Category: Sporlitics


Pierre Lechantre who led Cameroon to victory at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2000 has been named as Senegal’s new head coach. Good for Senegal. But it’s curious that Senegalese football authorities and the media have been presenting the Frenchman as the coach who won the men’s soccer Olympic Gold Medal with Cameroon in Sydney, Australia.

“The 62-year-old has previously coached Cameroon, leading them to the 2000 Nations Cup and Olympic titles,” a story published on the BBC website said.

That’s not correct and it is unfair to former Cameroon international, Jean Paul Akono, who was the head coach of Cameroon’s Olympic squad at the Sydney games in 2000. (Read reference to Akono in this CNNSI article from September 2000).

Maybe the confusion arises from the fact that the squad in Sydney included several players (Samuel Eto’o, Pierre Wome, Geremi Njitap, Lauren Etame, Patrick Mboma, Daniel Bekono) who were part of the squad that won Nations Cup in February of that same year under Lechantre.

It is, however, surprising that Lechantre himself has not clarified the situation. He was the head coach (manager) of Cameroon Senior national team while Akono was head coach of the country’s U-23 (Olympic) national team. At the Olympics, teams are authorised to select 3 players above the age of 23, which explains Patrick Mboma’s presence in Sydney.

As the head of the senior team, Lechantre could have been part of the official delegation with (possibly) an advisory role but he was clearly not the manager.

Tactically, Akono played a much higher defensive line than the Frenchman did with the senior Indomitable Lions. Akono’s style depended a lot on catching opponents offside and launching quick counter-attacks (but also meant they conceded many goals or committed dangerous fouls when the line wasn’t firmly held).

Yet some pundits claimed that Akono was lucky to have had a set of young players who, for the most part, were already full internationals who had even won a Nations Cup.

Akono may not be the fan’s favourite (more on that below) but as the saying goes – give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. It was Akono, his assistants: Martin Ndtoungou Mpile (currently deputy head coach of the Indomitable Lions), Engelbert Mbarga and the goalkeeping trainer Thomas Nkono who were taking decisions on the touchline; not Lechantre.

Moreover, Lechantre’s troubles in Cameroon were closely linked to Akono’s “success” at the Olympics as  the then Minister of Sport, Bidoun Mpkatt (currently Minister of Youth Affairs), made Akono head coach of the senior national team and controversially “promoted” Lechantre to the position of National Technical Director in November 2000.

Lechantre’s popularity among many senior internationals, fans and the media led to a vast campaign against the Cameroonian Akono, who was forced to resign following a defeat to Angola in a 2002 World Cup qualifier. Lechantre was re-appointed head coach but he was sacked for good after Cameroon under-performed at the Japan-Korea Confederations Cup in 2001.

Hopefully his time in Senegal will be less turbulent.

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**This article has been amended (in paragraphs 16 & 17)  to include a AFC as the footballers’ association suspended by Fecafoot.

Cameroon’s football federation (Fecafoot) has revised disciplinary sanctions it handed to the country’s national team captain, Samuel Eto’o  and two other players, the body said in a statement issued after an executive committee meeting that also appointed former Indomitable Lions skipper, Rigobert Song, as team manager.

Eto’o saw a 15-match ban, for inciting his teammates to boycott an international friendly against Algeria last November, revised to an eight-month suspension. He would miss Cameroon’s matches until August. The original decision would have seen him out of the Indomitable Lions fold for at least two years.

“Mr Samuel Eto’o Fils is a world famous athlete who has rendered outstanding service to Cameroon’s national teams…He could still offer useful services to the men’s senior national football team in upcoming competitions,” Fecafoot said.

The decision to reconsider (reduce but not scrap) the sanction, although the player did not appeal, was taken for the good of the game while reaffirming the importance of  respecting institutions, authorities, set rules and regulations, the federation explained.

Earlier in the week the Federation refuted allegations that Cameroon’s President Paul Biya had ordered that the sanctions be reduced.

The Federation also reconsidered the situation of deputy captain Enoh Eyong Takang.  The Ajax Amsterdam midfielder had been handed a two-game ban for his role in the November player strike. He will now be suspended for two months, which would mean a one-match ban at the most.

Fecafoot, which has not clarified if the revised suspensions take effect as from January or from the date of the initial sanctions (in December), also rescinded the 1 million FCFA ($2000) fine they initially imposed on left fullback Benoit Assou-Ekotto for not respecting a call-up in November.

SONG IN
Meanwhile, the Federation appointed a former captain, Rigobert Song, as Team Manager. He replaces Martin Etonge who was bizzarely dropped last June. That means Song is not the “coordinator of national teams,” a post that had been promised and finally not (created nor) given to another former international, Patrick Mboma.
Although many fans and the media hail the inclusion of a former player (and iconic captain) in the national team management, suspicion is rife that his appointment is a divide and rule tactic from a spineless federation, which seems unable to control Eto’o’s perceived influence over the team.
“(…) Rigobert Song would certainly limit Samuel Eto’o’s power over the team. Eto’o has a lot of influence over the players,” a Fecafoot board member told Camfoot.com.
Song left the national team in acrimonious circumstances after he was stripped of his captaincy by former head coach Paul Le Guen in favour of Eto’o. A good number of the players remained faithful to him leading to a massive split in the dressing room that affected Cameroon’s performances at the 2010 Africa Cup and World Cup competitions.
However, there are many in the Federation who hope that Song would be the link between the players and officials. He is expected to create opportunities for dialogue, which was impossible during the November Crisis, when players refused to travel to Algeria.
MAYEBI OUT
The Federation has also instructed all national team players to forward their bank account details to Fecafoot so that their match bonuses be transferred directly to them, in a bid to improve management.
Match bonuses are currently paid in cash.  This contributed to fester the row over appearance bonuses which ended with players refusing to play against Algeria.  Authorities claimed they had not travelled with sufficient liquidity to pay that particular bonus.
Such archaic managerial routines were widely criticised by the public that felt Fecafoot and its officials were also at fault in the events that led to the failed friendly. This increased a feeling of injustice among fans of the  suspended players.
Some of the worst criticism of the disciplinary sanctions came from within Fecafoot – in the shape of one of it’s vice-presidents, David Mayebi, who as head of the Cameroon Footballers’ Association (AFC), told local TV stations in December that the punishments meted out to Eto’o, Enoh and Assou-Ekotto were unjust.
Fecafoot executive committee has now suspended  David Mayebi, as well as AFC, in a move seen as retribution for openly giving support to the players against the federation.

Cameroon’s national soccer team captain, Samuel Eto’o has been handed a fifteen match ban for inciting his teammates to revolt against how the team is managed. The players refused to travel to Algeria for a friendly game, in what the Anzhi striker described as a protest action along the lines of the “Arab Spring” revolutions that led to the fall of the Presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) said in a statement on Friday.

Samuel Eto'o at a press conference in Dakar

Samuel Eto'o incited his team mates to revolt says Fecafoot

Eto’o told a disciplinary hearing on Monday 12 December that incompetence, dishonesty and injustice were the hallmarks of football managers in Cameroon. He said the players were treated like “kids” and their refusal to play against Algeria was a sign of protest against this state of affairs.

The players who were in Marrakech, Morocco for a friendly tournament,  had insisted that they would not travel to Algeria except authorities pay up a customary appearance fee of FCFA 500,000 each they get at every national team camp, which had not been handed them on that occasion.

Fecafoot says its officials and those of the Ministry of Sport  held several meetings with the players, particularly the captain, his deputy Enoh Eyong Takang and other senior players: Idriss Kameni, Jean Makoun and Alexandre Song but the players refused to budge.

The Federation says Eto’o failed to explain why the players refused to travel although the Algerian Federation offered to pay $30,000 once the team arrived in Algeria while the Cameroon Ministry of Sport dispatched FCFA 15 million.

DEMANDS

From the statement issued by the disciplinary council, it appears that the players, under the leadership of their captain, had made other demands which they wanted to be met.

–       The players wanted an increment in the match bonuses they are handed during friedlies

–       That the team captain be  consulted the federation signs contracts for any friendly match

–        Have the players fly in first class

–       That the captain have a copy of the federation’s contracts with its main sponsors

–       That what ever payments are made by these sponsors are given to all of the team’s staff

–       That the payment of appearance be obligatory at all friendly matches

–       That the authorities pay  a symbolic fee to the players for their participataion in the friendly game against Algeria

–       That the rate of match bonuses be reviewed (increased) ahead of the 2013 Africa Cup and 2014 Wold Cup that start next year.

“The players may have been right in their demands but their style and manner of seeking redress was bad,” a Senior Official in the Federation told me. He also  felt Eto’o and vice-captain Enoh Eyong Takang – who has been banned for two games – had slighted authorities and had to have their wings clipped.

The statement following the disciplinary hearing says Eto’o described the vice-President of Fecafoot as “Papa menteur” (a lying old man).

SOLDIERS

Apparently, Eto’o and Eyong are being punished for protesting. These are players and their role (in the words of the official who spoke to me) is to obey orders like soldiers.

The fact that the Federation and the Ministry of Sport did not agree on who was to pay the said appearance fees (an aspect that transpires in the disciplinary council’s statement) has been conveniently brushed aside.

Authorities have argued that the money finally came on the eve of the match and that the Algerians were ready to pay.  But does that absolve them from accusations of incompetence?

If it was possible to get FCFA 15 million on the eve of the game after the players threatened to boycott the game in Algeria – why had the authorities not done so earlier? Didn’t the players make present their demands at the start of the camp in Morocco?

Why, even for courtesy sake, were the players not told before that they were going to play in Algeria for free? And was it normal – for Cameroon’s image – that Algerians be called upon to pay fees which should be the duty of Cameroonian authorities?

Refusing to play a game is certainly reprehensible. In addition, some of the players’ demands (mentioned above) seem a stretch too far. However, not all the persons responsible for the fiasco have been judged or punished.

Federation officials who spent their time warning and threatening the players, are the same people who wrote reports used against the players, and are the same people who appeared as witnesses to testify against the players. What does that say about fairness and justice?

Apparently, Eto’o picked the wrong crowd to start an “Arab Spring” uprising against.

He has 10 days to appeal the verdict of the disciplinary council. However, if his 15 match ban is upheld it would mean the end to his international career. It isn’t a secret that many would love to see him gone, though. He has often been criticised for an overbearing grip on the team, staff and officials. Such a ban would also send a warning to any potential dissidents in the ranks of the Indomitable Lions.

However, it leaves a rather wealthy and popular loose cannon, who knows enough to rock the federation’s stable. This may come to haunt those who took the decision in the long run.

Cotonsport Garoua have won the 2011 edition of the Cup of Cameroon. They defeated Unisport du Haut Nkam 3-0 on Sunday in Yaounde. But don’t go thinking it was an exciting encounter. No. The victory came through penalty shoot-outs after both teams had dished out an insipid performance for 90 minutes.

The first-half was the worst football performance I have watched this year. A catalogue of failed passes, mis-controlled balls and misses that were worthy of a secondary school football match.

“I am disappointed,” Henry Njalla Quan, the deputy president of the newly created Cameroon professional football league, said after the game.

“The quality of the match was far below what I expected,” Njalla Quan  told CRTV news.

He hoped the managers would do their utmost to improve their teams before the start of continental club competitions where they are expected to represent Cameroon.

Some of the elementary technical and tactical errors exhibited by the players in that game were a disgrace to local football in Cameroon.

But do we have to put all the blame on the players? Not really.

The teams qualified for this final in August.  They had to wait until December to play the game. Nearly five months, most of which were spent practically doing nothing because the football league also ended within that period.

They had to wait  for the Presidency to set a date since the final marks the end of the sports season in the country, and it is usually chaired by the President of the Republic. The date was only made known this week.

How, in such circumstances, would those players perform well? One could clearly see they lacked match fitness. They were rusty. Training does not replace competitive football. Never.

For the good of the game, it is about time Cameroon set a date (like it’s done elsewhere) at the start of the season. If the President is unavailable for whatever reason, have somebody represent him. The Prime Minister did so last year and the world did not come to an end.

The President gets represented at international summits and various events holding in Cameroon by a plethora of officials from the President of the National Assembly, through the chairman of the (moribund) Economic and Social Council to ministers. Any of these people could do same at the Cup of Cameroon final.

Cameroon has a new minister of sport and physical education. He is Adoum Garoua, a former athlete who played for the national volley-ball team and also defended Cameroon colours in high jump.

Adoum Garoua was Minister of Youth Affairs until his appointment on Friday 9 Dec by President Paul Biya.

He served in the Ministry of Youth and Sport as head of human resources.  He would need all the tact and expertise of an HR manager to deal with the sports sector in Cameroon, especially football.

He replaces Michel Zoa whose last act was to supervise the final rehearsal of the parade that will precede the Cup of Cameroon final between Cotonsport Garoua and Unisport du Haut Nkam (Bafang).

Adoum Garoua was also present at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium on Friday for the rehearsal but claims he wasn’t aware at the time that he would be named Minister of Sport.

He is the fourth Minister of Sport since Bidoung Mpkatt was dropped in 2004. Interestingly, Bidoung Mkpatt now returns as Adoum Garoua ‘s successor  in the Ministry of Youth.

Football authorities in Cameroon have summoned the captain of their national football team, Samuel Eto’o (Anzhi Makhachkala) and his deputy Enoh Eyong Takang (Ajax Amsterdam), to a disciplinary hearing after the team refused to play a friendly, local media reported on Sunday.

Cameroon were due to play Algeria on Tuesday 15 Nov but the players did not travel for the game.

Cameroon authorities want Eto’o and Enoh to explain why the team basically went on strike, in what is seen by the Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) and the ministry of sport as gross misconduct and a disgrace to the country’s image.

The players had issued a statement on 13 Nov saying they were not ready to play because of the non-payment of an appearance bonus (Prime de Presence) which they receive each time they  are called to camp.

By the time the sports ministry finally wired funds via a money transfer service less than 24 hours before kick-off, the players had firmly opted not to play and the game was cancelled.

The Lions didn't look convinced by what authorities were saying at this meeting in Marrakech. (Photo by Linus Pascal Fouda: Team Press Officer)

BAD GOVERNANCE

Officials want to punish the players but soccer pundits in the country have come to the team’s defence.

“The problems the Lions have been facing are not due to the (in)competence of players or the coaches who succeed each other at a furious pace at the helm of this team,” wrote Cameroon Tribune, the government-run daily.

“The issue of governance (administration of the Indomitable Lions) is a major concern,” the paper said.

As an example of bad management, pundits point to the fact that the players only learnt in Morocco (where they were participating in a friendly tournament)  that FECAFOOT was not expected to make any proceeds from the  game in Algeria.

In other words, they had not been told that they were practically going to play in Algeria for free and when they asked they were rebuffed by the officials present, journalists who travelled with the team said on a television show.

It should be noted that FECAFOOT and the players have an arrangement wherein both parties split the proceeds of friendly matches.

“If they asked what they were due and were not given an answer, it is quite normal, or rather, I think they felt  it was quite normal, for their part , not to play this game,” Jean Paul Akono, the deputy national technical director, told CRTV.

“These  are professional footballers… If you do not tell them in advance that they are going to play a match without proceeds, which would surprise me, when they go to play, they expect to be paid… I doubt that there was no fee for this match against Algeria… “ added Akono, who is a former head coach of the Indomitable Lions.

An interview given by the team captain to state radio (CRTV) on Friday 11 Nov, in which he complained about poor organisation and urged the authorities to take action, shows that the players had had enough of the unprofessionalism around them, pundits say.

BLAME GAME

Fecafoot and the ministry of sport have in the days following the incident traded accusations over who was responsible for the unpaid allowances.

The ministry says it only pays the (now infamous) “participation allowance” when the team is playing a competitive fixture, suggesting that the federation should be responsible in the case of friendlies.

FECAFOOT issued a statement which suggests that these allowances are not mandatory but that they were willing to pay then once the team returned from Algeria. A federation spokesman said on local TV (Canal 2 International) that the federation did not have the funds in hand in Morocco.

Both the federation and the ministry of sport have since held crisis meetings in which they resolved to dispatch a team of officials to Algeria to apologise for the failed rendez-vous.

Meanwhile, media  reports say the Algerian football authorities have taken the Cameroon football federation (FECAFOOT)  to football’s governing body FIFA for breach of contract.

The Algerians had sold out tickets for the match and sold broadcast right to several TV stations. They want FECAFOOT to reimburse the losses they have incurred.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto has also been summoned to explain why he did not show up for the camp in Morocco.

Cameroon knew they were not going to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (AfCON) even if they defeated the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). All they wanted was a win to end the qualifiers with pride; which they did by beating the DRC 3-2 in Kinshasa on Friday.

Very little noise was made before the game. Even Paul Biya who so often presents the team as an example for the country’s youth to emulate, didn’t include them in his campaign speeches in the run up to Sunday’s Presidential Election.

Anyway, that was when the Lions were truly Indomitable and won most of the times. In reality,  though, it is now that the Indomitable Lions are really epitomising Cameroon: a country with great potential, talented human resources (at home and abroad) but lacking leadership and infested by bad governance. (We’ll come to that further down this post).

Return to 4-3-3

Cameroon were missing a flurry of players including  Stephane Mbia, Aurelien Chedjou, Benoit Amgwa, Joel Matip  who are out injured. As a result coach Javier Clemente played with a defence line which had never played together .

Enoh Eyong who is normally a midfielder had to start at right-back, Sebastien Bassong partnered with Nicolas Nkoulou in central defence for the first time since the 1-1 draw with the DRC in October  last year in Garoua; and Gaetan Bong held his role at leftback as was the case in the past two games.

Clemente opted for a midfield trio in which Eric Djemba was the holding midfielder infront of the back four; while Landry Ngeumo and Alex Song worked the channels. The latter was so advanced in the first half that he had a hand in Eto’o’s equaliser (1-1) and hit the cross-bar after a beautiful give-and-go with Eto’o a few moments later.

But the team looked disjointed on several occasions and Djemba was a weak link as in his defensive role. He was heavy and got beaten for pace most times the  Congolese started a fast counter-attack.

This exposed the centre-backs and added pressure on Enoh who was playing for the very first time at right-back. Bong was just on an off day and many fans on internet forums questioned why the coach had not called Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

All the Cameroonian players seemed to have problems with the artificial turf used for the game but this alone could not explain the number of poor passes in the first half and the misses by the attackers.

Mystery-man Adongcho

Mbuta Andongcho scores for Cameroon but has no club?

Moukandjo Bile who was playing wide on the right was particularly wasteful with the opportunities he had. Eto’o and Eric Choupo-Moting often interchanged roles as central striker and wide left forward and on several ocassions they sliced the Congolese but made a bad final pass.

It was only after Clemente substituted Djemba (replaced by Mbuta Adongcho) and switched formation to a flexible 4-2-1-3  (4-2-3-1) in the second half that cam,eroon seemed to control the game. By then DRC were leading 2-1 and had even managed to miss a penalty. The game was as tight as the scoreline.

Cameroon finally equalised through Adongcho who poked in a ball headed down by Nkoulou. Adongcho was again involved in the winning goal holding the the ball long enough to see that Choupo-Moting (who had started the move) got into a scoring position before passing the ball.

Adongcho is quite a mystery. I don’t know where he actually plays his football. Cameroon media say he is clubless and is struggling to get a move to Rumania. However, he seems to score every time he is given his chance to play.

The win must have been a relief for the players but they would certainly have many regrets. With the array of talent in the squad, it’s a shame that they are not going to be at the AFCON.

Bad Governance

This is down to bad management and leadership from sports officials in Cameroon and some of the senior players in the squad.

Cameroon’s sports authorities decided to recruit as head-coach, a Spaniard who stays in Spain and only flies-in when there is a game at hand. He seemingly has a pre-planned list of players that he picks regardless of whether they are in forme or even playing football at all.

These same authorities failed to deal with the inter-personal clashes that are said to have ruined the teams World Cup. They made an unofficial ban on some players, particularly Alex Song, only to realise when Cameroon was already limping, that these players were vital.

Bickering between Eto’o and Song poisoned the dressing room and left the team appearing on soap opera columns rather than on sports pages.

But how could fans expect a team operating in a dysfunctional set-up fraught with bad-governance  to perform well.

Hey! This is Cameroon – a country where a dead man was appointed as a as the head of a Division and the ruling party could appoint a dead man into its central committee. Why should a coach not name players who have no clubs in the national team?

Cameroon players have a spirit that pushes them to want to survive. It is the same spirit that is in the hawkers on the streets of Yaounde, the benskineurs (motorbike taxi riders) in Douala, Limbe and Bamenda and the high school graduate selling telephone top-up cards in Buea.

But there comes a time when even the fighting spirit can’t get you anywhere when there is dis-organisation and the absence of visionary leadership.

It happened in the post-1990 World Cup era and Cameroon failed to qualify for the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations. It has happened again and they are out of the 2012 edition. But, shall they  ever learn?

Samuel Eto’o missed a late penalty that would have given Cameroon victory over Senegal and keep the Central African nation’s slim hope of qualifying to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations alive. The game ended 0-0 and the Indomitable Lions look certain to miss the tournament to be hosted by their neighbours Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. But on a purely tactical perspective it was a promising display from Cameroon – their most attack-minded performance in a competitive match in a long while.

Cameroon’s head coach, Javier Clemente, kept his promise to send out a team focused on attacking its opponent from the start.  The team included Benjamin Moukandjo, Vincent Aboubakar, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Samuel Eto’o who are all used as attackers in their clubs.

He organised them in a 4-2-3-1 formation (similar to the one used by Germany at the 2010 World Cup). Eto’o was the lone striker while the youngsters (named above) played as the “3” behind him often interchanging positions. The shape gave the team width and penetration as the front four took turns to become de facto striker, “wingers” (cutting inside) or drop as a supporting striker (linking midfield and attack) given that the trio (Moukandjo, Aboubakar, Choupo-Moting) are all capable of unpicking opposing defences with ease.

The result was constant pressure on the Senegalese team from the first to the last minute of play; in a way Cameroon last did only in the 2006 Cup of Nations under Arthur Jorge and the early days of Paul Le Guen’s reign.

There were over a dozen corner kicks for Cameroon; not less than a dozen free-kicks at the edge of the Senegalese 18-yard box; and 7 clear goal-scoring chances (several of them one-on-one with the goalkeeper).

Sadly, the finishing was poor. Many of the shots were hit straight at goalkeeper Coundoul (who was preferred to (Calamity) Khadim Ndiaye).

fans senegal

Is it all about victory now?

MOVEMENT

The Senegalese have lashed out at the referee, who was far from excellent and gave a rather soft penalty to Cameroon. But the referee cannot be blamed for their complete tameness. Amara Traore had opted for a 4-3-3 which had a front three of Mamadou Niang, Issiar Dia and Moussa Sow. His intention was to have an extra man in midfield as opposed to the away leg in Dakar.

Yet, they were over-run by the movement Cameroon’s midfield 5 (if one includes the threesome that was supporting the attack) particularly the Enoh Eyong Tarkang and Landry Nguemo duet. Enoh sat deep mainly protecting his centre-backs while Nguemo peppered the Senegalese with hardworking box-to-box play that supported the attacking scheme set-up by Clemente (Aurelien Chedjou who was surprisingly left on the bench as a result of this formation, came on as a second-half substitute for Nguemo and added that penetration that was lacking in Dakar, as well).

The Senegalese had only one shot on target and it was from an off-side position.

Cameroon’s keeper, Carlos Kameni, was practically not seen throughout the encounter while his defenders – Amgwa Ossomeyong (RB), Nicolas Nkoulou (CB), Stephane Mbia (CB), Gaetan Bong (LB) – were rarely troubled. The full-backs (Amgwa and Bong) shuttled back and forth on the flanks to add with while Mbia had several opportunities to score with a header from Cameroon’s numerous kicks – but he hit the ball wide on many occasions.

The pressure, movement, passing, free-kicks and possession driven play from back-to-front came to nil because Cameroon were unable to score. A few fans got so bitter after the game that they attacked cars parked outside the stadium and clashed with security forces who tried to protect the players. It pains when a team doesn’t win and nobody wants failure. But there were positive lessons in that game which could serve as a great guide.

PROMISE

Beyond Eto’o and the penalty he missed – Saturday’s game was another preview of a promising new generation of Indomitable Lions. With the average age of the starting eleven being 22 (if you take away Kameni and Eto’o)  there is a foundation for the emergence of another great pride of Lions (including the likes of Joel Matp and Salli Edgar),  if they play under the guidance of a manager who is there to build and  is not under pressure to produce immediate results (which politicians want to use as distraction).

“A manager (coach) can only make a difference if he has a club that backs him, that is patient, that gives confidence to players and that is willing to commit to long-term. And in any case that doesn’t just want to win, but to win convincingly,” Arrigo Sacchi, the Italian master tactician, is quoted as saying in Jonathan Wilson’s book: Inverting the Pyramid.

The mistake that has been made in the past and which was repeated after the World Cup in 2010 was to go for the short-term (or victory now and at all cost) approach. Authorities and the media didn’t accept that the Indomitable Lions were (are) a team under construction (in transition).

They went into witch-hunting mode, comparing generations passed and present, and mis-managing (or over-reacting to) tensions between players in the squad. Many were oblivious to the fact that Le Guen had unearthed talented  but inexperienced players that had to mature and could not necessarily triumph at the World Cup or ride over the continent.

Upon the first hurdle (which was the 1-1 draw with Congo), the media and team administrators panicked and a chain of reactions has led to a collapse of what should have been a painstaking project.

An absence from the Africa Cup could turn to into an opportunity to build a solid and more conquering team. With less pressure to win a trophy, a good and passionate coach, discipline and better organisation, regular camps and sparring partners on every FIFA date available, the Lions would re-emerge as a force in 2012/13 in time for the World Cup qualifiers.

Wasn’t that the path that Senegal took after they were knocked-out of the race to the 2010 Africa Cup and World Cup tournaments?

Why is it that footballers  born in France , with French nationality and in some cases have even represented France at junior level choose to play for the countries of their fathers and /or mothers?

Whereas the commonly held response to this question is that these players don’t have the quality to be picked for France, Cameroon’s Sebastien Bassong and Benoit Assou-Ekotto have given an interview to the U.K. Guardian newspaper that could be a pointer to a more disturbing reason (for the French): bad integration of African and Arab communities in the French society.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Sebastien Bassong in their Cameroon colours

They explain that people from Arab or African communities face serious integration problems in France to the point that they develop strong attachment to their original and/or ancestral roots which may suggest why more and more of these young people switch football nationalities without difficulty.

“…coming from where I did in France, even if you had only one little drop of Moroccan blood, for example, you would represent it to the death. You would be fiercely proud of being African, says Assou-Ekotto who was born in France to a French mother and a Cameroonian father and proudly represents the latter nation.

Assou-Ekotto who grew up in Arras , France and now plays professional football at Tottenham Hotspur in London, says people in England are fiercely proud of being English even when their parents come from elsewhere and the society accepts that, which is a big difference to France.

His Spurs colleague Bassong concurs.

“Most of the players on the French national team come from rough areas and when you live there, your friends all have dual nationalities,” said Bassong , who played for the French U-21s before switching to play for the land of his father and mother.

When he was in the France Under-21 team, he gave an interview in which he admitted “my heart beats for Cameroon.” He did not play for France again, according to the Guardian.

“When you ask them (French players) where they are from, they will say Senegal, Morocco, Algeria…,” he added.

It is to be expected that the French would want to understand why players switch from France to other countries at senior level. At the World Cup,  there were nine players on other sides who had previously played for France, according to the BBC.

Cameroon’s squad at the 2010 World Cup included three players  who at one stage of their careers had represented France: Sebastien Bassong (French U-21), Gaetan Bong (French U-21 until 2010) and Alexandre Song (French U-16 in 2002).

However, the attempt to limit this trend was  poorly tackled by French Football Federation officials (including the France head coach Laurent Blanc) who digressed into near racial undertones during a meeting that was recorded by a member of the Federation, and  was leaked to the press igniting a massive scandal.

The French Federation and Sports ministry officials launched separate  investigations  while  the French National Technical Director, Francois Blanquart, was suspended.

It should be noted here that Blanquart was the coach of the France under 16 team in 2002 that included Alexandre Song and Frank Songo’o who today play for Cameroon as well as Samir Nasri of Arsenal who represents France.

Assou-Ekotto who, [unlike Alex Song (born in Douala) and Frank Songo’o (born in Yaounde)], never adorned a French national team shirt before choosing to play for his African nation, believes the French society has a bigger issue to address.

“France has, at its heart, a problem where it has been unable or unwilling to accommodate the sons and daughters of its former colonies, even though France benefited and enriched itself greatly from the relationship. That’s hard to accept and it’s what sits at the base of what is dysfunctional in France,” the left full-back told the Guardian.

You can read the original story published by the Guardian online here

Cameroon has added three players – Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Joel Matip and George Elokobi – to its initial squad called to camp ahead of an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Senegal on 26 March and a friendly against Gabon three days later, a statement issued by the country’s football federation (FECAFOOT) said late on Friday.

These players are among Cameroon’smost in-form internationals and it was surprising to many that they were left out of the by the coaches. It remains to be seen if all of them respond positively to this late call-up.

However, their inclusion in the squad suggests that the coaching staff have been cowed by popular outrage and/or they (staff) have crumbled under the weight of intervention from officials and the political management of football in that west-central African country.

Javier Clemente, the Spain-born, head coach of Cameroon is known in international football circles as  being  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. In keeping with that character trait he  felt he had to assert his authority by leaving out players he deemed had slighted him.

Sadly, it seems Clemente didn’t get the memo about the country he signed up to train. Football in Cameroon is more than a game for the ruling elites. It is a political tool.

The national team’s success is usually branded (in presidential speeches) as an achievement of the government in power and the team is used as an example of national unity, courage and determination as well as  a model of what can be achieved if the nation worked for a common purpose.

A political tool

When socio-political turbulence looms, the authorities play up  the greater national cause – focusing on a match, tournament, or qualification campaign – thus letting off the steam that could have exploded in the form of protests and riots against bad governance in a country where the economy has stagnated, and unemployment and inequality have risen, according to Crisis Group.

Curiously Clemente’s assistant, Francois Omam Biyick who is a former national captain and hero, may have failed to warn the Spaniard that in delicate political times as is the case now – with revolutions in the north of Africa and people tempted to replicate them in sub-Saharan Africa – sports authorities in Cameroon would not take chances on issues that could unleash discontent.

Deliberately omitting players that fans regard as vital to the squad for a must-win game is one of such issues.  The thinking in Yaounde is that there could be anger that might mutate into political protests should the team lose and/or fail to qualify for the Africa Cup as a result of such a decison.  Such a scenario happened in  the February 2008  riots that started-off as a taxi-drivers’ strike over fuel prices and veered into full scale unrest.

Political intervention in team selection is not new.

In 1990, with Cameroon struggling to build a convincing team for the World Cup in Italy  in a political context of growing discontent against the regime and calls for multi-party politics, a presidential decree got Roger Milla out of retirement and imposed him on the coaches and players of the national team.

His exploits – scoring four goals at the age of 38 – which contributed to Cameroon becoming the first African team to reach the World Cup quarter-finals gave the regime a two-month breather during which it tried to regroup and unleash a media campaign. The government stuffed the people with patriotic songs of unity exemplifying “the brave Lions” on State radio and TV (which were monopolies then).

Eventually, international and local pressure led the authorities to legalise multi-party politics and issue several laws on freedom of association and expression

Political manipulation doesn’t end at squad selection.

In 1993, a lacklustre Cameroon team struggled its way through the qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.A. The final qualifying game was against Zimbabwe on 10 October with close to 100,000 people (according to State media), including president Paul Biya,  crammed in the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium whose official capacity is about 35,000.

Biya had been re-elected in controversial circumstances in the country’s first multi-party elections in 1992. The opposition had called for a “ghost-town” (civil disobedience –no work, not business activity, etc) on 11 October which was the anniversary of the proclamation of Biya’s victory by the Supreme Court. The operation was meant to be a protest at what the opposition considered as a “stolen electoral victory”.

Omam Biyick scored twice, and Maboang Kessack (if my memory hasn’t failed me) scored a third and Cameroon beat Zimbabwe 3-1. As the stadium and the country exploded in joyous frenzy, Biya declared 11 October a public holiday in honour of the great victory. Technically, there could be no ghost-town again since it was effectively a holiday.

More than a game

But Cameroon is not alone when it comes to using football for political gains.  From Kwame Nkrumah’s and Jerry Rawlings’ Ghana, through Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire to  Muammar Khadafi’s Libya, Abdoulaye Wade’s Senegal and Goodluck Johnathan’s Nigeria, football is a vital tool to those in power in Africa.

Authorities in Senegal have been using the recent run of good form by the Lions of the Teranga to shift people’s focus from a myriad of challenges rocking the country including excessive power outages, high cost of consumer goods and increased poverty,  local media have said.

The WalfAdjiri newspaper reported that Senegalese authorities are so wary of an explosion of discontent should their national team lose to Cameroon, that they promised to provide everything requested by the team coach who complained of poor lodging and logistics for the team during a recent friendly against Guinea.

This 19 March, however, civil society groups have called for a mass demonstration on the streets of Dakar to raise these issues and ask for government to tackle them. The government has authorized the protest but has warned that it would not accept any vandalism. Some youth groups are suggesting that these demonstrations would run until next Saturday’s game but that remains to be seen.

It is evident that when the national football teams of Cameroon and Senegal lock horns on the pitch of Dakar’s Leopold Sedar Senghor stadium next Saturday, the ruling elites in both countries won’t consider the encounter as a leisurely contest of 22 athletes seeking to qualify for an African Cup of Nations.