Cameroon’s affection for its favourite footballing son has turned sharply with striker Samuel Eto’o criticised by local media for “treason” after being at the centre of strike action by their World Cup squad at the weekend.
Eto’o’s tantrums and temperamental behaviour have long been tolerated because of his success on the field but it seems his country has had enough ahead of their opening game against Mexico at the World Cup today.
One newspaper editorial accused the four-time African Footballer of the Year and his team-mates of “high treason” as the fall-out from their delayed departure to the tournament continued.
A strike by the World Cup-bound squad over money meant their expensively chartered airline took off for Brazil almost 24 hours late as the players attempted to squeeze more appearance money out of their federation. But what has really rankled with the fans and media was their refusal to receive a symbolic flag from prime minister Philémon Yang at the end of their last warm-up international against Moldova in Yaoundé last Saturday. Their German coach Volker Finke accepted it on their behalf.
Cameroon: Group A team profile
Cameroon: Group A team profile
Volker Finke had spent the majority of his management career with Bundesliga outfit Freiburg. He took charge of the club in 1991 and spent 16 years there before leaving in 2007. Finke has only been in charge of Cameroon since May 2013, having taken over from caretaker manager Jean Paul-Akono, but still had to guide Cameroon towards the World Cup finals. The 64-year-old led Cameroon to a convincing 4-1 victory over Tunisia which sealed their progression to Brazil, although his record has not been as great as some might have hoped. Out of his 11 matches so far, Finke has managed five wins, four draws and two defeats – a fairly respectable record, but the frank judgement will be reserved for next summer.
2/3 Star player
After 16 years as an international for Cameroon, what is likely to be Samuel Eto’o’s final World Cup could be his best yet. The 32-year-old joined Chelsea in the summer on a free transfer from Anzhi Makhachkala and, during the prime years of his career at Barcelona and Inter Milan, was viewed as one of the best strikers in the world. His average strike rate at club level is better than a goal every two games, highlighting his consistency in front of goal, with 278 goals in his successful career. He also made his debut for his country aged 15 years and 364 days, and was the youngest player at the 1998 World Cup. His record at international level is impressive, with 56 goals in 117 caps making him Cameroon’s all-time top scorer and third on the appearances list. Cameroon will be reliant on his goals if they are to have any chance of progressing, despite Eto’o scoring just twice in qualifying.
3/3 Emerging talent
Frontman Fabrice Olinga was initially spotted by the Samuel Eto’o Private Foundation in his youth and his playing style is often compared to that of his compatriot Eto’o. Olinga received his first international call-up for Cameroon ahead of a crucial Africa Cup of Nations qualifying second leg against Cape Verde in October 2012. At just 16 years old, he made his debut and scored a stoppage-time winner for Volker Finke’s side but the damage had been done in the first leg and Cameroon missed out on the Cup of Nations for the second successive tournament. Olinga has since struggled to earn appearances for his country but has become a mainstay in the squad. He will be the youngest player at the World Cup.
“We must now ask: which country do Eto’o and his comrades represent if they go to Brazil having refused to accept this country’s most precious symbol, its flag?” asked the daily Mutations newspaper.
“The flag is a symbol of the nation. We can blame those in power [for our problems], but insulting the national anthem or trampling the flag is a sacrilege.
“That is the great sin of the ‘Indomitable Lions’, when they rushed as one man into the locker room and refused to receive the flag from the prime minister.
“A player who goes to the World Cup is a soldier at the front. If he does not want to board that is high treason that deserves punishment.”
It is a view echoed by Joseph Owona, acting president of the Cameroon football federation. “What they did on Saturday, it is a shame to the nation, a total contempt for the government and people who came to watch them and say goodbye. If they do not respect the emblem of this country, can we still support them?” he said.
The website Camfoot added: “It’s still Kafkaesque what happened with the ‘Indomitable Lions’. For Volker Finke, a German national, to receive the flag, supreme symbol of the nation, is totally inappropriate.”
It said Eto’o was the leader of the squad who largely did whatever he wanted while the rest meekly followed.
The Mutations newspaper added: “Between a legitimate claim and fraudulent behaviour, there is a threshold that must not be crossed, but the Lions have happily crossed it shamelessly.
“Eto’o haggled premiums for the players until the last drop of his saliva to satisfy the pecuniary greed of our professional football players.”
Arguments over money ahead of major tournaments has become almost commonplace for the Cameroon side, with Eto’o previously cast in the role of protector of his team-mates from the greed of officialdom.