In order to live up to their nickname of the Indomitable Lions this summer, Cameroon must learn not to press the defensive self-destruct button in moments of high anxiety – and Marseille’s Mbia could well turn out to be the key man in this particular self-help project.
The only question is where the 23-year-old will play: in his usual midfield holding role or in central defence, the position he was switched to a few months ago by OM boss Didier Deschamps and where he has looked a complete and utter natural?
No doubt shaken by the porous state of his rearguard at January’s African Nations Cup, Cameroon coach Paul Le Guen may be tempted to go with the second option. A centre-back pairing of Mbia and veteran Rigobert Song has a solid look, while the west Africans already have more than enough good midfield enforcers in the shape of Lyon’s Jean Makoun, Alex Song of Arsenal and Eyong Enoh of Ajax.
Ill at ease
Just one problem, though. Mbia hates his new brief and has no qualms about making it known, having said: “I can’t express myself as a centre-back. I admit it’s not so apparent but I feel ill at ease there. I want to return to my old spot in central midfield as soon as possible.”
Will Le Guen prove as intransigent in this matter as Deschamps, who said: “If he doesn’t want to play at centre-back for OM, I’ll find him a place on the bench”? The likelihood
Le Guen needs everyone pulling together, not an outbreak of player power.
But whatever his instructions in South Africa, Mbia will be relying on the same core qualities: the physical presence, athleticism, love of combat and strength in the air – all of which once had Premier League sides Manchester City and Everton on his trail, and which persuaded Marseille to pay Rennes £12million for him at the start of the season.
“Despite going out in the quarter-finals of this year’s African championship, I’m sure we’ll be a force in South Africa,” says Mbia. “We have become more consistent under Paul Le Guen. He’s a rigorous and demanding coach and brought us back from the dead after a terrible start to World Cup qualification.
“I’ll go as far as to predict that an African nation will win this World Cup. On our own continent, the fervour generated by African fans will galvanise us all while swamping the others.”