Kwesi Nyantakyi rose to become a god, but his intransigence means he will depart the football fraternity as a loathed man among his countrymen, writes Emmanuel Ayamga.
At first the Daniel soliloquized, then, finally when he offered to speak out, his words were simple and plain: “Kwesi Nyantakyi will go down as one of the best FA presidents Ghana has ever had but, from today, so will he be forever remembered as the worst to have ever headed the country’s football.”
Sadly, it is a view held by the majority of Ghanaians at the moment.
How one man could easily qualify as an angel of light and at the same time an agent of darkness typifies that kind of Jekyll and Hyde reign that Nyantakyi superintended.
In the said exposé, Nyantakyi was captured on camera compromising his position as FA boss whiles dealing with supposed investors. The greed and mercenary-like character of the 49-year-old was exposed to the entire nation during the public viewing of the video. The allegations of corruption leveled against the FA and its officials was no longer speculation after all; it was real, and the most powerful man in Ghana football had just proven it.
He had failed the integrity test!
As Nyantakyi sat, shamelessly counseling supposed sponsors on how to shortchange clubs in the local league, the whole Ghana keenly watched on – some with disappointment and others with vindication.
It was the lowest point any FA boss could ever sink to and, amid allegations of widespread corruption within his reign, Nyantakyi had already lost touch with the public – both out of luck and out of love.
For so many years Ghanaians loved and adored Nyantakyi, but currently the general feeling by the majority of citizens towards him is that of scorn, apathy and loathe.
It was just over a decade ago, precisely December 30, 2005, when a tyro Nyantakyi’s hand was raised as the newly-elected president of the Ghana Football Association.
Though the least experienced among five other candidates – Kojo Bonsu, Ade Coker and Vincent Odotei Sowah – the Wa native easily swept aside his competitors to land Ghana football’s top job. Out of a total 123 votes cast, the then 37-year-old polled a whopping 91. “It is a landslide victory,” the BBC reported.
That day, there was jubilation galore inside the Kama Conference Centre where the elections were held. But, outside the venue, the jubilation was even greater. It was the beginning of a new dawn – a change so much craved by the average ‘football-thirsty’ Ghanaian.
At the time, Ghana football was at its lowest ebb: The Black Stars had failed to qualify for the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations, the Black Queens were struggling to make meaningful impacts at tournaments, the Black Starlets had qualified for just one tournament in the previous six years, the Black Satellites were coming on the back of of missing two successive U-20 World Cup tournaments, and the GFA itself was a house lacking order.
Nyantakyi’s election was supposed to spearhead a period of renaissance for Ghana football, one which would inspire hope among his over 20 million compatriots.
And, in truth, it did.
Ghana, a well-known football nation, was getting back on track, and the then 37-year-old, regarded as a novice, was at the forefront of that revolution.
In his victory speech, the Wa native spoke touchingly and passionately, outlining his goals and promising to build an FA without factions, one without nepotism – an FA for all.
"My immediate focus shall be to reconcile all the factions, opinions and shades of views to get everybody on board towards the common goal of developing the game in the country," he told the BBC in his first interview after winning the GFA presidency.
"Whatever money we get from the World Cup will be invested back into the game to strengthen our youth football and the leagues to ensure continual flow of talents to the national team.
True to his word, Nyantakyi began the transformation of Ghana football in impeccable fashion. Months into office he led the Black Stars to a first ever World Cup qualification in Germany 2006. Even better, the Ghana national team, debutants at the global showpiece, made it to the round of 16 stage of the tournament.
It was a grandiose feat, one which etched Nyantakyi’s name in the history books of the country. But more successes followed, both for Nyantakyi himself and the various football national teams.
A year after that memorable debut World Cup appearance, Ghana won the rights to host the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). And although the Black Stars failed to win the tournament – eventually finishing third – successfully hosting the rest of Africa was considered an accomplishment.
A year later the Black Satellites, Ghana’s U-20 national team, also over-achieved by lifting the World Youth Championship, hosted in Egypt, after defeating Brazil in the final.
In 2010, Ghana again qualified for the World Cup, hosted by South Africa on African soil. Commendably, the team went a step further than they did four years earlier, coming within just a penalty kick away from becoming the first African country to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup.
In 2014, still under the leadership of Nyantakyi, Ghana completed a hat-trick of World Cup appearances by qualifying for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
In nine years, the 49-year-old lawyer had truly delivered, as he promised. And, on a personal level, his reputation had also grown both in Africa and globally. First, he was elected as president of the West African Football Union (WAFU) Zone B – a position he successfully retained for two more terms.
Nyantakyi’s peppiness meant he was not only adored in Ghana but also outside the shores of the West African country. Having been named as part of the organisers of football at the London 2012 Olympics, Nyantakyi was also elected onto the CAF Executive Committee. Then the biggest of all followed: The Wa All Stars owner was elected as FIFA Council Member in 2016, before being appointed as CAF 1st vice president after Ahmad Ahmad replaced Issa Hayatou as the Confederation’s head.
He had become a god; one worshipped in and outside his country.
But although Ghana football was back on the map, it came at a price – one which Nyantakyi would eventually pay for. By 2014 Ghanaians had become used to qualifying for the World Cup and, following a scandalous outing in Brazil which was dogged by player unrest and bonus rows, Nyantakyi started to face stern scrutiny.
Failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup attracted more criticisms.
Also, whiles the senior national team was excelling, there were those who held that such successes came at the expense of colossal spending from government. Black Stars players were receiving more in bonuses than their counterparts first-world economic countries like England, Germany, France, USA and the like.
It was later revealed that Nyantakyi and all other members of the team’s Management Committee were receiving same bonuses as the players each time the Black Stars played a game.
As the disparities increasingly sprung, so was Nyantakyi’s popularity waning. More worrying was the fact that the local game seriously stagnated in that period. There was so much concentration on the Black Stars that everything else had become less important. The local league, especially, saw its stock fall to the extent that it was almost nothing to write home about.
A year before Nyantakyi took over as FA president, Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko, Ghana’s two most decorated clubs, competed in the final of the maiden edition of the CAF Confederations Cup, won by the former.
However, post Nyantakyi no club from the Ghana Premier League has been able to make it to the semi-finals of the any major continental tournament, let alone win it.
Again, in 13 years under Nyantakyi, Ghana never for once qualified for the Olympic Games.
The criticisms were coming thick and fast, but the once listening Nyantakyi almost always found a way to shrug it off. There is a thin line between being confident and intransigent. When Nyantakyi entered the fray he was the former, but his popularity and power gradually turned him into the latter.
He built a cartel of lieutenants, both around the FA and in the media, who he used to cover up his shortfalls. This was a bunch who swore to defend him even in matters where he had no escape route.
Such power translated into uncontrolled ego. At a point Nyantakyi was more focused on advancing his own interests than that of Ghana football. Unfortunately, his intransigence also grew into dictatorship. The banker cum lawyer found a way to modify the statutes of the FA, making it easy for him to occupy the position of president without any challenge.
Members of the Association who tried to challenge him were either ostracized or alienated. And for those who dared to question some of his decisions, Nyantakyi made sure they were put in their place. “I will be the one to decide when anybody is fit to replace me as FA president,” he once declared.
In thirteen years as Ghana FA boss, and after three terms in office, Nyantakyi twice contested unopposed.
His thirteen-year reign saw seen him work with four different deputies, three of whom he infamously fell out with.
But in all, the Ghanaian public was watching, biding their time to strike back. After all, their opinions were no longer relevant to Nyantakyi and his cohorts running Ghana’s football. They were regarded as fans and nothing more. How many times had they been reminded that football is run by “football people” and that they owned no clubs, were no Executive Committee Members and had no votes at the FA’s Congress?
The passion of the people had been hijacked by a selected few.
And so it was not surprising that Nyantakyi’s incrimination in the Anas exposé sparked joy among many in and around Accra.
This was a man once regarded as a national god, yet his drastic fall from grace to grass was celebrated across the length and breadth of his country like an Independence Day.
Nyantakyi had his chance, but he blew it away. No country rejoices when one of its prominent sons is left in ignominy. But here, Ghanaians rejoiced, with many taking delight in his capitulation. A combination of intransigence, over-confidence and poor counseling ultimately proved to be Nyantakyi's undoing.
In the space of a week, the Wa All Stars owner had gone from Ghana FA president, CAF 1st vice President and FIFA Council Member, to a disgraced football administrator loathed by the majority of his countrymen.
He had simply lost everything he ever worked for.
Ideally, he should be standing as one of the best FA presidents Ghana has ever had. The successive World Cup qualifications, the U-20 World Cup triumph, the routine AFCON appearances and all the other achievements should go down as Nyantakyi’s legacies.
Once a god who was idolized and eulogized, what is left of Nyanatakyi is a man widely scrutinized and criticized, having been made public enemy no.1 by those who used hold him in high esteem.