When Otto Pfister published his list of players for the game against Togo, I was clueless. I have since figured things out after the 1-O defeat in the hands of the Hawks.  Otto Pfister had spent a lot of time watching videos of the Cameroon versus Togo clash at the African Cup of Nations in 2006. And he had opted to replicate Arthur Jorge’s system to the letter: fielding Samuel Eto’o as the play-maker free to roam and dictate the Indomitable Lions’ play.

Eto'o scores against Togo in 2006 (photo credit:  Reuters via camfoot.com)

Eto'o scores against Togo in 2006 (photo credit: Reuters via camfoot.com)

 

In that set-up Cameroon played with four defenders (Geremi, Song, Kalla [replaced by Bikey against Togo] and Atouba). There were two holding midfielders: Saidou Alioum who had to sweep in-front of the defence and Jean Makoun who had the role of relaying with the attack. Ngom Kome played to the left as a piston starting from the mid-field and driving with his dribbles into the 18-yard box. The pacy Rudolph Duala Mbella had the same role to right. Webo or Meyong featured as sole striker up-front with Eto’o lurking behind and anywhere he chose. 

This worked as a 4-2-3-1 when were defending and a 4-2-1-3 when Cameroon was on the offensive. The 1 in the latter pattern being Samuel Eto’o who; instead of being in the 18 yard box often found himself on the edge. This destabilized opponents who had planned to man-mark him as he often drew his marker out of his defensive zone, creating space for either Webo/Meyong or Ngom/Duala.  Hence he could score goals from long-range shots and make superb assists as was the case in the 2-O victory over Togo.   It was beautiful soccer to behold, complete with class, style and goals (Cameroon scored 7 goals in three group phase games. Five of them were the handiwork of Samuel Eto’o).

 Although Pfister led a less elegant pride of Lions to the final of the Cup of Nations in 2008, as an honest tactician and lover of the game, he certainly acknowledged that the 2006 team was a cut-above the squad he is supervising.  He therefore decided to copy the master- plan. Unfortunately, as we used to say in Buea in my youth, imitation leads to danger.

Otto Pfister, chose to replicate the system to the extent of picking the same players regardless of their current form!  He re-called Rudolph Duala (who has hardly tasted first-team football for months) for the test game against Guinea last February. He dropped Duala when it became evident that  the man recently recruited by a lowly English division two club – Plymouth Argyle – was rusty. Ngom Kome who plays (irregularly) in second division in Spain and Achille Webo who spends most of his club time on the reserve bench at Mallorca were preferred to  Achille Emana who features every weekend for Betis Sevilla in the Spanish premiership.   I bet if Atouba and Meyong Zé were not injured he would have brought them too!  

But did he have to shamelessly copy to the letter? He needn’t have. Personnel had changed – so he had to adapt. Here’s how and why.

If one plans to use Eto’o as number 10 in the way Cameroon played in 2006, the two wide midfield/attacking  players must be pacy, technically superior to the average, and have the ability to swing-inward into the 18-yard to outnumber the opponent.

In the 28 March 2009 game against Togo, Ngom was heavy – he could hardly run. Truth be said – and God knows am normally a fan – I would not pick him today for the lions. Otto Pfister only realised this after an insipid first half.

Somen Tchoyi could be talented but he is not a natural wing player. I remember watching him play for Union Douala about 4-5 years ago, he was a number 8 (relay midfielder). If one has to use him offensively, he is best as a forward (big and strong). He is not your Duala Mbella (when he was shinning) and it was evident in the second half as he struggled both on the right as well as the left wings.  

Secondly, in playing Eto’o as a number 10, the striker in-front of him must be technically astute because the Barca man’s game is based on swift one-twos and taking space. Webo is not that kind of striker. That is why in 2006 he was unable to score a single goal at the Nations Cup. The player from Mallorca is best when he plays as a target man to whom long balls are driven to head or who receive sharp crosses from the wings and corners (often delivered by Geremi). Even Arthur Jorge realised this and that is why Meyong Zé rose to prominence.

For that system to work, Makoun has to play as a real relay midfielder.   At the Ohene Djian stadium in Accra, Mbami and Makoun played on the same line throughout the first half causing the opposition midfield to out-number the Lions. Consequently, Eto’o had to fall deeper and deeper leaving him with too much space to cover to ignite attacks.

Things improved in the second-half when Webo was replaced by Alo’o Efoulou (more technical) and Djemba replaced Ngom allowing Makoun to play the relay role. The result being three clear scoring opportunities at the 48th and 62nd minutes by Alo’o Efoulou and 56th minute double miss by Makoun.  

Indomitable Lions of 1982 with Abega (standing second from left) as playmaker

Indomitable Lions of 1982 with Abega (standing second from left) as playmaker

 

Since  Abega and Mbida stopped playing for the Indomitable Lions, our tactical option has been to play without a playmaker. If Cameroon must revert to playing with a one, considerable thought has to given to who shoulders this responsibility and at what cost or advantage to the whole. 

Samuel Eto’o has the intelligence and savvy to take it up. Alas he is the only true hit-man we have today. Do you sacrifice his goals for play-making? In fact, who would he be playmaking for? Webo? (It will never work) Meyong? (Injured and fading) Alo’o Efoulou? Bekamenga? (Both still to prove) Somen? (Maybe, but his finishing requires sharpening).

My humble submission Mister Pfister is that, if we must have a playmaker, it should be someone who does it on a day-to-day basis. Only one comes to mind: Achille Emana. 

Admittedly, Emana is not often as bright in national colours as at club level but he could perfectly argue that he has never been allowed to play in his preferred role as distributor and game controller (number 10).  With Emana in this role Eto’o finds himself in the 18-Yard and we end up with a clinical finisher in-front of goal. This is what we lacked against Togo.

What about the two suporting wide-men?  Regrettably, these days Cameroon is not over-flowing with players in top European leagues playing in that position.

Enoh Eyong of Ajax Amsterdam thrives in the “total football” culture installed by Marco van Basten but isn’t he more a natural number 8? Aurelien Chedjou and Franck Songo’o showed promise on the left and right of the midfield of the Olympic Lions. But Chedjou now plays in central defence for Lille (French 1st division) while Songo’o is in the Spanish division two.

Since Mr. Pfister prefers to watch second tier football in Europe – where he selects the likes of Dorge Kouemaha or Alo’o Efoulou; I wonder why he has never seen Marcus Mokake who plays for Sedan as a second striker, number 10,  left or right forward/midfielder cutting into the box – just as was needed in his tactics. 

Reproducing Arthur Jorge’s plan was thoughtful. But Pfister is experienced enough to know that systems in themselves are not solutions. The movement within and the persons chosen to animate systems are generally more determinant.  By picking a team full of players in un-competitive leagues or who regularly feature on the reserve bench while playing others out of position,  he  has put Cameroon in dangerous waters. We must win the rest of the games or miss another World Cup. Is this target attainable playing with a blunt striker up-front and a leaking central defence?

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