With a second successive absence from the Nations Cup, Cameroon must confront, frontally, the problems that have made the once-feared national team a laughing stock, reports Francis Ngwa Niba from Yaounde.
It is unbelievable but true – Cameroon’s not so Indomitable Lions, the four-time champions of Africa and aristocrats of the continental game, have failed to qualify, for the second time in succession, for the Africa Cup of Nations.
And it was the “Blue Sharks”, the national team of the tiny island nation of Cape Verde, which put them to the qualifying sword. The shock defeat by a country, which has a population of less than half a million people, earning them a well-deserved debut at the Nations Cup finals, indicates the depths of despair to which Cameroonian football has sunk.
Not even the world-class skills of Samuel Eto’o, the four-time African Footballer of the Year, himself returning to the team, after a bitter dispute with FECAFOOT, the country’s football federation, could save the Lions from their ignominious fate.
FECAFOOT and the ministry for sport have been in a bitter fight for the control of the national team and the longstanding dispute, which has no prospect of resolution in sight, has resulted in the consequence of leaving the Lions toothless and prostrate.
“The same people have been running football in the country since I started playing many years ago…we are still playing on the same bad soccer pitches,” Eto’o lamented, after FECAFOOT officials imposed a 15-match ban on him for organising the boycott of a friendly match against Algeria in November 2011.
Eto’o’s suspension – in addition to that of two players – was subsequently reduced. But fury, over the poor treatment meted out to him, led to his decision to distance himself from the national team.
“Our national team continues to dwell in an environment characterised by amateurism and poor organisation not compatible with professional sports,” wrote Eto’o, in an open letter to FECAFOOT. He was absent from the opening leg of the final qualifier against Cape Verde, which the Lions lost 2-0. It took the intervention of President Paul Biya for Eto’o to return to the team for the decisive second leg.
Denis Lavagne, the team’s French coach, was fired and Jean Paul Akono, the man that led Cameroon to Olympic Gold at the 2000 games in Sydney, was appointed by the ministry of sport – not FECAFOOT – to take charge of the team. But that was too little, too late.
Lavagne was fired, unilaterally, by Adoum Garoua, the country’s sports minister, to the fury of FECAFOOT, which protested against Garoua’s usurpation of their primary functions.
Joseph-Antoine Bell, the former Cameroon goalkeeper, a fierce critic of the way football has been managed in Cameroon, blames the ‘inept leadership’ of Mohammed Iya, the FECAFOOT president, for the country’s decline.
“Cameroon continues to live in the faded glory of what we achieved at the 1990 World Cup finals. We are refusing to plan and yet we expect that with such an attitude, we can continue staying at the top… If we are not careful, we are on the road to becoming irrelevant in African football,” Bell warned.
In his fourteenth year as FECAFOOT boss, Mohammed took over the reins of power, following a “palace coup” against his predecessor, Vincent Onana.
The crisis within Cameroonian football and the inability of its officials to resolve their never ending disputes, often results in the direct intervention of Biya to resolve problems.
That he ordered the inclusion of the legendary Roger Milla in the Indomitable Lions that made history for African football at the 1990 World Cup, reaching the quarter-finals, is a matter of public record.
And it took, once again, Biya’s direct order to FECAFOOT, to ensure Eto’o returned to the team in September.