Njabulo Ngidi.

I have to admit I was very sceptical of Ahmad Ahmad taking over as president of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) last year, replacing Issa Hayatou who had held that position for almost three decades.

What really made me sceptical were the people who helped Ahmad ascend to that position.

Those people had stronger personalities than him and it looked like he could easily be bullied by them – from Fifa president Gianni Infantino to Safa president Danny Jordaan, Nigerian football association president Amaju Pinnick and Cosafa president Phillip Chiyangwa.

I was concerned by the active role Fifa played in the election. It looked like Infantino wanted someone who could be his stooge so that he could control him.

Western powers have done this often in politics, installing regimes they could control in the running of numerous countries in Africa, Asia and South America.

The first big change under Ahmad was moving the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) from January/February to June/July, much to the joy of European football clubs who were unhappy with the timing of the tournament as it led to them losing key players in a key period in the fight for league honours.

But if you take away the emotions of that change, this move was good for African players as one stumbling block in them being signed by certain clubs was removed. There are a number of European clubs that don’t sign African players purely because of the timing of the Afcon. 

This will also help solve the club versus country debacle that has seen many players retire from international football prematurely as they didn’t want to lose their places in their teams by going to the Afcon right after they started being regulars. 

To avoid that, they have turned down call-ups because they wanted to cement their places in their teams.

Another decisive move that came under Ahmad’s regime that impressed me was giving the five World Cup-bound African teams a $2 million (just over R25 million) advance each from Fifa for their preparations.

Caf President Ahmad Ahmad has introduced a number of changes since taking over from Issa Hayatou. Photo: AP

This money will ensure that players are paid their bonuses before the tournament so as to avoid bonus squabbles that almost inevitably come just before a World Cup.

Teams can now only focus on doing well in the World Cup with the boardroom drama sorted out. 

That money will also go into organising competitive friendlies to prepare for the global showpiece after Caf postponed the Afcon qualifiers that were schedule for March. 

That was done so as to help the five World Cup-bound nations to use that Fifa break for more competitive friendlies.

There’s also the Caf Pro Licence course that was launched this year. The Pro Licence is the highest coaching qualification in the continent. 

Caf invited four legendary African coaches – three-time Afcon winner with Egypt Hassan Shehata, 2016 African Nations Championship winner with the Democratic Republic of Congo Florent Ibenge, Aliou Cisse, who will lead Senegal in the World Cup in Russia, and 2016 Caf Champions League winner with Mamelodi Sundowns, Pitso Mosimane – for the start of the course that’s held in Morocco.

The Champions League and Caf Confederation Cup draws have been spruced up to look more appealing and involved former players.

Caf also initiated inspections to ensure that stadiums that host these inter-club competitions are of high quality.

“It is the first time such inspections have been carried out and the response has been positive. 

“The exercise was to ensure that the matches are hosted in venues with the basic requirements in accordance with the club licensing system, taking into consideration broadcast needs, media and safety of fans,” said Caf General Secretary Amr Fahmy.

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These are welcome changes that need to be applauded as they will help African football take a big step forward. They show that we are no longer in the archaic era that was synonymous with the Hayatou regime.

It was obvious we needed fresh thinking and a different approach in how we run our game. 

Hayatou wasn’t going to do that as he was too comfortable in a seat that he had occupied for 29 years.

What Ahmad’s regime has done in a short space of time is commendable. 

It’s a solid start, and hopefully he keeps this up. African football will be better with such thinking.

This is one humble pie that I don’t mind eating, even though pie and I don’t mix well due to my beard and how crumbs can get stuck on it.

 

Saturday Star