The new French coach has put the Indomitable Lions back on track for World Cup qualification.
By Mark Gleeson
It has taken but a month for Paul LeGuen to engineer a remarkable turn around in fortunes for Cameroon, placing one of Africa’s most consistent performers back on track for World Cup qualification.
After failure at Rangers and the two seasons of contrasting fortunes at Paris Saint-Germain, the star of the taciturn French coach looked to be fading – his three successive Ligue 1 titles with Lyon dimming in the distance.
But Cameroon offered the chance for a change, albeit starting in a precarious position at the bottom of the World Cup qualifying group standings and looking ever more like a side in dire need of quick transition.
LeGuen has provided that, in just three games, with successive wins, first in a friendly in Austria in August and the two back-to-back World Cup qualifiers with group leaders Gabon. It sees the Indomitable Lions roaring again.
What LeGuen has done is relatively simple, adding professionalism to the preparations and beginning the process of cleaning out the team’s cobwebs.
For Cameroon it has been a radical shift serving to energise the player group enough to produce vital wins that put them back on track for a place at the 2010 finals.
LeGuen has signed just a six-month contract but demanded he bring with him his long-standing assistant Yves Colleu, two medical staff and that Cameroon appoint their Portuguese match agent Alexandre Ribeiro as team co-ordinator.
He wants the arrangements to proceed smoothly and the players to be treated like professionals. It means top hotels and business class travel, an anomaly in a country where one former national coach, Philippe Redon, used to joke about having to bring his own light bulbs out from France to illuminate his office in the bowels of the stadium.
Cameroon are at best a motley bunch, albeit full of infectious enthusiasm. Their last coach Otto Pfister had done and seen it all in African football and long dispensed with any requirements for the niceties of the modern game, so they bumbled along with shoddy arrangements and endless shrugs of the shoulders.
That approach also works, but up to a point. With a squad exclusively drawn from European clubs, Cameroonian footballers previously lived a Jekyll and Hyde existence with swift efficiency at club level and then bumbling jocularity when they went home for international duty.
LeGuen is running the team like a top club with imported medical equipment and tight curfews. His philosophy is that if you want to get professional performances from your players, then you must treat them accordingly. This goes for the money aspect too, so often the elephant in the room in the past. That is now all taken care of before, so players can concentrate on the task at hand.
This they did from the start. In Austria, LeGuen made his first symbolic move, dropping Rigobert Song to the bench and installing Samuel Eto’o as captain.
Song is an iconic figure in Cameroon, the first player from a sub-Saharan country to pass the milestone of 100 caps and a living legend with his dreadlocks and “never say die” attitude.
But he is slowing and, as was emphasised at the last African Nations Cup final, a growing liability. Eto’o, the superstar, is very much the obvious new leader and LeGuen has turned to him to rally the cause.
Internazionale’s new signing responded with goals in both matches against Gabon – first on the Saturday away in Libreville, where the match was played against the backdrop of rioting in response to the perceived rigging of presidential election results, and then again five days later in Yaounde.
Cameroon won 2-0 away and 2-1 at home to leap frog from last to first in their group. They now enjoy a one point advantage over Gabon and next play Togo at home before ending their campaign in November away against Morocco.