By Sam Crocker, telegraph.co.uk
Once one of the hottest properties in French football when Liverpool signed him in 2007, as his performances for Lens made him rumoured for a call-up to the France team, Charles Itandje’s career is now one move to an oil-spoilt club in the Emirates away from being the epitome of obscure. Now plying his trade at mid-table Turkish Süper Lig side Konyaspor, on loan from Greek side PAOK, his infantile acts at the Hillsborough memorial service in 2009 turned out to be a signpost for things to come. However, whilst his club career doesn’t look likely to be resurrected any time soon, his performances for his national team have made him the undisputed number 1 for Cameroon– a shirt he’s likely to be holding onto when Brazil comes around.
Whilst hardly a traditional position for African players to be properly recognised, Cameroon is one of the few countries in the continent to have a consistent record in producing quality goalkeepers. From the famous battle for the goalkeeper jersey between Thomas Nkono and Jo Jo Bell during the 1980s, to the man that Itandje has replaced between the sticks – Carlos Idriss Kameni (who has 70 caps for his country) – the reputation for producing top-class glove-wearers in the West African country has been second to none. Only really overthrowing Kameni from his post on account of his lack of game time for Malaga, the Spanish club’s preference for Willy Caballero in goal has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise, as it gave Itandje the chance to give a series of superb performances in the latter half of the qualifying process.
Having not even declared his eligibility until 2010 after his hopes for a France call-up became increasingly unlikely, with his parents’ Cameroonian descent made him eligible for the national side, making his debut in a 2-1 win against Togo in March 2013 – in what turned out to be manager Jean-Paul Akono’s final game in charge. New-man Volker Finke kept faith with him upon taking over, and has been repaid with a series of unbeatable performances, with a string of outrageous saves in the first leg against Tunisia very much the highlight to keep the score line at 0-0 at the final whistle in Radès.
A completely different figure than the man who was occasionally seen in the colours of Liverpool FC when he pulls on the Cameroon shirt, his form internationally is more reminiscent of his time at Lens than his domestic form since leaving France; he seemingly saves the best for his time with the Indomitable Lions. It’s almost difficult to believe that it is the same player who was pretty much on gardening leave at Liverpool after returning from his loan spell at Kavala. There, he actied as at least fifth choice goalkeeper behind Pepe Reina, Brad Jones, Peter Gulasci and Martin Hansen, before his contract was terminated early.
The lack of first team action that the other Cameroonian goalkeepers are receiving at the minute means that Itandje’s competition is not exactly fierce, with Kameni, Guy N’Dy Assembé and Sammy N’Djock spending more time bench-warming this season than anything else. Those three will be competing to be his backup whilst in Brazil. Nevertheless, it cannot be underestimated how important Itandje has been so far for his adopted nation, and by maintaining this form this summer he could become an unlikely hero for the Indomitable Lions.