At least 14 of the 22 players called to camp for Cameroon ahead of the clash with Togo currently play or have played in midfield for their professional clubs. Although this demonstrates the versatility of the players, some observers fear it could negatively affect out-put and cohesion at national team level.
Debate is rife about the long-term cohesion of the Cameroonian defence (in particular) when four of the seven (potential) defenders called up by Paul Le Guen for the Togo game spend their European season playing as defensive midfielders for their clubs.
André Stephane Bikey who scored a beautiful goal this weekend for Burnley in the English Premier League (watch goal below), did so while playing as holding midfielder. It is not his first time in that role which he held in Russia. It is at national team level that he got tuned into central defence.
When Geremi Njitap has an opportunity to feature for Newcastle United, it is in midfield not defence. The fact that he wears the jersey number 8 is not fortituous because that is his natural position. He can also play as a number 6 (holding midfielder), as well as a right-side offensive midfielder, right or left full back and central defender. At one point, Manga Ougene used him as a support striker for the Indomitable Lions.
Binya, generally regarded as a Geremi Njitap’s back-up as right full-back, is actually a rugged defensive midfielder since his days in Tonnerre Kalara club of Yaounde. This weekend in the Swiss League, he scored from that position in FC Xamas’s 4-2 victory over St. Gall (watch Binya score below).
Those who watched AS Monaco destroy Olympic Marseille (2-1) in the big match of the French Ligue 1 on Sunday realised that Nicolas Nkoulou who partners Rigobert Song (or Bassong) in the heart of Cameroon’s defence these days, essentially plays as a midfield libero (sitting in front of the back four) at AS Monaco.
The new man on the block Henri Bedimo Nsame actually started his career as a left-sided offensive midfielder. He was gradually shifted to the role of left full-back by coaches in his professional clubs as he battled for regular play time.
This leaves only Bassong, Rigobert Song, and Benoit Assou-Ekotto as outright defenders in the national team. Rigobert had also played as a n°6 in his early days for both club and country.
Obviously for the Indomitable Lions’ boss the advantage of having such playeers is that he has a team of about 34 players instead of 22. Especially when one considers that some of the outright midfielders also play in other positions for their clubs.
Stephane Mbia as was the case on Sunday, can play as defensive midfielder and central defender. He won his firts cap for Cameroon in a freindly against Holland in 2006 playing as a right full-back.
Alexandre Song, who drew praise again for his power and passing during Arsenal’s 6-2 drubbing of Blackburn in the English Premier League, has also played in central defense for the Lions and Arsenal. He has played right-back for his club and can also be an intelligent relay midfielder (n°8°) as he proved during the last Africa Cup of Nations.
George Mandjeck who is the latest addition to Paul Le Guen’s squad displayed his ability to take up different roles while defending the national colours in the Beijing Olympic Games. He played at left, right and centre of midfield and currently features at right-back from time to time with his club, Kaizerslautern in the Bundesliga 2.
His under-23 teammate whom he is replacing, Aurelien Tchedjou also plays in several positions – central defender, defensive or relay midfielder, left or right offensive midfielder – both for the national team and his club Lille.
However, when the likes of Bikey and Nkoulou play as central midfielders in their club on a Wednesday and thenjoin the Lions as centre-backs on a Saturday don’t they lose their bearings and miss their marks as a result?
Does the fact that these players end up as substitutes most of time because they cannot compete with the natural midfielders they have to challenge every week affect their fitness when they come to the national team?
Another challenge for the coach is that they are mainly central midfielders – n°6 (Song Alex, Mbia, Nguemo, Makoun,Bikey, Nkoulou, Binya) or n°8(Mandjeck, Somen, Makoun, Enoh) or possible n°10 (Emana, Ngom and Enoh). This leaves Ngom Kome as the closest thing to a pure winger. It evidently makes it hard for the coach to develop full wing play through the midfield thus relying on attackers in a 4-3-3 formation.
Fortunately for Paul Le Guen, these are professionals who can adapt to what is required of them at particular times. They have done so before and would surely do so again. But it would be interesting to see how he handles this abundance in midfield and paucity elsewhere in the squad in the long-term.