Tag Archive: cameroon football


It was supposed to be a day of celebration. June 8, exactly 24 years to the day when Cameroon scored a memorable victory against Argentina the then holders of the World Cup. Phone companies and local sports officials had planned to ‘triumphantly’ lead the new pride of  Indomitable Lions to the plane that was to take them to  the World Cup in Brazil. Well, the squad didn’t turn up. They refused to fly to Brazil until a row over match bonuses was resolved. They only left the country around 5:45  in the morning of 9 June.

Haven’t we heard this before?  Cameroon sports officials and players not in agreement over bonuses before or during a FIFA World Cup.  Even that famous victory over Argentina in Italia 1990 (which sparked a historic run to the quarter-finals) was obtained amid disputes over match bonuses between the players and authorities from Cameroon’s sports ministry and the football federation.

“[Bonuses were] discussed until the eve of the opening match (against Argentina),” said Bertin Ebwelle, Cameroon’s left-back at the tournament in Italy. “I can assure you that the discussions were rough and it wasn’t until 5 a.m. that the last player received his bonus,” he told Camfoot.com recently.

Four years later, the players spent sleepless nights arguing over bonuses and the Lions crashed out of the competition after suffering heavy defeats in the hands of Brazil (3-0) and Russia (6-1).

Yet, Cameroon did not learn.

In 2002, possibly the best Indomitable Lions squad since 1990 refused to board the flight that was supposed to take them to Japan for the World Cup except a row over bonuses was resolved. They ended up staying for days at an airport hotel and arrived behind schedule. The Indomitable Lions, then African Champions, were bundled out of the World Cup after a 1-1 draw with Ireland, a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia and a 2-0 defeat to Germany.

Fast-forward to 2014. Cameroon had just started their pre-World Cup training camp in Austria when media reports suggested the players were locked in a row with the country’s football authorities over bonuses. Both sides sought to downplay the seriousness of the issue until it boiled over on Sunday.

After the ‘industrial action’ by the players the federation announced in a statement that the issue had been settled, claiming that they had to draw from private loans to get the money to the players. Really?!

This team qualified for the World Cup in November 2013. Both the authorities and the players know the history surrounding bonuses.  What were they doing in the past 6 months? Why must every participation at the World Cup turn into a farce over something that could be agreed months earlier?

Officials blame the players for asking too much and insisting on being paid before delivering a service. They think the players are going to ‘unpatriotic’ lengths (i.e. refusing to play matches or fail to board a flight) to negotiate their demands. There are conspiracy theories in the media that these demands are linked to internal politicking with some players trying to bring down the federation.

Some in the media have questioned why a team that has not won any major tournament in the last decade should be making such high claims for match bonuses. Others have asked if the players will refund the money taken in advance, if they crash out of the tournament. Many wonder why the government should be paying footballers close to FCFA 50 million each  in a country where  swathes of the population go without clean drinking water or electricity?

Whatever the case, this bonus saga is a complete disgrace for the players, the officials and the country.

“This issue has to be resolved once and for all,” Ebwelle said. That way, players know from the qualifiers what they are going to earn at the World Cup… that way a player can decide whether he wants to go to the World Cup or not. If he decides to go, then he accepts what the nation offers him,” he added.

According to Jules Denis Onana, another 1990 World Cup veteran, negotiations over match bonuses in Cameroon are always tense due to the mistrust between the two involved parties, especially as the players increasingly feel officials use funds that accrue from tournaments to line their pockets instead of investing the money into the development of football in the country.

“Negotiations will always be difficult where there is no trust,” Onana wrote in an open piece published on Cameroon-footbuzz.com. “All that is needed to ensure that footballers and officials can negotiate in a peaceful climate, is a little more transparency around the source, allocation, and use of funds,” the former centre-back, now turned player agent, said.

Will Cameroon learn?

 

Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions defeated Moldova 1-0 in Yaounde in their final pre-World Cup friendly, which also served as an opportunity for fans to bid ‘farewell’ to the squad that leaves the country on Sunday for Brazil.

Edgar Salli scored Cameroon’s goal at the 30th minute of the match following a cross from the right flank by the talented Benjamin Moukandjo.

There was little else to write home about the game in which the Cameroon players were clearly under instruction not to over commit, in order to avoid last minute injuries.

The Indomitable Lions ‘traditionally’ play an exhibition game where the 23-man squad is divided into two camps for a show, ostensibly to allow the fans say farewell and bless the team. This year officials of the football federation decided to organise an international friendly instead.

Cameroon's Starting Eleven versus Moldova in Yaounde on 7 June 2014

Cameroon’s Starting Eleven versus Moldova in Yaounde on 7 June 2014

Head coach Volker Finke rested the team captain, Samuel Eto’o, as well as Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, the most prolific scorer since they started preparing for the World Cup last May.

However, the German trainer started Aurelien Chedjou, who had been carrying an injury thus missing Cameroon’s previous warm up matches. Chedjou was paired with Nicolas N’Koulou at the centre of defence. Henri Bedimo started at left-back while Allan Nyom got the nod as right-back. The latter missed a sitter towards the end of the game drawing scorn and catcalls from fans who were at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium.

Alex Song anchored midfield alongside Enoh Eyong and Landry N’guemo but the energy and harrying displayed in the game against Germany (in which this trio featured together in the 2nd half) was absent.

In all it was a flat performance only spiced (once in a while) by the dribbling from Moukandjo who started as part of a forward trio including Salli and Achille Webo. The

There were numerous substitutions but this didn’t change the game whose flow was seriously hampered by the poor turf that gave an awkward bounce to the ball.

Moldova camped in their half of the field for most of the contest. They stepped up in the second half and came close to an unexpected equaliser from a well taken free-kick in the final minutes of the game.

Cameroon’s Prime Minister Philemon Yang handed over a Cameroon flag to the country’s German-born coach at the end of the game. The team departs for Brazil on Sunday

After Cameroon’s 2-2 draw with Germany in a friendly, Volker Finke, the head coach of the Indomitable Lions, has named the 23 players to defend the country’s colours at the soccer World Cup that kicks-off in Brazil next week.

All of the Cameroon players who started in the final qualifying game against Tunisia have made it into the final 23-man squad for Brazil 2014. Pic Credit: Olivier Nseke

All of the Cameroon players who started in the final qualifying game against Tunisia have made it into the final 23-man squad for Brazil 2014. Pic Credit: Olivier Nseke

Two players – Cedric Djeugoue and Loic Feudjou – who play in the  Cameroon’s  top league are included in the squad. Two other youngsters: Swiss-based Fabrice Olinga and and France-based Edgar Salli make it to Brazil.

Goalkeeper Ndy Assembe, defenders Jean-Armel Kana Biyick and Gaetan Bong; as well as midfielder Raoul Loe and attacker Mohammadou Idrissou were left out by the German trainer.

If fans generally expected that Idrissou and Loe would not be part of the final squad to fly to Brazil, it wasn’t so clear for the three others. Assembe, who was at the last World Cup, appeared to be the second choice keeper behind Charles Itandje but the coach preferred Loic Feudjou and Samy Ndjock as back-up goalies.

Guy-Armel Kana Biyick, the son of Andre Kana Biyick who played for Cameroon in the 1990 World Cup, seems to have lost his place due to a niggling injury that he carried throughout the training camp in Austria. Although it must also be said that the France-based player had lost his spot as Nicolas N’Koulou’s partner in the centre of defence since Finke took over in May 2013. The German often paired N’koulou and Aurelien Chedjou; and N’Koulou and Joel Matip in the last two games.

There were 3 candidates (Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Henri Bedimo and Gaetan Bong) for just 2 spots as left-back. Bong, who was at the World Cup in 2010, lost out to the man whose place he took four years ago. At the time, coach Paul Leguen surprisingly left out Bedimo who had been part of the qualifiers and played the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. Bedimo has had a great season at Lyon in France while Assou-Ekotto is quite an experienced hand in that position.

Here’s the full List:

Goalkeepers

Charles Itandje (Konyaspor/TUR)
Sammy Ndjock (Fetihespor/TUR)
Loïc Feudjou (Coton Sport/CMR)

Defenders

Allan Nyom (Grenada/Spain)
Dany Nounkeu (Besiktas/TUR)
Cédric Djeugoue (Coton Sport/ CMR)
Aurélien Chedjou (Galatasaray/TUR)
Nicolas Nkoulou (Marseille/FRA)
Henri Bedimo (Lyon/FRA)
Benoît Assou-Ekotto (QPR/England)

Midfielders

Eyong Enoh (Antalyaspor/TUR)
Jean II Makoun (Rennes/FRA)
Joel Matip (Schalke/Germany)
Stéphane Mbia (Sevilla/Spain)
Landry Nguémo (Bordeaux/FRA)
Alex Song (FC Barcelona/Spain)
Edgar Salli (Lens/FRA)

Forwards

Samuel Eto’o (Chelsea/England)
Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting (Mainz/Germany)
Benjamin Moukandjo (Nancy/FRA)
Vincent Aboubakar (Lorient/FRA)
Achille Webo (Fenerbahçe/TUR)
Fabrice Olinga (Zulte-Waregem/BEL)

Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions, currently at a training camp in Austria, will fail to qualify for the knock-out stages of the World Cup in Brazil this year, according to statistical analysis by the New York-based bank Goldman Sachs.

Based on a regression analysis that uses the entire history of mandatory (official) international football matches—not including friendlies—since 1960, the financial institution attempted a prediction of all games in the tournament that kicks-off on 12 June 2014.

Cameroon will obtain two draws: 1-1 with Mexico and 1-1 with Croatia but will be thrashed 5-0 by Brazil in Group A of the competition, according to the model used in the fifth edition of The World Cup and EconomicsBrazil and Croatia will qualify to the knock-out phase while Cameroon and Mexico will return home.

Can goalkeeper Charles Itandje and co spring a surprise in Brazil and upset the Goldman Sachs predictions?

Can goalkeeper Charles Itandje and co spring a surprise in Brazil and upset the Goldman Sachs predictions?

The Goldman Sachs work  tips Brazil to win the trophy with Argentina and Germany next most favoured but much lower down in probability.  Brazil will be crowned World Champions for the sixth time after defeating their fierce Latin American rivals Argentina 3-1, as per the bankers’ model of the probability of success.

The World Cup and Economics was first released in 1998 ahead of the tournament hosted by France. It is a guide to the World Cup with an ‘unnatural mix of football and economics.’ For instance, the Goldman Sachs analysis makes interesting parallels between the state of Cameroon football and the country’s economy.

“The country, like its football team, has no shortage of raw talent and resources but has failed to generate a fundamental transformation while conditions were favourable,” the analysis said.

“The team will come up against the host nation in the first round and will not find it easy to get out of relatively tough Group A… Similarly, policymakers will have to address the economic weaknesses in an increasingly challenging global environment.”

In the meantime, the Indomitable Lions continue preparations ahead of the tournament with a friendly against Paraguay on 29 May in Austria. This follows a 2-0 win over Macedonia on 26 May. With the arrival of Benoit Assou-Ekotto on Wednesday, all 28 players drafted by the coach are now at their Austrian training base.

 Stephane Mbia (R) is a Europa League Champion. Is that enough to push  Cameroon's manager Volker Finke to play him in the  central midfield role he craves?

Stephane Mbia (R) is a Europa League Champion. Is that enough to push Cameroon’s manager Volker Finke to play him in the central midfield role he craves?

Cameroon’s Stephane Mbia scored in the penalty shoot-out that crowned his Spanish club Sevilla as this year’s winners of the Europa League.

Sevilla defeated Portuguese side Benfica on penalties 4-2 after both teams had finished 120-minutes of football tied at 0-0.

Mbia, the Cameroon international, who had scored the goal that enabled Sevilla to make it to the final, took a his penalty-shot masterfully.

This final caps a fine end to the season for the midfielder who had injury concerns after joining the Spanish club from English side Queen’s Park Rangers.

His performances have drawn plaudits from several Cameroonian soccer pundits who have called on the country’s coach to play Mbia ahead of Alex Song as Cameroon’s holding midfielder.

Mbia is in Cameroon’s provisional squad for the World Cup. He can play at right-back and in central defence but he feels his best position is central midfield. Will the Indomitable Lion’s coach,Volker Finke, play him there?

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.

Cameroon’s national soccer team the Indomitable Lions must defeat the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde by at least three clear goals on Sunday to obtain a ticket to  South Africa for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Cape Verde beat Cameroon  2-0 last month in the first-leg encounter.

The thought of missing a second AFCON in a row has led to desperate moves from the government, football officials and fans.  Authorities sacked the French-born coach who was in-charge of the team and installed Jean Paul Akono barely days after the defeat. Akono then pushed authorities to convince the team captain Samuel Eto’o to return to the squad after he suspended his international career last month.

He  picked several players who featured during his spells as head coach of the U-23 (Olympic) Lions and the senior Indomitable Lions between 2000 and 2004.  Achille Webo, Modeste Mbami, Pierre Wome, Jean Makoun, Angbwa Ossomeyong have not been in the den for a while but the Olympic Gold Medal winning coach thinks their experience will be a deciding factor in the weekend’s duel. The media thinks it is a sign of desperation.

Who knows? The coach may be banking on the views of Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th century British Prime Minister, novelist and bon viveur who once said that “desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius.”  Cameroon’s fortunes depend on Akono’s tactical genius.

Akono favours playing a high defensive line with  attackers and midfielders who harry and press opponents throughout the game. Can his “experienced players”  have the energy and fitness levels required for this?

According to reporters who have observed the team train all week, particularly the practice match against local (division 3) side  on Wednesday, the coach is plotting a flat 4-4-2 formation. He has regularly started with Idris Kameni as goalkeeper,  Angbwa as rightback and Wome as leftback; a very young central defence partnership of Guy Armel Kana Biyick and Nicolas Nkoulou. He has played with Alex Song, Jean Makoun, Idrissou and Mevoungou in midfield while Achille Emana or Eto’o and Webo have played as strikers.

MIDFIELD DIAMOND

On the overall scheme of things, Akono seems to be respecting his promise to set-up an attack-minded team (they beat the local side 5-1).  But a few things seem unclear, though. Is he playing an old-fashioned 4-4-2 with a double-pivot (of Makoun and Song) in central midfield and traditional wingers? Who are the wingers? Idrissou can put a shift on the left but his crossing is awful (he’s a striker) while  Mevoungou and Emana don’t enjoy playing on the flanks. How he tackles the issue would determine the attacking flow of the game.

If Cameroon must play a 4-4-2 formation,  I believe they are more suited to operate with a ‘diamond’  midfield due to the lack of true wingers among the current crop of players. They have hardworking midfielders to intercept (break-down) moves by opponents and shuttle from box-to-box. They also have relatively good  fullbacks who can  overlap to provide width rather than forcing reluctant central midfielders and  strikers into becoming the wingers.

For instance, they could start with:  Kameni (gk) – Allan Nyom or Angbwa (RB) and Wome (LB); Kana-Biyick (CB) Nkoulou (CB) in defence.  A midfield diamond with  either Alex Song or Joel Matip sat deep in space in-front of the back-four, Makoun a little ahead  to the left, Mevoungou or higher up on the right and Overtoom  at the tip of the diamond, behind Eto’o  or Achille Emana and Webo.

However they choose to play (and I won’t be surprised to see them playing a 3-5-2 formation with Kana, Nkoulou, Chedjou or Matip at the back) it won’t be a ride in the park. Cape Verde have been training as well and are so good that they outplayed Cameroon in Praia.

Cameroon have been down this road before. Eight veteran Lions visited the current pride to share their experience of backs-to-the-wall games. Roger Milla (CAF African Player of the 20th Century), Joseph Antoine Bell (1984 & 1988 AFCON winner), Theophile Abega (1984 AFCON winning captain), Bonaventure Njonkep (1984 AFCON winner) and Victor Ndi Akem, Eugene Ekeke and Thomas Libih (1990 World Cup quarter-finalists) sought to pass on the indomitable spirit of the past.

But what will be the story by 6p.m. on Sunday? Will fans be celebrating as wildly as they did on 10th October 1993 after Cameroon defeated Zimbabwe 3-1 to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.?  Will Eto’o and Webo be weeping inconsolably on the turf of the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium as they did after the  Lions drew 1-1 with Egypt on 8th October 2005 and failed to reach the 2006  World Cup in Germany?

It was late. Barely two minutes to the end of regular playtime in a drab game between Cameroon and Guinea Bissau. The young Eric-Maxim Choupo Moting, tired of hugging the touchline waiting for passes that never came, decided to take things into his hands.

He drifted into the centre of the park, collected a loose ball and drove straight into the opposition area. A quick touch took away three defenders, he raced and hit the ball. A low drive that bumped on the synthetic turf and beat the Guinea Bissau keeper. 1-0 for Cameroon and a winning start to their quest to qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations to hold in South Africa.

You could see relief on the faces of the Cameroon coaching staff  including – the Team Manager (logistics officer) Rigobert Song who at times barked more orders than the manager Denis Lavagne.

The Indomitable Lions  had shown very little creativity in the previous 88 minutes. If that surprised anyone, it shouldn’t be readers of this blog. A reading of the 22 that the coach picked for this trip had exposed the dearth in creativity (read our previous post here) facing Cameroon. Too many defensive players, hardly any creators.

It was so glaring in Bissau as Lavagne’s 4-3-3 failed to click.

Lavagne had gone for a back four of – Allan Nyom (RB) -Nicolas Nkoulou (CB), Aurelien Chedjou (CB) – Henri Bedimo (LB). The midfield three included Joel Matip sitting deep in-front of the back four , while  Alexandre Song and Landry Ngeumo played as shuttlers/organisers with the job of linking up with the attackers – Choupo Moting (R) – Vincent Aboubakar (C) and Jacques Zoua (R).

Song and Nguemo tried to engineer movement by making forward runs and passes but these (admittedly gifted)  players found it hard to switch from the defensive roles they usually play for their clubs to become clairvoyant playmakers. This left a complete disconnect between the lines.

Unable to move the ball forward from the back and handicapped by the plastic turf that gave a funny bounce to the ball, Cameroon reverted to playing long-balls forward. It wasn’t easy on the eye. There were a handful of chances but nothing to whet any observers apetite.

Lavagne could argue that the team had only a day to train. That is true. He could also argue that the squad is very young. That is also correct. He could also say that it isn’t his fault that Cameroon doesn’t really produce many creative players. That is also understood. But he needed to have thought through this game properly because all of those excuses were known long before the team travelled.

He showed poor decision-making when he opted to field Choupo-Moting – the only player with a measure of creativity, passing skill and scoring ability – on the right flank. He could have actually gone 4-2-3-1 and played Choupo-Moting behind the main striker as Javier Clemente had realised. Yet another option could have been to use a diamond formation with the same players though Aboubakar and Zoua would have functioned as a strike partnership and Choupo-Moting as a playmaker behind them.

It is only when Choupo-Moting dropped deep and played in the hole behind the forwards that Cameroon managed to look interesting. But that was rare. Fortunately for them, the Mainz player scored on one of those occasions.

But some of the young players were a let down. Was it the heat?  Was it the fact that it was the first time all were playing together in a starting line-up?

Whatever the case, Vincent Aboubakar,  still has some way to go to become the finished product to spearhead Cameroon’s attack. He still has problems in his movement without the ball. He needs to improve his tactical awareness (making good runs or anticipating passes).

There were several times in the second half when Song conjured up some defence splitting through-balls but Aboubakar was always off the mark. There was a close-up shot of Song shaking his head in despair at the 63rd minute after one of such missed opportunities.

Jacques Zoua, who made a beautiful assist for his club FC Basle against Bayern Munich, struggled on the right flank. And when he had a glorious opportunity at the 60th minute , one-on-one with the goalkeeper to head home the curtain raiser, he wasted it with a tame effort.

Edgar Sali came in for Aboubakar at the 61st minute while Leonard Kweukeu replaced Zoua four minutes later. The substitutes didn’t create much, though.

However, these are all young players who have the potential to become great with the right coaching and context. They could learn a lot from a player like Samuel Eto’o if and when he ever returns to the den.

For now, the youngsters and their coach can thank Choupo-Moting for saving them from the wrath of a demanding fan base. Cameroonians know their team is not at its best these days but they would have found it hard to accept a 0-0 draw with the team ranked 166th in the world (i.e. 100 places below Cameroon ranked 66th).

Denis Lavagne, the head coach of Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions, has named a 22-man squad expected to travel to Guinea Bissau at the end of February for an Africa Cup of Nations 2013 qualifier.

Could Choupo-Moting (L) or Stephane Mbia (R) become Cameroon's media punta or regista?

Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s absence from the list has sparked debate, which is logical given the defender’s performances at Tottenham Hotspur. However, the absence of creativity in the squad requires greater attention.

Creativity here is not the technical ability to dribble, which many of the players possess. It is that science and/or art to link defence to attack with grace. It is the sharpness of mind to make a perfectly weighted killer-pass to the right man and at the right time.

That could be delivered by a variety of players. There is the trequartista – an advanced playmaker who plays centrally between the opposition’s defence and attack, very similar to the engache (Argentine variant) like Juan Riquelme (normally referred to as a “number 10”).  There is the regista – often a deep-lying playmaker like the Italian Andrea Pirlo and more recently Paul Scholes for Manchester United.

Then there is the media-punta – the player who links the midfield organisers and the attack. That is what the likes of Cesc Fabregras, Lionel Messi, and Iniesta do for FC Barcelona and David Silva does for Manchester City.

Creative players give an extra dimension to their teams. They carve openings in the most water-tight defences, they switch the direction of play, dictate the rhythm of a game via their accurate long and short passing.  Who does that for Cameroon?

DEFENDERS

Of the 22 players selected for the Bissau game, at least eleven have consistently played as defenders this season: Nicolas Nkoulou (Marseille, France), Stephane Mbia (Marseille, France), Aurelien Chedjou (Lille, France), Jean Armel Kana Biyik (Rennes, France), Henri Bedimo (Montpellier, France), Dany Nounkeu (Gaziantespor, Turkey), Gaetan Bong (Valenciennes, France) and Allan Nyom (Granada, Spain), Joel Matip (Schalk 04, Germany), Georges Mandjeck (Auxerre, France).

A further two: Alexandre Song (Arsenal, England) and Landry Ngeumo (Bordeaux, France) have been employed as holding midfielders (a role which Matip, Mbia, and Mandjeck have also held).

Lavagne fielded a 4-3-3 formation with a midfield trio of Nguemo, Song and Enoh Eyong during the LG Cup in Morocco last November. Nguemo and Song looked like the organisers, surging forward to support the attack. They played their hearts out and the team beat Sudan 3-1 and Morocco on penalties after a 1-1 draw.That could possibly be enough versus Bissau.

But, as seen during the World Cup in South Africa where Paul Le Guen used midfield combinations of Makoun, Nguemo, Enoh or Matip – expecting creativity from players who are often defenders or holding midfielders could end up in total fiasco when faced with teams that are solid and compact.

The absence of creative, organising talent  has dogged Cameroon football for many years and certainly goes beyond the game versus Bissau. Lavagne’s predecessors such as Winfried Schaffer, Arthur Jorge, Jules Nyongha, Otto Pfister and Paul Le Guen devised various stratagems to overcome this challenge.

Schaffer designed systems that employed the late Marc Vivien Foe as a regista and on some occasions a hard running box-to-box midfielder.

Arthur Jorge re-shaped the team into a 4-3-3 using former wingers Salomon Olembe and Ngom Kome in central midfield behind the threesome of Samuel Eto’o, Achille Webo and Rudolph Douala. He finished his tenure by using a 4-2-3-1 with Eto’o having a free role “in the hole” behind the lone forward.

Jules Nyongha used a 4-4-2 system with double pivot – usually any two of Stephane Mbia, Landry Nguemo, Jean Makoun and Achille Emana – with each taking turns to attack and defend.

Lavagne must be thinking about this hence talk of switching the FIFA nationality of the attacking midfielder  Willie Overtoom who was born in Cameroon but has represented Holland at youth level. Playing one of Chedjou, Matip, and Mbia as a regista and/or moulding the talented Choupo-Moting as a media-punta or a trequartista are other options to consider.

DEVELOPMENT

However, the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) and/or the national technical directorate need to restructure things from the roots by developing programmes that insist on producing creative young players (in addition to the physical aspects of the game).

As kids growing up in Yaounde, one needed what was called “condi” or “condition” (physical fitness) to be picked in games. Those of us whose physique was not developed to “jam-lock” (basically bulldoze past opponents) were left on the sidelines.

This became even more systematic with the boom of football academies, which are basically incubators of the template for African players needed by Europe-based teams i.e strong, big, tall, quick with enough technique to control the ball.

That mentality has to change.  Simply overpowering opponents with athleticism and counter-attack based football has its limits. P.E. teachers, trainers at soccer academies and club coaches must work on intelligent runs, technique and decision-making for the right pass.

Theophile Abega, Gregoire Mbida, Jean Tokoto, Roger Milla and Louis Paul Mfede could do that and they were also Cameroonians, which means it is possible to have such players.

Meanwhile, here is the squad as published on the Fecafoot website:

1. Nkoulou Nicolas (Olympique de Marseille – France)
2. Aboubakar Vincent (AS Valenciennes – France)
3. Bedimo Henri (Montpellier – France)
4. Bienvenu Henri Ntsama (Fenerbache – France)
5. Bong Gaetan (Valenciennes – France)
6. Chedjou Aurelien (Lille – France)
7. Choupo Moting Eric (Mayence – Allemagne)
8. Feudjou Aurelien (Cotonsport – Cameroun)
9. Kameni Carlos Idriss (Malaga – Espagne
10. Kana Biyik Jean Armel (Rennes – France)
11. Kweuke Leonard (Sparta – Rép. Tchèque)
12. Mandjeck Georges (Auxerre – France)
13. Matip Joel (Schalke 04 – Allemagne )
14. Moukandjo Benjamin (AS Nancy – France)
15. Ndy Assembe Guy (AS Nancy – France)
16. Nguemo Landry (Bordeaux – France)
17. Nounkeu Dany (Gaziantespor – Turquie)
18. Nyom Allan (Grenade – Espagne )
19. Salli Edgar (Monaco – France)
20. Song Alexandre (Arsenal – Angleterre)
21. Zoua Jacques (Bale – Suisse)
22. Mbia Stéphane (Marseille – France)

**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.