Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions play their first competitive fixture under new manager, Volker Finke, on Sunday against the Sparrow-hawks of Togo. The German-born trainer has been working with his squad in Yaoundé since they returned from Kiev where they played a goalless tie with hosts Ukraine in an international friendly on 2 June.

Here are three (3) aspects of Finke’s football philosophy that we should be watching out for come Sunday afternoon:

  1. A High Pressing Game

Volker Finke is known in Germany as one of the leading lights of the high pressing game which he instigated and sustained during his 16-year tenure at SC Frieburg. A lot of Germany’s current crop of coaches including Jurgen Klopp of Borussia Dortmund, Joachim Löw (the German national team coach) and Ralf Rangnick are recognised as following in Finke’s footsteps.

British football writer Jonathan Wilson wrote recently in the Guardian about Finke’s approach:

At Freiburg, Finke became noted as a pioneer of pressing in Germany – which was oddly late to adopt the practice – and achieved notable success with a small budget as a result. Whether he will have the time to instil a similar style of play at Cameroon is doubtful, appealing though the idea of them becoming the Chile of Africa may be, but he will at least be tactically imaginative.

Finke is so keen about high pressing, quick passing and movement that he has specific  training drills as he described here during his time as coach at Urawa Diamonds in Japan:

That was training for players to learn how to approach various types of situation during the game. For example, when players lose their ball, types of approaches the team should take and in what timing they should start giving pressure change depending on where they lose their ball such as center or side. As such, I decided that the team lost their ball where the player whose name I called was standing. Players then had to figure out how they give pressure as a team and who takes the initial approach. It was training taking real match situations into consideration. It might have seemed as a new type of training. By having more and more of these kinds of training sessions, I believe that the team will be able to improve to perfection level….

He continued:

…I can say that pressing does not necessary start from a player who is closest to the ball. This is because there are many different types of situations during matches. In some cases, no pressing is done or other players start the pressing. Being able to make the right kind of move at the right timing regardless whether there is a ball or not is part of the talent. I consider this as one of the exceptional abilities. Even when players train themselves seriously for several months with a very professional attitude, some may not be able to get it completely right. Making the right decision according to the given situation and play for the team is one of the important elements as well as a talent. When a player is truly gifted, he often has an excellent strategic mind as well.

2. Fluid Tactical Options

I didn’t watch the Cameroon’s game against Ukraine last week and had to rely on match reports from on-line Cameronian media. Each one seems to have seen their own formation. There were those who thought Finke played a 4-3-3 while others said the team played a 4-2-3-1 formation.  We may come to expect more of that from the Lions Den. Rather than sticking to a single plan Finke works by adjusting the formation to the demands of the game and opposition he faces.  The key aspect is to build carefully and break with speed and accuracy.

Finke once said:

It’s boring to switch flanks and knock the ball from one wing to the other. We build through the middle, where there is little space. You play three or four short passes to lure the defense into what they think is the danger zone. And then you suddenly open up the game over the flanks – that’s what is really dangerous.

The key for him is playing beautiful attacking football as reported in this post in The Hard Tackle:

Finke helped a lowly regarded team with limited quality resources to qualify for Bundesliga’s top tier and managed them to finish third in the next season with his version of concept football – a thoroughly drilled, collective movement at a high tempo. During that time Freiburg were known as Breisgau Brazilians for their wonderfully pleasing and technically superior style of football that saw them pass the ball both artfully and precisely.

3. Focus on the Team and not Individuals:

Cameroon football forums are full of discussions about the impact the  absence of the Lions’ captain and talisman Samuel Eto’o may have on the team. The level of anxiety seems to have shot-up following the draw against Ukraine in which the young strikers reportedly failed to impress. Finke believes in team work rather than individuals. It is up to those who would be given the chance to play in the absence of Eto’o to give it their best shot as a team for Cameroon. Here’s a popular quote from Finke that could help calm the nerves of some fans:

“I don’t want team leaders. That’s a line of thinking that buries other players’ strengths. Our playing system does not depend on the individual.”

Will Finke’s ideals work with Cameroon – a team so used to playing deep and soaking up pressure to strike via counter-attacks? Does he have the players to match his philosophy and work ethic?  It would be too much to expect magic on Sunday but hopefully we could have a glimpse of the new Cameroon.

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