By Luis Mazariegos, barcablaugranes.com
Barcelona Pin High Hopes on Young Cameroonians CB Frank Bagnack and FW Jean Marie Dongou
Samuel Eto’o struck a deal with FC Barcelona while he still wore the Blaugrana jersey that would bring the most talented prospects identified by his foundation over from his home country, Cameroon. Several years later, Eto’o does not play for Barca anymore but many of his whizkids are set to make an impact at the Camp Nou.
Samuel Eto’o’s legacy at Barcelona may be more than just about how many goals he got.
The Samuel Eto’o Foundation’s deal with Barcelona has brought tens of players from Cameroon to Catalonia, and some of the first ones who arrived are already training with the first team.
Frank Bagnack and Jean Marie Dongou are still very young – both 18 – and quite inexperienced. While Dongou has made a few more appearances for the B team, this will probably be the first season as starters for both of them in Segunda Division. They are both ready to become pillars for the B team and could be called up for the first team occasionally.
In pre-season, they’ve joined the first team and impressed so far. New coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s first impression could be very strong. They also could reinforce two positions where Barca could use more depth – centerback in Bagnack’s case and center-forward in Dongou’s case.
Dongou has been hailed as the “next big thing” to come out of Barca’s youth academy La Masia for some time now. A top-scorer at youth levels, he has had a knack for playing above his age bracket and still scoring regularly.
He gained international acclaim for his performances in the NextGen series, a European U19 competition modeled after the UEFA Champions League.
Despite being only sixteen at the beginning of the competition, and despite Barca being eliminated in the quarterfinals, Dongou still finished joint top-scorer in the tournament with seven goals.
In the pre-season so far, Dongou is joint top marksman with Lionel Messi himself, netting three goals. His menacing run against Santos, dashing past defenders before laying it off for Neymar – only for the Brazilian to hit the post – remains one of the key reminders of his explosiveness.
He could be considered the team’s second “natural” center-forward after Messi. Of course,Cesc Fabregas would probably play the role, as well as maybe someone like Alexis Sanchez or Cristian Tello. Still, it’s interesting to note how high on a depth chart he could be penciled in.
While plenty of forwards, midfielders, and wingers have made the jump from the B team lately, it’s not often that one of La Masia’s brightest promises is a defender. But Frank Bagnack is already turning heads with his performances in preseason.
However, it’s not been an easy ride for Bagnack. In the Barca youth levels, he was severely disciplined for what was considered “grave misconduct”, and suspended for the rest of the term.
He spent some time back in Cameroon before returning to Barcelona, with the intention of recommitting himself. Unfortunately, in 2010, he received a serious injury to his leg that resulted in a long, fifteen-month recovery process.
Shortly after coming back from the long injury layoff, he was a teammate of Dongou’s in the NextGen tournament, in which he played right-back.
He’s had less attention focused on him throughout his career than Dongou, but Bagnack has one advantage – his position. Barcelona are desperate for both talent and depth at centerback, and a confident youngster would be a blessing. A poll in the Catalan paperMundo Deportivo found that 61% of Barca fans thought he was ready to play for the first team, never mind the B team.
That may be rushing him too far at this point – he’s barely appeared for the B team – but it shows how much the team longs for a star La Masia defender. If the recent anti-counterattack drills are anything to go by, new coach “Tata” Martino considers Bagnack his fifth choice after Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Marc Bartra, and presumably the injured Carles Puyol.
Bagnack lined up with Bartra, Martin Montoya, and Adriano Correia as the second-choice back four. A new centerback may be signed soon as well, but the point is the same: he’s making quite a rise in the past few weeks.
There are still plenty of Cameroonian players coming up through La Masia. One to watch out for is goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa. The club is very excited about him, and he could be one for the future with uncertainty in the position after Victor Valdes’s planned departure next year. He is still a long way away from the first team, but he is a top prospect.
There are many others, but Dongou and Bagnack are set to be the first to further Eto’o’s legacy. They are still quite young, but it’s not impossible for either to make some sort of an impact even this year for the first team.