Yidnekachew Tessema was born in Jimma on September 11, 1921. Had he been alive today, he would have been 99 years old.
His father was the famous Ethiopian poet Tessema Eshete and his mother was Mulatwa Gebreselassie.
He was intelligent, witty and fluent in four languages (Amharic, English, French and Italian). He also studied Arabic and Swahili.
He was one of the founding members of the Confederation Africaine de Football (CAF), which he served in several capacities including one as its president for 15 years (1972-87). He was instrumental in the fight against apartheid and played a crucial role to increase the number of African football teams taking part at the World Cup. Several articles have been written about him by foreign press admiring his dedication and contribution to Ethiopian and African soccer. Yet, the man didn’t fully receive the respect he deserved in his own country until he passed away in 1987 after a long battle with cancer.
The Yidnekachew Tessema Social Soccer Club, an amateur Ethiopian team in Melbourne, Australia recently held a couple of Zoom meetings with former Ethiopian national team players , coaches, football administrators and sports journalists to help young Ethiopians learn about his contribution to develop & grow football in Ethiopia & Africa. Among the most notable guests in the program were Fikru Kidane, one of Ethiopia’s first & Africa’s leading football journalists ; Fesseha Wolde-Emanuel, who represented Ethiopia in 4 African Cup Championships (4th-7th); Abraham Mebratu and Sewnet Bishaw, who served as head coaches of the Ethiopian national team (The Walias); Esayas Jira, the current President of the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) and the legendary Geremew Denboba, who represented Ethiopia at the 1956 (Melbourne) and 1960 (Rome) Olympic Games in cycling. One idea that was discussed & later on suggested to the current EFF President was to rename the new 60,000-seat stadium in Addis Ababa as the Yidnekachew Tessema Stadium.
Yidnekachew was the “Puskas” of Ethiopia. He was short and stocky but technically gifted player. I saw him play in friendly matches for the veteran Ethiopian national team after he retired. He was older and much heavier than his playing days but his ball control, accurate passes and mesmerizing dribbles lead you to believe that he must have been a really good player in his days.
He joined his first and only club, Saint George, when he was 14 years old, and it would be another 23 years before he hanged up his boots. Talking about boots, it is said that Yidnekachew was the first player in Ethiopia to have played wearing soccer shoes.
He also played 15 times for the national team (1948-54), and had scored three goals. But his greatest contribution to Ethiopian soccer would come later on after his playing days were over.
He served as coach for both the Saint George and the Ethiopian national teams. A great admirer of the Brazilian soccer, Yidnekachew brought to Ethiopia a new style of play with flair and imagination never seen on the continent of Africa. And it was under his leadership that the team won the 3rd African Nations Cup in 1962.
The 60s were probably the best times in Ethiopian soccer. It was during this time that St. George emerged as the number one team in the country. Once again, Yidnekachew, who was instrumental in the success of the national team, repeated his magic with his club side.
I guess he must have been asking himself if he was successful as a player and a coach, why stop there? It is hard to deal with the ego of one or two good players, but when you have five or six; the job of a team leader becomes a big burden. Yidnekachew would use his great talent as a great communicator and psychologist to balance the power and create a friendly atmosphere in the team. He served successfully as team leader for both the St. George and the Ethiopian national team.
Founder of Ethiopian Football Federation
Yidnekachew was the co-founder of the first Ethiopian Sports Office, which would lay the foundation to the creation of the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) in 1943. Being a devoted individual that he was, he did everything himself from translating all the rules and regulations of the games, to training referees, coaches and administrative staff. And he did it all with a meager budget of $125, that he had to borrow.
Yidnekachew was also instrumental in opening the country to outside contacts and international competitions.
Jack of All Trade
Yidnekachew was indeed a jack of all trade. He did the first live play-by-play radio commentary from Tel-Aviv to Ethiopia in 1963 when the two countries played a World Cup qualifying match. He was also the team leader and coach at that time.
- Born on September 11, 1921 in Jimma, Ethiopia
- Former athlete and player at Tefferi Mekonnen School-(1927-35)
- Member of St George club (1935-58)
- Member of the Ethiopian National Team (1948-54)
- Co-founder of the first Ethiopian Sports Office, which lay the foundation to the creation of the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF)
- Director of Sports in Ethiopia (1963-68)
- Assistant Minister of Sports in Ethiopia (1968-72)
- Commissioner of Sports and Physical Education in Ethiopia (1976-81)
Yidnekachew’s contribution to the game was not limited to Ethiopia alone. He also served various international sports bodies as:
- Member and Vice-President of Confederation Africaine de Football-CAF
- President of the Organizing Committee of CAF (1957-87)
- President of CAF (1972-87)
- President of the Union of African Sport Confederation
- Honorary President of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA)
- Member of the Executive Committee of the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa
- Member of several committees in FIFA
- Member of the International Olympic Committee