Denis Lavagne has been named interim head coach of Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions. He is at the helm of a three-man team that includes Martin Ndtoungou Mpile as deputy head coach and Pierre Mbarga as goalkeeping trainer.
Their mission is to qualify Cameroon for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations to be hosted by South Africa. In order words, they must succeed where the previous staff headed by the Spaniard Javier Clemente failed.
Clemente and his assistants Francois Omam Biyick and Jacques Songo’o were sacked on Tuesday for failing to qualify the Lions to the 2012 Africa Nations Cup in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Is this 47-year-old Frenchman the right man for the job? Was he appointed simply because he is a foreigner willing to stay in Cameroon as some pundits have claimed in the media? (Listen to him speak moments after his appointment).
Lavagne was an assistant coach at four clubs – Nimes, Bastia, Valence and Bezier – in France’s lower leagues. He then became head of the academy at Sedan football club in France and Qatar Sports club in Qatar. He landed at Cotonsport Garoua in Cameroon in 2007 after a brief assignment in China.
He led Cotonsport to a number of championship victories as manager and then became the technical director of the club’s academy. After a short break-up with the Cotonsport management he returned as a Manager, a position he held until his appointment to the Lion’s Den.
Cameroon’s football legend, Roger Milla, does not believe winning national championships with Cotonsport is enough to make Lavagne a good coach for the Lions. Some Cameroonians think the Frenchman is a light-weight with regards to the calibre of players Cameroon has (many of whom play for top clubs in Europe).
The Frenchman told national radio that he would prove his worth on the field. His supporters highlight his understanding of the mentality of Cameroonian players and the politics that goes on in the national team. Big names like Paul Le Guen, Arthur Jorge and Clemente did not have this knowledge which explains their faliure, it is argued.
Cameroon’s most successful expatriate coaches have generally been unknown prior to their arrival in the country, according to a Cameroon football official we spoke to this afternoon.
Claude Leroy, who led the Lions to victory in 1988 at the Africa Cup of Nations; Pierre Lechantre who did the same in 2000 and Valery Nepomniachi,who was in-charge when the Lions reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1990; had little pedigree before they landed in Cameroon, he explained.
WHAT ABOUT NDTOUNGOU
Yet, several TV pundits and newspaper columnists believe that the job should have been handed to Martin Ndtoungou (Lavagne’s deputy) who is more experienced in managing national teams.
Ndtoungou was Winfried Schaffer’s assistant in 2003 when the Lions reached the finals of the Confederations Cup in France. He is a three-time winner (as assistant in 1999 and 2003 and as head coach in 2007) of the Gold Medal at the All Africa Games with the U-23 national squad. He won the Olympic Gold Medal in 2000 as Jean Paul Akono’s assistant and led the U-23 squad to the quarter-finals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
This year he was in-charge of the Junior Lions (U-20) team that finished second in the African Youth Championships and led them to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Columbia.
He knows almost all the players who are vying for a place in the national team because he has been their trainer at youth or senior level. Why Ndtoungou accepted to be an assistant is a mystery to many.
The 53-year-old told national radio that he discussed with Lavagne, the Cameroon Football Federation and the Ministry of Sport and decided to put a hold on his personal ambitions (to be head coach) for the good of Cameroon football.
The football official we spoke to said this was Cameroon’s form of a Jurgen Klinsman and Joachim Loew tandem as Germany operated between 2004 and the end of the 2006 World Cup.
“Loew was clearly more experienced and tactically stronger but Klinsmann had that punch and determination to make a name that uplifted the Germans,” the official who did not want to be named said.
“We hope that would happen for us and by the way it is an interim appointment which means the door isn’t closed,” the official added.
Whatever people’s personal views, Denis Lavagne is now in-charge. Hopefully, Cameroonian sports reporters and pundits would switch from debates over race and the nationality of the coach to discuss his tactics and concept of football.
Is he a defensive or attack minded coach? Does he prefer 4-4-2; 4-2-3-1;4-3-3; 3-3-1-3; 3-4-3 or 4-5-1? Does he prefer his teams to play direct football or does he insist on construction from the back with short-passes in tight spaces?
Last year the media forgot about these things when Clemente was named only to become surprised and disgusted over the Spaniard’s ultra-defensive approach whereas that was the man’s identity – known to all specialists.