Onana, Cameroon FA fallout emblematic of problems that bedevil African football

What you need to know:

The unilateral decision taken hours after a crucial match confronts us with a simple question: Would you break ranks with your No.1 goalkeeper at the eleventh hour? Emotional intelligence is the centrepiece to success in pretty much all walks of life. Yet sports administrators in Africa have a ravenous appetite for the animal that goes by the name ego trip.
 

Many of us are foggy on details about what occasioned the departure of Cameroon’s erstwhile No.1 from the ongoing Fifa World Cup in Qatar. If there was one player that was a shoo-in for a starting place in the Indomitable Lions’ second group fixture against Serbia, it was Andre Onana.

Surprise was therefore the appropriate reaction when Cameroon’s FA—Fecafoot—cut the Inter Milan net-minder loose before publicly offering unstinting support to Indomitable Lions coach Rigobert Song. The development and Fecafoot’s attempt to dull its effect was as shocking as anything anyone could ever encounter.

There has since been no shortage of definitive takedowns of Fecafoot’s narrative that Onana—or at least his approach to goalkeeping—was deemed entirely joyless by Song. Surely, this was not the first time Song was discovering that Onana has a proclivity for having multiple touches of the ball outside the box.

Song, who has been in the Indomitable Lions’ dugout since February 28, 2022, had neither tinkered nor fussed obsessively with the goalkeeping position. Onana discharged his duties between the sticks with an air of competence even in the losing cause against Switzerland when—supposedly to the chagrin of Song—26 of his 61 touches of the ball came outside the box.

All of this makes Song’s epiphany in Qatar and Onana’s inability to talk his way back into his national coach’s graces quite questionable. In fact, it increasingly looks like the crime(s) cannot carry weight in any court. African football fans have—with increasing urgency and agitation—come to learn that this is a classic case of shooting oneself in the foot.

The unilateral decision taken hours after a crucial match confronts us with a simple question: Would you break ranks with your No.1 goalkeeper at the eleventh hour? Emotional intelligence is the centrepiece to success in pretty much all walks of life. Yet sports administrators in Africa have a ravenous appetite for the animal that goes by the name ego trip.

Whilst this column expects quick and fierce suppression of player power, your columnist is mindful of the fact that the modern day player is not seized by an unconquerable timidity. Such is the sheer force of their voice that—time after time—they are expected to fire off complaints.

Administrators—coaches inclusive—that handle interpersonal relationships with their subordinates judiciously and empathetically barely wreak intolerable damage. They are perfectly capable of performing optimally. Those that choose to lord it over people entrusted to their care often—on account of their egos—find themselves running into a brick wall as Fecafoot did before Devis Epassy shipped three goals against Serbia.

While a second half cameo from Vincent Aboubakar helped the Indomitable Lions share the spoils with their European adversaries, their fans couldn’t help but wonder what might have been had the Onana episode been handled differently—judiciously and empathetically. Football management ought not to be a zero-sum game especially since a growing body of evidence shows that superiors and subordinates learn from each other.  

Since this column was written well before Cameroon faced Brazil in a final group game on Friday night, the impact of the shenanigans that took centre stage before the 3-3 draw with Serbia cannot adequately be sized up. It is, however, safe to say that one of the worst prospects a team can be faced with in a World Cup is having to beat Brazil to stay alive.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.