World Cup 2014: Where did it all go wrong for shambolic Cameroon?

Corruption fears and high turnover of coaches are factors in more World Cup woe 

Try a word-association exercise. Cameroon + World Cup = ? The answer used to be Roger Milla, dancing around the corner flag. Now it is Benoît Assou-Ekotto pushing his head into the brow of a team-mate.

It would be erroneous to state Cameroonian football has become the basketcase of African football; unlike many other countries, notably South Africa, they do at least usually qualify for the finals. The problem is what happens when they get there, for Cameroon is a story of squandered potential.

Read more: Cameroon vs Brazil match preview
Cameroon vs Croatia match report

In 1982, when the Indomitable Lions made their World Cup debut, they were unbeaten and only edged out at the group stage by eventual winners Italy on goals scored. Eight years on they were back. After stunning holders Argentina in the opening game they progressed to the last eight, where they were eight minutes from dispatching England.

Cameroon looked the nation most likely to make Africa’s breakthrough. It was a false dawn. This is their fifth subsequent appearance at the finals, during which they have played 14 matches. They have won one and lost nine. Already knocked out of this competition, they play Brazil tonight in Brasilia with only pride to salvage.

There appear to be two fundamental problems with football in Cameroon: organisational quality and probity, and player development.

The latter might not be thought such an issue. Samuel Eto’o and Alex Song have played for Europe’s biggest clubs, Stéphane M’Bia was a key figure in Seville’s Europa League triumph, and the majority of the squad play in Europe’s big five leagues.

However Eto’o, a tactically astute player with mental gifts to match his renowned physique, is the exception when it comes to exports from Cameroon – indeed, most sub-Saharan countries. The archetype expected by European clubs – and therefore the one many African academies focus on, for they are usually private enterprises – places an accent on power, not guile. Think Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Taribo West. The likes of Stephen Pienaar and Jay-Jay Okocha are rare. Cameroon’s midfield in the 4-0 defeat to Croatia – Alex Song, Joël  Matip and Eyong Enoh – was very functional.

One man who embodied all of that and captured the imagination of the Italia ’90 crowds was Cameroon striker Roger Milla One man who embodied all of that and captured the imagination of the Italia ’90 crowds was Cameroon striker Roger Milla  

Then there is the chaotic, often allegedly corrupt, administration. Again, this is not unique to Cameroon, but the West African nation does seem to have suffered more than most. They have had 22 coaches in 24 years. One reason coaches appear to quit is interference in team selection from government or Cameroon FA (Fecafoot) officials, or because wages are paid late, or not at all. The players suffer similarly. The airport stand-off, with Cameroon arriving late to these finals due to a row over bonuses, echoed similar disputes in 1994 and 2002.

Such rows, and the state of the nation’s football infrastructure, makes observers wonder where the cash earned from their World Cup appearances and related sponsorship has gone.

There are suspicions. A 2010 report by the Forum for African Investigative Reporters claimed millions of pounds earmarked for stadium redevelopment had disappeared and accused Fecafoot and government officials of corruption. Issa Hayatou, president of Fecafoot and of the regional federation since the late 1980s, has several times been accused of taking bribes in relation to the vote-rigging of World Cup bids. He has always strenuously denied all allegations and remains on Fifa’s executive committee.

 

What is clear is that graft is an issue in a country ranked 144th in the world by Transparency International’s corruption index. That is not the only socio-economic factor hampering football development. The population, at an estimated 22.5m, is barely an eighth of Nigeria’s, and it is poor, its GDP ranked at 95th-100th in the world.

 Against this backdrop, perhaps the team’s results are understandable. Indeed, there is an argument that Cameroon now pulls it weight at international level. It is just that it used to over-achieve.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence