President Paul Biya of Cameroon hardly dwells on defeats that befall his country’s national football team. But for some reason, he chose to mention the elimination of the Indomitable Lions from the recent Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) in his Youth Day** address in 2010 with his sight firmly set on the World Cup in June.

Cameroon crashed out of the tournament after a quarter-final defeat (1-3) to their “nemesis” and eventual champions Egypt.

“I would have loved to join you in congratulating the Indomitable Lions on their performance at the recent Africa Cup of Nations. Fate decided otherwise,” Biya said.

Can these Lions mature by June 2010?

The World Cup bound squad’s coach, Paul Le Guen, and his players felt they lost on the day they displayed their best football and seemed reassured that the competition had revealed new talent for upcoming successes. A view shared by  Cameroon’s Head of State.

“Our national team, which is undergoing change, displayed great qualities,” he told his young countrymen.

“Let us give it time to mature and let us continue to have confidence in it. I am sure that during the upcoming Football World Cup, it will be capable of springing surprises”, he added.

Biya, who has been in power since 1982, has often used the “fighting spirit” and success of the Cameroon football as a reference point for the youth and the rest of his citizens. But analysts say he simply makes political capital out of triumphs which are not based on any organization and planning by authorities.

Politics and football

The country which holds the African record for playing at the FIFA World Cup lacks proper football facilities (or infrastructure for any other sport). The game is still played on hard dusty or slippery muddy grounds (depending on the season). There is no clear youth development system or policy to develop the sport in the country.

Thousands of youngsters leave the West African country each year in search of glory and fortune in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas. The national team is exclusively made up of players in European clubs from where most of them obtained foundation training.

Although some Cameroonians would disagree, it is also evident that the country lacks world-class trainers to match the natural talent it possesses hence their reliance on foreign managers like the current French-born head coach, Paul Le Guen.

It would seem that after 27 years in power, the country’s leader has seen the necessity to tackle these shortcomings.

“I intend to commission a study for the creation of an Advanced Football Training School which, in conjunction with the Ministry of Sports and Physical Education, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and existing federations and academies, will be responsible for providing training and further training to young people who display an exceptional aptitude for our “king sport,” Biya announced.

At the end of last year, the government also launched a Chinese-funded programme to construct stadiums in a number of towns in the country including the coastal city of Limbe and Bafoussam in the western grassfields plateau.

Political analysts have suggested that these projects may just be “political” promises ahead of presidential elections expected in 2011.

For a full reading of President Biya’s speech to the youth on 10 Feb 2010, please click here.

**The Youth Day is historically Plebiscite Day, on which Cameroon under British administration was called to choose to obtain independence by either joining the already independent Federal Republic of Nigeria or the Cameroon Republic (already independent from France in 1960). You can read about that here.