Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions resume service on Wednesday, 11 August 2010 in an international friendly against Poland. It is supposed to be a fresh start after their dreadful World Cup in South Africa last June. But something doesn’t feel right. There is that hazy feeling among fans that they’ve been here, seen and heard this before.
A friendly. In August. A new coach. Transition.
On 12 August 2009 Cameroon were playing for the first time under a new coach, Paul Le Guen. One year later they are under another coach (albeit an interim) Jacques Songo’o. It is the déjà vu syndrome that has been plaguing Cameroonian football in general, and the Lions in particular.
Flash-back to June 2009. Otto Pfister abandoned ship before a crucial World Cup qualifier and the team was left under the interim leadership of the goalkeeping trainer, Thomas N’Kono. He was once a captain of the Indomitable Lions and used to play for Canon Yaounde in the past.
Fast-forward to June 2010. Le Guen, who was recruited in July 2009, threw-in the towel after the country’s worst World Cup showing. His goalkeeping coach, Jacques Songo’o, has had to step-in as interim boss. Songo’o is also a former national team skipper and an alumni of Canon of Yaounde.
It’s so similar you may want to pinch yourself to be sure it’s not a dream.
A COACH PER YEAR
In the last 10 years (since 2000) Cameroon have changed their head coach and/or coaching staff a whooping 13 times. The managers have included: Pierre Lechantre (twice), Jean Paul Akono, Robert Corfu, Winfried Schaeffer, Arthur Jorge, Aarie Haan, Jules Nyongha (twice), Otto Pfister, N’kono (+ Jean Paul Akono, Kaham Michel, Ndtoungou Mpile), Paul Le Guen, Jacques Songo’o…
The average lifespan at the helm of the Indomitable Lions is 1 year 3 months (skewed by Winfried Schaeffer’s long-haul 2001 to 2004).
It is nearly impossible for a national team coach to build a trophy winning squad (or even runners-up) in such a short period.
Managers have roughly 7 dates in a calendar year (apart from full tournaments) for international matches. They usually have about 3-5 days ahead of such fixtures to work with their squads. They need time to understand their players, build cohesion and ensure that their chosen tactics work.
Ultimate success at a major tournament is the result of continuity and vision rather than madness.
Proof is that countries that have won the World Cup or the European Championships and/or finished as runners up in these tournaments in the past decade don’t drop coaches like a super-model changes clothes.
Spain, the current World Cup and European Cup holders, have had 4 head coaches since 2000. Germany and Greece have had 3 managers and France have seen only 4 (including Laurent Blanc) within that same period. Holland have changed their coach 5 times; Portugal 4 times; Italy 6 and Brazil 5.
The pharoahs of Egypt have won the Africa Cup of Nations thrice in a row since 2006 with the same head coach.
Cameroon’s authorities though, seem not to have noticed that the Lions’ recent successful spells were under long serving coaches: Schaeffer (2002 Africa Cup of Nations trophy and runners-up 2003 Confederations Cup) and Pierre Lechantre from 1998 to 2000(winner of the 2000 Africa Cup).
ALWAYS READY TO RE-START
It is tempting to think French writer and 1947 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Andre Gide, was referring to Cameroon when he wrote that ”everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over a again.”
Admittedly, not all long managerial spells are productive. Yet, even Raymond Domenech led France to a final of the World Cup in 2006 and Dunga won a Copa America and a FIFA Confederations Cup at the helm of Brazil!
Cameroon’s Minister of Sport and the chairman of the football federation (FECAFOOT) have said publicly that the next coach (oh yes, N°14) will be handed a 4-year-contract. They’ve both talked about their determination to put an end to short-termism and the hiring of fire-fighting coaches to save Cameroon’s often burning footballing house.
That’s as far as speeches go. Reality says that since Le Guen resigned in June they have not succeeded to name a replacement. An appointment was expected this week but it was delayed. A FECAFOOT official told a news conference in Poland that a major clean-up of the organisation and staffing of national teams is underway and that requires approval from government before a coach is officially named.
It smacks of the story-line that followed Arthur Jorge’s resignation after the Africa Cup in February 2006. Dutch born, Aarie Haan was only appointed in September, a week to the first game of the qualifiers to the 2008 Africa Cup against Rwanda. Jules Nyongha, the interim, had already summoned the players for the game. Haan’s tenure mostly resembled a joke that reached circus proportions when he announced his resignation via an email to the press 6 months later.
Are we headed down that same road? A déjà vu of sorts?
Albert Einstein, a Nobel Prize winner, described insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Surely, those who run the Indomitable Lions don’t want to be described as insane?