmaker much more powerful than the king himself?

Shortly after Ahmad’s coronation, Nyantakyi secured for himself a four-year term on the mighty Fifa Council, the elite body which calls the shots in the game. Still, Nyantakyi, Oliver Twist with a Ghanaian passport, wanted more — and more is what he has received after his confirmation on Monday as the occupant of the office next to Ahmad’s at the Caf Secretariat in Cairo: that of the establishment’s 1st Vice-President. It makes him, by some distance now, the most successful football administrator Ghana has ever produced, even overtaking the late Ohene Djan.

And all of this Nyantakyi has achieved without the solid backing Djan enjoyed from his own country’s government. Rather, Nyantakyi has really been up against it on his home turf, having to dribble his way through a maze of controversy, harsh critics and vendetta. His opponents have had various tools to their advantage in pushing their cause, but Nyantakyi has used the one weapon he wields to such devastating effect: raw determination.

Love him or not, his comprehension of strategy is remarkable, and that brilliant ability to push his pieces into just the spaces now has him on top of his game. If politics were a game of chess as they say, call Nyantakyi a grandmaster and you wouldn’t be wide of the mark. Ghana, it seems, is a bit too small for him now. Nyantakyi has already announced he wouldn’t seek to extend his reign as FA boss after his 14th year in power ends in 2019 and, although there is already talk of him relinquishing his role even earlier after his latest international appointment, he wouldn’t mind bowing out anytime he’s required to; his record as the GFA’s longest-serving, most productive president is already etched in 24-carat gold.

On a continental/global level, though, he’s only just started, and it’s hard to predict when — and, indeed, where — he might stop.

EARNED IT!: Chrissy Atsu Deserves Newcastle United Stay

When English giants Chelsea, around the beginning of the current season, sent Christian Atsu on the Ghanaian’s fourth loan spell since his move to London from Oporto, few held any hopes for a young man who had increasingly drifted towards the periphery of the picture envisaged by the men who plotted his arrival at Stamford Bridge.

Only the first of the temporary transfers Atsu had been farmed out on — to Dutch outfit Vitesse Arnhem, where he was voted by fans as that club’s best player for the 2013/14 season — brought real success. The experiences that followed, at English Premier League sides Everton and Bournemouth, yielded very little due to a dire lack of opportunities and fitness issues respectively. The next adventure, at Spain’s Malaga, wasn’t so bad — but it wasn’t so good either for a man who is yet to start a competitive game for his parent club.

The stint at St James’ Park thus seemed, at worst, one loan move too many; at best, it represented Atsu’s entry into last chance saloon, with respect to his prospects as a future Chelsea star. Thankfully, it’s a chance he clutched with little hesitance.

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Opportunities for Atsu were sparse at the beginning, but his undoubted brilliance filtered through, easing him gradually into the plans of Rafael Benitez, the Magpies’ manager, as well as the hearts of the club’s faithful. Before long — especially in the latter half of the season — Atsu started to earn more minutes and greater trust, contributing enough to merit all that has come his way of late. On Monday night, when his countrymen were reliving Lionel Messi’s Clasico moment of genius and Wayne Rooney’s return to goalscoring on Sports Station and/or Highlights on Ghanaian television, Atsu played perhaps his biggest role yet in a Newcastle shirt. Against Preston North End in Newcastle’s penultimate home game of the season, Benitez’s charges let slip an early lead, only for Atsu to restore it with a fine finish shortly before recess. It was an advantage the Toon Army never relinquished, not even after Atsu left the pitch to some applause with a third of an hour to go. By the time the winger had signed off, Newcastle had wrapped up a 4-1 victory, sealing a return to the English top-flight at the first time of asking, just days after Championship leaders Brighton & Hove Albion had secured their own ticket.

Atsu may yet have a part to play in what remains of Newcastle’s campaign, with rotation-obsessed Benitez likely to grant his fringe players — a category Atsu, despite his recent rise to considerable prominence, hasn’t entirely emerged from – game-time, and the 25-year-old would seek to add to his four-goal, three-assist haul before the climax. And then?

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Well, and then Newcastle could exercise the option they have to make permanent Atsu’s stay – at least for the player’s sake. A return to Chelsea, given the well-oiled juggernaut Antonio Conte has constructed that’s humming along just fine, won’t be in Atsu’s best interests. Remaining at Newcastle would, though, and Chelsea should be willing to part with the lad they apparently don’t regard too highly anyway for a reasonably modest fee.

Atsu has proved himself enough in 30 appearances (nearly half of them starts) to stake a claim for extended life on Tyneside beyond the current season, even if Newcastle decide to bring in reinforcements to ensure a better experience in the Premier League than their last. He’s found a home with the Geordies, fans who adore him already, and a manager whose unwavering belief in meritocracy would give him a fair crack at matching the hype that brought him to England four years ago.

Propulsion to Repulsion: the all too familiar story of African youth gems

It is a story that lends itself to poignant contrasts. There have been several theories used to explain away this phenomenon but African youth stars not being able to live to their initial hype is still quite troubling.

I need not remind anybody that the Black Satellites of Ghana are the first and as at the time of writing this, the only African team to ever win the FIFA U 20 world up. I need not remind anyone that at the third time of asking, wild celebrations; players running into one another with fists punching the air; members of the technical staff and substitutes locked up in warm embrace, characterized an evening that saw the young brave Ghanaians climb their way through the turnstiles of the Cairo International Stadium to receive their medals and trophy from the now suspended Ex-FIFA president Josef Blatter. Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu’s strike from twelve yards out, gave the Black Satellites victory in sudden death after all five compulsory penalty kicks and 120mins of football failed to separate the two sides.

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Joyous Black satellites with the U20 world cup trophy at the Cairo International stadium, Egypt.

Almost all the pre match talks and analysis that typified expectations building up to the dream finale between Ghana and Brazil gave the fixture the right to be described as a David versus Goliath encounter. Ghana – two time losing finalist – locking horns with perennial world champions Brazil was somewhat an apt climax to what was a largely entertaining tournament in Egypt. They were two of the most exciting teams in the entire tournament but on paper were not as evenly matched as performances in previous competition would have people believe – one team simply didn’t have enough in itself to win a final match while the other had on four previous occasions, steamrolled over their opponents in an U-20 final.

“It’s a fantastic feeling when you reach the Final” Sellas Tetteh, the Ghana coach told Fifa.com with a simper, cutting the image of a coach deeply satisfied with the turn of events. But he was quick to admit his side’s shortcomings and was in no mood to underestimate the enormity of the task ahead. “We’ll do whatever it takes to win the trophy now. We’re not favourites and we’re up for the challenge. We’ve played good football throughout the tournament. We have no reason to be nervous. We have the required fitness, and we have the necessary determination.” Coach Sellas ended by saying.

The stage was set; the man with the whistle, book and cards sounded his whistle and a roar from the teeming fans – mostly Egyptians – got the game started.

The match started well for the Black Satellite, as Ghana impressed in the early exchanges. At least until the 37th minute when a moment of [in]decision from defender Daniel Addo resulted in a red card and that meant a further gulf had been added between the two teams. Down to 10 men, the Black Satellites held their own against their more accomplished opponents for well over eighty-three minutes and the game had to be decided through the lottery of a penalty shoot-out.

Speaking of a gulf in class, the occupants of the award podium at the end of the tournament painted and entirely different picture. Brazilian duo Alex Teixeira and Giuliano came second and third respectively to the golden ball winner Dominic Adiyiah, whose eight goals, electric play, good work ethic and a healthy level of confidence exhibited throughout the competition made him easily the most identifiable member of the Ghana squad. That was the birth of a golden generation, headlined by Andre Ayew and Dominic Adiyiah; the telltale signs, there for all to see.

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One would have been forgiven for imagining that, in a few years’ time, the Black Stars should be able to slug it out against the Seleçao of Brazil in any competitive fixture. After all, did we not beat them with a man down for close to 90 minutes at the U20s?

Unfortunately, nearly anytime Africa has excelled at a global youth football event, the story has largely remained the same. There has always been a clogged progression from promise to fully formed National stars – if ever they become one. The stories of Philip Osundo, Wilson Oruma and Macauley Christiantus to name a few have shown that the disconnect still remains.

But when does the bottom fall out and everything go all south?

It is a story that lends itself to poignant contrasts. There have been several theories used to explain this phenomenon: age-cheating and wrong career moves being so far the most posited.

Let’s take for instance, Sani Emmanuel, the 2009 U17 golden ball winner, though just turned 23, has been released by Bosnian outfit FK Sarajevo after similarly unsuccessful stints with six other teams in Europe. Then the news of Yussufu Yaffa whose age is being wildly disputed by AC Milan after the Italian giants accused the Gambian of falsifying his documents to appear 19 when in fact, he was 28 years old. The footy landscape is replete with several examples of players of African descent, who for all the promise they showed in their purportedly youthful stages have flattered to deceive on a grander stage. The thin thread that runs through all of these is that, the ages simply do not correspond to the levels of performance or measure up to the initial hype of most of these players. World class in their burgeoning years and alarmingly poor even before they blow off the candles on their twenty-fifth birthday cakes.

Then again, the other theory that springs up in many conversations bothering on the failures of many of our youth stars is that, they simply don’t make the best of career choices in the wake of a brilliant youth competition.

Of the eleven that started for Ghana in the finals against Brazil, only Andre Ayew and to some extent Jonathan Mensah and Rabiu Mohammed have their careers still on track. Dominic Adiyiah, Ranford Osei and Abeiku Quansah who between them scored 16 goals in 7 games at the world cup are currently without clubs. Daniel Addo, latif Salifu, Opoku Agyemang and Samuel Inkoom struggling to linger on in the consciences of football fans in Ghana. Daniel Agyei whose heroics in the penalty-shootouts got us the trophy recently returned to Accra based Liberty after failed spells in South Africa. Never mind those who were on the substitutes’ bench. There aren’t many positives to be gleaned from their stories.

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Andre Ayew’s summer move to English Premier League Outfit Swansea City makes him one of the few players still on track with his career.

A few days ago, it was reported that Liverpool FC were lining up a €38m bid for Alex Teixeira who was part of the losing Brazilian team on the night. Douglas Pereira dos Santos, now with Spanish giants Barcelona, deputizing his compatriot Dani Alves for the right-back slot. Maicon Marquez just recently made a big money move to Locomotiv Moscow in Russia while Josef de Souza Dias, at present, is a regular fixture in the Fenerbahçe line up; Douglas Costa has now assumed an integral role in Pep Guardiola’s FC Bayern Munich and I could go on and on.

The underlining reason for this apparent gulf in class of the clubs players of these two sets of teams are playing is the choices they made after the Mundial in Egypt. While Dominic Adiyiah jumped at the opportunity to join AC Milan – now without a club – his Brazilian counterpart, Douglas Costa stayed with his boyhood club Gremio before moving to Shaktar Donetsk to properly develop his craft and then finally to Bayern Munich last summer.

And while some players may never really cut it at the highest level as the high attrition rate of the sport will have it, a bit of due diligence and a head firmly screwed on will see a lot more players veer off lanes of mediocrity to paths of greatness.

 

 

Africa’s search for the next ‘Blatter’ – the suspended Swiss still holds the key

 

REFORM.

The keyword at the fore of the sermons being delivered by most, if not all, candidates contesting the Fifa presidency at the February 26 Extraordinary Congress. In the wake of a series of ethical issues and corruption scandals that have dragged Fifa’s reputation through the mud and knocked some of its biggest personalities — among them, suspended president Sepp Blatter, a number of vice-presidents and several others high up the Zurich-based establishment’s hierarchy — off their lofty, hitherto untouchable perches.

And while talks of a cleaner and more transparent ways of going about FIFA’s business sound sweet to many disillusioned with the world football governing body’s old, largely unpopular methods, not everyone buys into the idea of a Blatter-less organization — well, at least in Africa, that is the case to a very significant extent.

While the septuagenarian had his flaws and as a result (at least from what we know and have read) may be more popular on Mars than on Earth, he did more than enough during his 17-year tenure to be deemed highly esteemed by many in these parts.

Under Blatter, Africa got a fine measure of what it’s always craved but had previously been denied: money, attention, and respect. And it’s come in all forms really, including, but not limited to the awarding of hosting rights for major international competitions (the icing of which was the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa that brought with it a momentary increase in African representation at the Mundial), financial assistance, personnel training and, oh, those famous Goal Projects littered across Africa!

The latter, though originally a Fifa initiative, became as synonymous with Blatter as his squat shadow and bald pate, and arguably no confederation reaped as much from it as did Africa, with countries across the continent’s length and breadth richly milking and thriving on Fifa Blatter’s largesse.

Take, for instance, landlocked Chad.

Not by any means among the strongest of Africa’s footballing powerhouses, this Central African nation had little business receiving all it did while Blatter held sway: a reported 26 Fifa-commissioned projects since 2011, featuring artificial pitches, a technical centre, gleaming new headquarters for the country’s football governing body, as well as education seminars on marketing, refereeing and grassroots football.

And, remember, that’s just C-H-A-D, populated by only half as many people as you’d find in the whole of Texas.

Under no other Fifa boss would Chad — or any African land for that matter — have ever dreamt of getting so much. Before Blatter, it had been little more than crumbs that Africa constantly found on its plate, and Nigeria Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick couldn’t have summed that fact more succinctly when he shared his thoughts with the BBC just about the period of Blatter’s incredibly short-lived fourth re-election last year.

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“Blatter feels Africa, he sees Africa and he has imparted so much. . . ,” Pinnick gushed at the time. “We don’t want to experiment,” he added, expressing a heartfelt desire that’s surely echoed throughout Africa.

Yet while it is now forced to be by necessity, it’s unlikely Africa would settle on a replacement less sympathetic to its plight than Blatter was. It’s a feeling Blatter’s wannabe successors are all too conscious of, although only one — Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, President of the Asian Football Confederation — has thus far dared to unabashedly play that card.

When the Bahraini, along with fellow candidate Prince Ali bin Hussein (who lost to Blatter in May 2015′s polls) and the Uefa-backed Gianni Infantino, addressed some of West Africa’s most powerful football administrators at the 2016 Wafu Zone B General Assembly at the Mövenpick Ambassadorial Hotel in Accra on Tuesday, he sold to his audience nothing more than they wanted to hear, stopping just short of declaring himself Blatter 2.0.

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(Clockwise from top left) Tokyo Sexwale, South African Minister of Human Settlement, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein President of the Jordan Football Association, Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, President of the Asian Football Confederation, UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino and Jerome Champagne.

“I have always supported Sepp Blatter,” Sheikh Salman boldly declared.

Continuing his serenading, Sheikh Salman stated: “You know we need to focus on the people who need more support and I am sure that, in the past, Sepp Blatter has been successful in introducing such programs to the countries that are in need but again I think this has to continue as well.”

No doubt many of those who gulped down Sheikh Salman’s words — notably Ghana’s FA president, Kwesi Nyantakyi, himself a prospective future Caf boss whose mandate as head of Wafu Zone B was renewed at said event — may have left the premises feeling pleased with what they’d heard from the one aspirant seemingly willing to go down a route similar to Mr. Blatter’s benevolence and succeed the Swiss in the role of Africa’s footballing patron saint.

It is, of course, a risky stance for the 50-year-old — as well as for any of the candidates who might wish to coo Africa from a similar angle — to adopt, given how unpopular it could make him with the West, to whom Blatter is as far drawn from niceness as imaginable. Even so, if Sheikh Salman shows his Blatter-esque side to his own Asian caucus — most of whom would also readily preach to you the gospel according to Blatter, considering all he did for them, too — as well as he portrayed it in Africa, that could be magic. Not forgetting the Dark Continent’s 50-odd votes, save the handful of inevitable dissenters and those who’d opt to back South African contender Tokyo Sexwale, could help breathe life into his dreams.

It isn’t that Africa doesn’t appreciate any reforms after Fifa’s first change in rulership in almost two decades. Oh, we do alright, but only in a different sense.

“My definition of reforms,” starts Pinnick again, “goes beyond fiscal discipline; it goes as far as what is the scientific explanation for CONMEBOL, who have just 12 members, having four slots going to the World Cup, and, we — Africa — with 54 members, have only five slots.

“To me, these are the reforms we should be talking about now. What is the scientific explanation for Uefa having 54 members, the same with Africa, but have 13 slots to go to the World Cup.”

And that, my dear friend, is as unequivocal as it could ever get. Africa has spoken, and may the ‘best’ Sepp man win it over.