Cameroon’s former keeper and national team captain, Jacques Songo’o has been appointed as the country’s goalkeeping coach ahead of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa next June, local media said on Friday 19 February.

Songo’o,who was Cameroon’s keeper at the 1998 World Cup in France, returns to a position he held from February 2005 to February 2006 when Arthur Jorge was Cameroon’s head coach.

Jacques Songo in his playing days

He replaces the legendary Thomas N’kono who captained the Indomitable Lions at their first World Cup appearance in 1982 and was between the sticks in 1990 when the team reached the quarter finals of the competition.
N’kono was first appointed goalkeeping coach in 1999 and held the position until 2002. He was reappointed in 2007 under Otto Pfister and was interim manager of Cameroon when Pfister resigned in June 2009.
Although there has been no official reason for N’Kono’s dismissal, speculation is rife that it might be linked to the performance of Cameroon’s first choice keeper, Idriss Kameni, during the just ended Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. The Espanyol Barcelona keeper was less at ease than usual, conceding a few suspect goals.
Because of Kameni?

The press thinks N’Kono has been complacent because  he is also Kameni’s  coach at Espanyol Barcelona in Spain. They contend that dropping  Kameni’s mentor would generate  fair competition for the goalkeeper’s shirt  and help “rejuvenate” the team.
But, doesn’t it sound unrealistic to speak of rejuvenation when a 37 year old Souleymanou looks most likely to replace the “ageing” and “underperfoming” 26-year-old Kameni?  As far as I am aware they are the two retained for the 3 March friendly against Italy.  N’Dy Assembe who was number 3 at the CAN is not in that squad and he has been relegated to the bench at his French club, Valencienne, since he returned from Angola.
Meanwhile, Kameni has been performing admirably for his club (Espanyol,Spain) this month to the point that the French media asked Paul Le Guen if he was surprised by the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation of his keeper. His response: “I can understand because the CAN is a whole different context. I can say so now after living it.”
I am not sure how this conflict of interest (being Kameni’s club and national team trainer) may have damaged N’Kono’s discernment on the selection of keepers, however from my experience (as a keeper and team official) the final decision on who plays (including the goalkeeper) is made by a team’s head coach.
The goalkeeping trainer mainly works on the keepers’ drills and techniques  as well as their concentration, positioning and organisation of the defence.  His advice is important but the ultimate choice is down to the manager.
In search of scapegoats?

To an extent, this change smacks of those  knee-jerk reactions by Cameroonian authorities to please angry fans after unsuccessful football campaigns. Curiously, these decisions often involve the sacking of an assistant (or two) while the head coach stays put.

It happened in 2009 after Cameroon’s defeat to Togo in the first game of the last round of qualifiers for the World Cup. , The minister for sport, Augustin Edjoa, sacked coach Otto Pfister’s assistant Ngweha Ikwam and (strangely) appointed 3 other Cameroonians (Jean Paul Akono, Kaham Michel and Ndtoungou Mpile) as assistants. Pfister who was under heavy criticism used this as an alibi for his resignation.

In 2002, after the team was unable to progress from the group stage of the World Cup,  Winfried Schaeffer’s assistants were sacked and he stayed on. It was the same story  after the Africa Cup of Nations exit at the quarter-finals in Tunisia in 2004 under the same manager.

However, Paul Le Guen independently chose to work with Thomas N’Kono as his assistant in-charge of goalkeeping based on the free-hand he was given by authorities to put together his staff. If he still retains such powers, then he should have either been consulted on plans to appoint Songo’o or proposed the decision himself.

If  it was done at the behest of the Lions’ head coach as some websites are reporting, let’s hope that it was purely on technical reasons for the improvement of the team and not pressure by shady authorities or an immature blame-game.
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