Osasu Obayiuwana: Can the Lions rediscover their teeth?

Cameroon certainly broke new frontiers, as the first African side, in 1990, to reach the World Cup quarter-finals – a barrier that no other team has gone past – as well as making the most appearances by the continent (six) at the finals tournament.

But the Indomitable Lions are a shadow of their moniker at the moment.

With the failure of the four-time African champions to qualify for the last two Cup of Nations in succession, the team that once was a standard bearer is facing a continuous crisis of monumental proportions.

The national team has averaged a coach per year over the last decade and with FECAFOOT, the Cameroonian Football Federation, now seeking their third national team coach in 12 months, the Lions continue to go adrift.

Jean-Paul Akono, the home-grown coach that took over the team, in September 2012, following the dismissal of Frenchman Denis Lavagne, after Cape Verde humiliated the Lions in the final round of 2013 Nations Cup qualifying, is almost out on his ear, after just seven months in charge.

Working without a contract since his ‘appointment’, the man that coached Cameroon to the Olympic gold medal in 2000, was in negotiation with Sports Minister Adoum Garoua, in order to secure proper working conditions, when he heard, over national radio, that he is about to get the boot.

“During my discussion with sports minister Adoum Garoua, I proposed that I should be awarded a contract up to July next year, with a monthly salary of 15 million CFA francs ($29,800), which is far below what the country pays to foreigners, mostly Europeans,” Akono said.

“My assistant said his own monthly wage should be 7 million CFA francs (just over $13,000). The minister asked us to reconsider our demanded monthly wages and get back to him within a short time, although no date was fixed.

“While we were still thinking about it, we were shocked to hear state radio announcing he had requested the football federation to launch an urgent international appeal in the search for a new coach.”

That Akono’s discussion, for a contract, was with the minister of sport, rather than FECAFOOT, is indicative of the deep level of dysfunction within the central African country and makes a complete mockery of FIFA’s policy of non-interference in the management of football federations.

This informed FECAFOOT’s nonchalant attitude to the public humiliation of Akono, as his ascendance to the position was never their desire but was forced upon them by the ministry.

Wary, at the time of appointment last year, of washing the country’s dirty linen of internal conflict before FIFA, which would have resulted in an international ban, FECAFOOT were left with no choice but to accept the imposition of Akono.

The rivalry between the cash-strapped FECAFOOT, which is supposed to manage national team matters, and the ministry of sport, which holds the purse strings, has been a lengthy battle, leaving the Lions prostrate.

Joseph-Antoine Bell, the former Marseille, Toulouse and Cameroon goalkeeper, an articulate critic, says his country is dealing with the harsh consequences of two decades of administrative ineptitude, as he accused the country of being trapped in the nostalgia of their 1990 World Cup performance, rather than confront present-day realities.

“When you fail to go in the right direction for so long, it gets to a point that even a blind person will be able to see that you are not going in the right direction…

“Since we have failed to qualify for the last two Africa Cups, what decisions have we taken [to change course]? There is nothing that has changed… Those who are in power still want to stay there and stay there by doing nothing.

“Everyone calls Cameroon a great country in football. But people should not forget that there was a time that Zaire (the present day DR Congo, the first black African side, in 1974, to appear at the World Cup – their only appearance to date) was a great country, as far as football in Africa was concerned. But nowadays, everybody has forgotten that.

“Yes, we (Cameroon) have won the Africa Cup of Nations four times. But a time will soon come that our last victory will be so far, that no one will remember it,” Bell warns.

Topping their 2014 World Cup qualifying group, ahead of Libya, DR Congo and Togo, as they ought, one might think that they’re on course to winning one of the five places at next year’s finals in Brazil.

But, as the revolving managerial door takes a further spin, with over 100 coaches supposedly in the race to manage the Lions, the quest for a seventh appearance at the World Cup finals is clearly in jeopardy.

Will those running Cameroonian football ever learn that there is no substitute for organisation and planning, in order to have sustained football development and have an ability to effectively compete, in the international arena?

Judging from the prevailing circumstances? I doubt it.

Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact moc.l1660699321labto1660699321ofdlr1660699321owedi1660699321sni@a1660699321nawui1660699321yabo.1660699321usaso1660699321tamih1660699321

Osasu is also a member of FIFA’s newly convened anti-racism task force.