Guinea-Bissau chief backs Hayatou in race for Caf presidency

Manuel Nascimento Irenio
Manuel Nascimento Irenio, the president of the Guinea-Bissau Football Federation, who has pledged his vote to Issa Hayatou in Thursday's Caf presidential election

The president of Guinea-Bissau's football federation has said he will quit football if incumbent Issa Hayatou loses Thursday's Confederation of African Football (Caf) presidential elections.

The Cameroonian, who has been in power since 1988, faces Madagascar FA head Ahmad in the vote in Addis Ababa.

Manuel Nascimento is one of just two men to publicly back Hayatou, with the Comoros FA also offering its support.

"If Hayatou loses, I will quit football," Nascimento said.

Last year, Nascimento oversaw one of the most remarkable qualifications in Africa Cup of Nations history as rank outsiders Guinea-Bissau qualified for the tournament for the first time.

They had never come close to qualification prior to that but duly recorded both their first point and first goals at the tournament in Gabon.

So why is a president, in the midst of such a high, so prepared to put himself on the line?

"Because I can guarantee there will only be a daily jumble in the institution (if Ahmad wins)," he told BBC Sport.

"There is no one among us who can lead Caf better than Hayatou right now. You cannot compare the value that exists in this man as a leader with any other person in (African) football.

"You cannot have a gentleman with the character, dignity and value of Hayatou and just say one day that you are going to humiliate him - that he is not entitled to rule Caf any more."

"I do not agree with that. We should not be ungrateful."

Nascimento, who also works in politics in his homeland, says he is among several African football leaders who convinced Hayatou not to step down this year.

The 70-year-old had previously said that this would be his last term in office, only to later have a change of heart.

"We have to protect our leader so that after this election, President Hayatou will say 'look, it's time for me to get rest - I did something good.' Many times he tried to do it, but we said - 'No, Caf will die if you quit,'" added Nascimento.

Tunde Adelakun, who worked on a biography of Hayatou in recent years, says the son of a local ruler had once been looking forward to stepping away from Caf.

"When I was writing his biography, we always thought that 2017 was going to be his final hurrah," the Nigerian told BBC Sport.

"He told me he wanted to retire, return home to northern Cameroon, to Garoua, and do what his father bequeathed to him - the rulership of his town. He really was passionate about it and felt he hadn't had enough time over the last 20 years to do enough of that. It's the only place he can be totally relaxed.

"People around him (appear to) have made the decision for him to stand - so whether they are looking after his interests or their own, since their livelihoods depend on him, becomes an issue."

Hayatou hails from a political family, with his brother having once served as Prime Minister of Cameroon.

His father was also a local ruler - known locally as a 'lamido' - with the hope being that Issa would one day follow the family business.

Instead, the former athlete has established a political legacy of his own in African football administration - becoming the longest-serving ruler in Caf's history.

On Thursday, he has the chance to extend his 29-year reign into a fourth decade.

Whoever wins the vote will serve a four-year term.

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