Javier Clemete, head coach of Cameroon at a press conference

It is now a year since Javier Clemente was appointed as head coach of the Cameroon national football team. As I prepared to post an assessment of his tenure this far, I found hidden beneath the drafts section of this blog, an article I had written last year as a preview of Clemente’s reign.

For several reasons including being busy with the work that (actually) earns me a living, I somehow forgot to click the publish button.

Apart from verifying if our predictions about Clemente were correct, it is only fair and honest that I post how I previewed his tactics and man-management upon his appointment  before any review of his time with the Indomitable Lions (hoping I don’t forget the review in my drafts!).

As written in August 2010:

On 4 September (2010), the island state of Mauritius will host the first pride of Lions under Javier Clemente’s mantle. The players were probably selected by his assistants but we would expect to see a touch of Clemente in terms of tactics and formations in that Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.

Some pundits think that under the Spaniard, Cameroon could play like the current Spanish national football team. That may be unlikely.

In his home country, Clemente is typically associated to  what Sid Lowe, a British journalist covering Spanish football, described as “defensive, devious and downright dirty football.”

His baseline strategy is to have two defensive midfielders in front of the centre-backs, operating deep and dispossessing the opposition. 

“His sides then hit the opposition on the break, if he has the right people,” says Phil Ball another Spanish football pundit. 

Clemente prefers players who cover spaces to maintain defensive balance and is supposedly fond of using defensive midfielders and centre-backs everywhere on the pitch.

With more than half of Cameroon’s Europe-based footballers being defensive midfielders, he surely has the implements he needs.

It might not be eye-catching at times, but it would often get the result. In his six years as Spain’s head coach he lost only 6 of the 62 games they played.

Considering that the Lions finished the World Cup without a single point (31st out of 32 teams), that they have conceded 23 goals in 13 matches (including a run of 10 games without a single win), maybe Cameroon football officials thought a man with such a history of repairing defensive leaks was the best bet to turn the tides.

SAVING DESPERATE LIONS

Cameroon media claimed that disorder and indiscipline in the Lions’ den (as usual) led to their woeful output in South Africa.  If the stories of bloated egos and clashes between players are a reality, it would be interesting to see how things work in a dressing room run by someone described as a “crass, tactless bully.”

He is said to be honest and direct to a fault, telling his players his mind and ready to pick a fight with anyone who thinks they are too big to toe the line.

My concern, however, is that authorities who were talking of long-term building, four year contracts, “no more quick-fix coaches,” etc seem to have ended up with a manager whose profile is that of man called up to rescue desperate teams that have dug themselves into a hole.

“People who have a problem, people who think that no one else can help, people who can find him,” is how Lowe described teams that hire Clemente.

“People like Athletic Bilbao, who called upon him when they were threatened by relegation in 2005-06 and saw him get a reaction, picking up 22 of the last 36 points to pull clear,” Sid Lowe wrote in the British newspaper, the Guardian.

How come FECAFOOT scouts didn’t spot Clemente in June 2009 when the Lions were in limbo requiring some emergency aid to qualify to the World Cup? Instead they hired Paul Le Guen, who ended up as a talent scout and long-term planner (bringing in many youngsters into the team).

“If you are struggling, leaking goals and are down on your confidence, the last thing you need is the arrival of a revolutionary young guru, with ambitious and complex new ideas,” Phil Ball wrote in an article for ESPN.

Who knows? Maybe Cameroon authorities were thinking along these lines when they hired Clemente.

Good decision-making, though, has hardly been their greatest asset. The performances of the Lions under Clemente will be the judge of their wisdom.

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