Over the past years, we have all witnessed the “decline” of the national team. A lot of people believe there is plenty of “talent” on this team. Since 2009, many experienced and qualified coaches have come and gone, but none has been able to live up to the high expectations that Cameroonians have for their team.
After bitter defeats, Cameroonians have rushed to attack things like “1984” (Jersey numbers of Kameni, Eto’o, Geremi and Song), then they blamed the age of veterans on the team. They have blame captain Samuel Eto’o for having too much influence within and outside of the team.
Now that all those factors have been eliminated(1984 has been dismantled, older players have been replaced and Eto’o has been suspended), the team is still losing and supporters and fans are rushing to find new reasons. In Cameroonian gatherings and on Cameroonian discussion forums, one will constantly hear the following reasoning:
How can a team with players who are starters and high performers at powerhouses like Arsenal London, Olympic Marseilles, Ajax Amsterdam, Anzhi Makhachkala Russia, Shalke 04, Malaga Spain, Girondin Bordeaux, Lille consistently underperform, especially when they face teams like Libya with no star power name playing in the team?
Let’s try analyzing this question by looking at some recent statistics as well as the make-up of these teams of “highly talented” players. Since 2010, here are some of the results of the National team in meaningful games:
January 2010 – June 2010: CAN: 4 games, 2 losses, 1 win, 1 tie, 5 goals scored: Eto’o (2x), Geremi(1), Nguemo(1), Idrissou(1)
WC: 3 games, 3 losses, 2 goals scored: Eto’o (2x, 1 goal on PK)
August 2010 – October 2011: 5 games: 3 wins, 1 loss, 2 ties. 6 goals scored: Eto’o (3x), Choupo (2x, 1 goal on PK), Mbuta (1).
The return game against Mauritius has been left out because of the strength of the opposition thus meaningless game.
November 2011 – to Present: 3 games 2 wins, 1 loss. 3 goals. Choupo Moting (3x. 1 goal on PK, 1 goal on direct free kick).All the goals by Choupo are unassisted. In games that really mattered, Cameroon scored 16 goals in 15 games under 3 different coaches. That’s about 1 goal per game. Eto’o has scored 8 goals in 12 games and Choupo has scored 4 goals.
From the statistics above, it is obvious that the lions have difficulties scoring goals. When the lions score goals, these are usually unassisted. In 2 years, Cameroon has scored about 16 goals in 15 games with 80% of these goals being scored by 2 players. 3 coaches, 3 different styles of play, the same players, and the results have been the same. The lions have a ratio of about 1 goal per game.
Arguably it can be deduced that the offensive quality of the team has been regressing because Paul LeGuen faced much tougher competition at the CAN and WC than Clemente and Lavagne. When looking at goals scored in the run of play, this current team has scored 1 goal in over four and a half hours of its football life. This is an abysmal record for a team with high ambitions. Even in Africa, this will not be enough to qualify for the African Nations Cup.
A good coach knows that a good soccer team consists of balanced mixture of destroyers and creators. Destroyers defend and disrupt the game of the opposition, win balls. They do what it takes to prevent the opposing team from establishing their game. Creators (offensive midfielders, strikers) are the brains of the team. They do what it takes to put the opposition in difficulty and score goals.
The biggest problem this generation of Cameroonian players are facing is an abundance of destroyers combined with a chronic lack of creative players. This combination leads to the inability to create scoring changes, the inability to instill doubts in the opposition camp.
Samuel Eto’o, the lone creator and finisher on this team (until the recent emergence of Choupo) has done plenty to carry this team offensively. There has been phases, were he was responsible for over 70% of the goals of this team. This Eto’o dependency, has made it very easy for opposing coach to design and implement schemes to defend and eventually successfully defeat Cameroon.
When referring to the current Cameroonian players as “talented players playing in big teams” is a mirage. Having an abundance of players with the exact same skill-set playing the Champions League is NOT an asset to Cameroon and its national team. It is a massive headache to Cameroonian coaches. This is the headache that Paul LeGuen, Clemente and now Lavagne have not been able to solve which has been the main reason for their downfall.
For any coach to succeed long term in Cameroon, they will need to have the courage to do two things.
1. Stop selecting players based on the reputation of the teams they play in.
2. Bring back the balance between destroyers and creators. Cameroon needs players on the wing who actually know how to play on the wing. Players who can carry the ball, dribble, cross and put the strikers in a position to score.
When looking at the rear view mirror of the national team today that is the youth level, there is currently no talented group of youngster who can come in and play creative roles effectively. Moukandjo, Salli Edgar and or Aboubakar are simply too timid for those positions at the high level.
Giving the fact that the team is already in the middle of the WC2014 qualification and the 2013 CAN, there is not a lot of time left to turn this ship sailing towards the wrong direction around. The best option to get Cameroon back on track should be from within the currently players. These defensive midfielders need to re-invent themselves. Some of them must change from being destroyers to scorers/assist givers.
The answer to the current problems the lions are facing is having a player who can mimic what one player did and did effectively. A role model to the current crop of lions should be Geremi S. Njitap. Geremi S. Njitap knew what to do to make the difference. He made the assist, took the free kicks and penalty kicks, masterfully executed the throw ins but most importantly Geremi defended and did it not only intelligently but well. These skill sets Njitap mastered, are the money skills of the modern game. Today Geremi is gone. The million dollar question to all the destroyers in the current Indomitable lions team (If we can call them as such today) is this; who is going to turn around and be the next Geremi or put on the shoes Geremi left?