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.