By Manyo Bernard Besong
From generation to generation, there have always been tales of how some players who had a lot of influence within the national team of Cameroon at major competition.
Such influence can stretch from the selection of list of players to who eventually gets into the field of play to represent the country. That school of thought was particularly true with the Cameroon national team that participated in the 2008 Nations Cup hosted by Ghana.
German born Otto Pfister who had been appointed Coach of Cameroon when he left Togo and was charged with helping the country play and win the competition in Ghana.
But from the very first game of the tournament the Group C clash between defending Champions Egypt and four-time Champions Cameroon, it became evident that the German gaffer was not the man for the job.
It was no secret that he did not have the necessary man management skills to effectively handle the team from the football training ground, halls of residence and during games and press events. And so, following the Lions 2-4 defeat by the Pharaohs of Egypt in the first game of the competition, a crisis meeting was called by the then Minister of Sports and Physical Education, Thierry Augustine Edjoa.
During the meeting which held immediately after the defeat, the then President of the Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) Iya Mohammed, and the President of the National Olympic and Sports Committee of Cameroon Col. Hamad Kalkaba Malboum, it was agreed that henceforth any team to represent the country at the tournament should be jointly decided by the coach and the trio of Samuel Eto’o, Captain Rigobert Song Bahanag and Geremi Sorel Njitap Fotso. It gave the three experienced players a great deal of responsibility, but they also used it to favour their friends within the team.
It was not a secret that Achille Emana who was close to Eto’o and Song owed his frequent selection to play in the tournament even when he was experiencing a deep in form.
Alain Nkong and the victory against host Ghana
Cameroon’s victory against the hosts Ghana in the semi-final of the competition came courtesy of a goal by Alain Nkong at the 72nd minute. The goal settled the encounter. But for the common man to understand how Alain Nkong came to play in that encounter was a mystery. From a reporter’s point of view Alain Nkong who was in the twilight of his career at the time owed his selection to play in the game thanks to starman Samuel Eto’o fils.
On the eve of the semi-final clash, Nkong is reported to have gone and met Eto’o in the latter’s room at the Novotel Hotel where the lions were lodged and begged him to make sure he plays that encounter. Witnesses said Eto’o asked the Chivas of Guadalajara forward three times whether he thought he would make an impact in the game and the reply was YES. And so, as the game went towards the hour mark and on a virgin score, Samuel Eto’o came to the touchline and asked that Alain Nkong be brought on. And the rest is history as Eto’o delivered the pass that Nkong scored to send Cameroon through to the finals.
Indiscipline within the team may have cost Cameroon the 2008 Finals
It was no secret that Otto Pfister had lost his bearings of discipline within the team. When asked about issues of discipline which had become a course for concern for the team, the German trainer will always take offense or despise journalists seeking to have more information about the out of field behaviour of the team.
Cameroon is said to have missed an opportunity to stay in a hotel which was well out of the centre of town and activities because of the attitude of the German born trainer.
The Lions were initially based in Kumasi and then moved to Tamale after the group stage where they played and won against the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in the quarter-final. After the Tunisia game, all other matches were to be played at the Ohene Djan Stadium in the capital Accra and the Local Organising Committee had earmarked a good Hotel with high security and just over 40 rooms to accommodate the Cameroon delegation. But as the lions arrived in the Ghanaian capital, the coach of the team is said to have indulged in a serious dispute with the Manager of the Hotel who then refused to let Cameroon move in.
Some schools of thought say Pfister’s attitude was instigated by some key players of the team who was at the 2000 Nations Cup expedition and wanted the laissez faire attitude that prevailed at the Novotel Hotel that year. That is how the Lions finally settled for the over 100 room Novotel which had many entrances and exits and the movement of players could not be controlled.
The Novotel became a real place of distraction. On the eve of the finals Fecafoot boss Iya Mohammed arrived the Hotel to check on the players and ensure everything was okay only to find the players in the lobby some relaxing with girls others entertaining their relatives at a time when they would have been resting and concentrating ahead of the finals. He was very angry and tried to rally them to return to their rooms.
The same hotel the Lions rejected was given to eventual winners Egypt who were able to use it to instill discipline and prepare for the trophy which they won for the sixth time.
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