By Steve Alabi
For my generation and the ones before and the ones immediately after, there is only one king of the beautiful game, the incomparable Pelé. For the younger generations, it is Diego Maradona. The debate on who, of the illustrious two, deserves the accolade of the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) may likely never be resolved. But for me, there is no doubt as to who the GOAT and the King is. It is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, the Brazilian Grandmaster of the Game whose exploits, I dare to prophesy, will never be met.
For the football aficionados of these times, Pelé and Maradona belong to antiquity and pale beside the megastars of the modern game, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi! My own generation would see this as outrageous and abominable. Silver can never be more valuable than gold. Pelé, and to some extent, Maradona, represent the purity and raw talent of the beautiful game without the suffocation of technicality. The elegance and wizardry these maestros brought to football can only come from the Divine. It is well that some of their great play is forever captured on celluloid for all generations to see and appreciate.
Were Pelé’s play to be fully captured, the younger generations would have marvelled more than they do at his incredible ingenuity bordering on football omniscience. The records do little justice to his out of the world delivery: The only person, man or woman, in the whole history of the game to win three World Cups. The only person, man or woman, in the whole history of the game to ever score over a thousand goals. Maradona does not even come close. It is on account of this that I rate Pelé as the King. Since there can only be one King, any other can only be a Pretender. Coincidentally and most appropriately, Pelé and Maradona celebrated their birthdays last month. Debate or no debate, the world celebrates these great icons of the beautiful game and I join the football universe to wish them wonderful birthdays. These are global kings in every material particular, acknowledged and adored all over the world. In Africa, a new king will be crowned soon for the continental game. Pelé was 80 on October 23 while Maradona was 60 seven days after. The man who will be king will be 50 in December.
The new African king will come from Nigeria. The man who will be king is none other than Amaju Pinnick, the NFF President. The interplay of interests and intrigues seems to be favouring him for the challenging job of the President of the Confederation of African Football, CAF. Fate is packaging him as the nemesis of his erstwhile friend and comrade, Ahmad Ahmad, who masterminded his removal as CAF First Vice President last year. The wheel seems to be turning as Ahmad is awaiting sentencing after FIFA’s investigatory chamber determined that he has breached various codes of conduct. If the adjudicatory chamber of the world governing body hands out its sentencing by the end of this month, it will effectively bar the Madagascan from contesting the next CAF elections. This will pave the way for Pinnick to assume prime position in the race for the top job. These are however all in the realm of conjecture.
For a man whose tenure as the NFF President has been more turbulent than fruitful, it is an ambition that he is capable of pulling through, not because he possesses special administrative acumen but more because he is street wise and battle hardened in fighting and winning electoral wars and consolidating electoral victories. If he plays his cards well, he will easily become the first Nigerian to clinch the continental plum job. Like or loath him, Pinnick has become the cracking whip of the Nigerian game, whipping everyone into either silence or acquiescence and successfully daring the establishment to eyeball confrontations that others attempted to their downfall.
Once chummy pals, Pinnick and Ahmad bared fangs at one another last year in the wake of both men becoming subjects of inquest on issues pertaining to corruption, poor leadership and inordinate ambition. Ahmad reportedly refused to reappoint Pinnick after his term as VP expired, thereby foreclosing him from succeeding him in the event of the inquest resulting in Ahmad’s removal. Ahmad saw Pinnick’s role in his predicament as nothing short of coup d’etat.
Whether this suspicion is true or not is no longer relevant. What is obvious now is that it looks like Pinnick is traversing another route to take the throne from his former friend. Whether by coup or ballot, Ahmad will be the victim, Pinnick the victor. But will Africa be the beneficiary? Will it benefit better under Pinnick than under Ahmad? I don’t know. In my humble judgment, Pinnick is a divisive figure who will need to overcome the weaknesses that have dogged his leadership of the Nigerian game if he must make success of his African ambition.