Finke’s Cameroon collective eye success
February 18, 2014 | 0 Comments
In the wild, lions are famed for hunting in packs, with their togetherness allowing them to fully unleash their power. When it comes to their namesakes in football, Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions, it is no different.
While every so often an outrageously-talented star emerges in the ranks of the 1990 FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finalists, coach Volker Finke believes success at Brazil 2014 can only be achieved through a group effort. The German, who has held his current role for the last eight months, is eager to eradicate individualism and focus on the collective.
“The team twice failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations and did very badly at the 2010 World Cup, finishing with zero points,” Finke told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “They were very divided. Within the squad we’ve spoken together a great deal in the last few months. Thanks to that we’ve arrived at a point where, together with the captain Samuel Eto’o, a very good team spirit has developed. That’s been the key to our success.”
Indeed, after a goalless draw in the first leg of their Brazil 2014 qualifying play-off away to Tunisia, a stirring performance on home turf in Yaounde in the return fixture fired the side to a 4-1 victory.
Anyone who knows Finke will not be surprised by his coaching philosophy with Cameroon. The former PE and maths teacher was in charge at SC Freiburg for 16 uninterrupted years and established the side as a Bundesliga regular, despite budgetary constraints. During that time, the 65-year-old was famed for his long-term vision, with the team – rather than any individual – always the focal point.
“If you want to win in football the team has to maintain its concentration at all times and play well collectively,” said Finke, a fluent French speaker with a long-standing passion for African football. “That’s vital and it’s what we work on every day that we’re together. Only then is it possible to get good results.”
More than just Eto’o
Part of Finke’s process involved redefining the role of Eto’o, who is considered the best Cameroonian player of all time alongside Roger Milla. “Samuel is a world-class player and it’s important for the team’s quality that he plays,” said Finke, who is also well aware that “the role of captain is very special in Africa”.
With just six months to go before the World Cup gets underway, the tactician therefore deliberately decided to spread the weight of responsibility for the side across several players: “In every team you have players who can make the difference. Of course, for us that’s Samuel in attack. But in midfield we have Alexandre Song and at the back we’ve got Nicolas N’Koulou and Aurelien Chedjou, so that’s three more players who make up the spine of our game. Those four are crucial to us.”
Passion breeds expectation
With a modern, possession-based game and a healthy team-spirit, Cameroon and Finke are aiming to make amends for past tournament disappointments. An additional source of pride for the coach is the country’s enthusiasm for the side’s new playing style. “It’s given the football-crazy people ofCameroon a lot of hope for the future,” said Finke, who has a keen understanding of the mentality of the central African nation with a 20.5 million population.
“The fact that Cameroon is a country where everyone loves football and where everyone remembers that in the 70s, 80s, 90s and right up until 2002 it was one of Africa’s footballing heavyweights means that expectations rise very quickly,” said Finke. “The reality is however, that we’re reconstructing and need to build things up again. Qualifying for the World Cup was an important part of that.”
African surprise package?
The side’s focus is now firmly on the much-anticipated tournament in Brazil, where Cameroon were drawn in Group A against the hosts, as well as Croatia and Mexico. Finke is conscious of the size of the task facing his charges, but is clear about his objectives too: “Of course we’re in a situation where we’re underdogs, but we’re going to the World Cup to reach the knockout rounds.”
Finke also believes that African teams could make waves at the competition: “Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon are countries that have lots of players at European clubs. But with the African mentality and their huge passion, if a team manages to play together out on the pitch there, an African side could go a long way this time. I think at least one African country will make it into the semi-finals.”
World Cup: 25 stunning moments … No1: Cameroon stun Argentina in 1990
February 13, 2014 | 0 Comments
by Simon Burnton*
François Omam-Biyik’s goal and an unheralded team of journeymen defeated Diego Maradona’s world champions in Italy
close – this one stands alone in myth and memory. It was not a perfect match but it was an irresistible narrative, as the World Cup champions, led by the great Diego Maradona, were vanquished by an unheralded team largely assembled of journeymen players from the French lower divisions – though for some of them even that was either an impossible dream or a distant memory.
In the space of 90 minutes African football, once derided for being all about juju magic and Zairian defenders with a limited grasp of free-kick regulations, became credible. The result was celebrated not only inCameroon, where impromptu street parties erupted across the nation and a reporter from the Telegraph wrote, intriguingly, that “a lady in a floral dress and turban did a hand-stand”, but across Africa and beyond. When they were finally knocked out a woman in Bangladesh committed suicide, writing that “the elimination of Cameroon means the end of my life”.
“No one thought we could do anything here against Maradona, but we knew what we could do,” the goalscorer, François Omam-Biyik, said after the game. “We hate it when European reporters ask us if we eat monkeys and have a witch doctor. We are real football players and we proved this tonight.”
The match is best remembered for the moment, two minutes from the end, when Claudio Caniggia, Argentina‘s flaxen-haired substitute striker, went on a run down the right. Italia 90 was something of a festival of simulation during which neither Caniggia nor any other Argentinian was to become known for their refusal to go to ground under any kind of challenge, but with his side trailing and time running out he stayed up when an imprecise tackle came flying in, kept going despite a second attempt to bring him down, and was promptly taken out in the most emphatic style by Benjamin Massing, an assault that sent the tackler’s right boot, and possibly a few body parts, flying across the pitch, and earned Cameroon their second red card of the day. As Pete Davies put it in his peerless book about the 1990 World Cup, All Played Out, it was “a kind of full-pelt, waist-high, horizontal flying bodycheck. The general intention seemed to be not so much to break Caniggia’s legs, as actually to separate them from the rest of his body.”
The opening match set the tone for a tournament that was to feature precisely twice as many red cards as the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, which itself had seen more than any previous finals. “Cameroon neutralised Maradona mainly by kicking him,” wrote Matthew Engel in The Guardian. “He spent much of the game horizontal despite wearing calf pads as well as shin pads. His 10 team-mates seemed too stunned to make any trouble but they were kicked as well, if they got in the way.”
Though the first red card, shown to the goalscorer’s brother André Kana-Biyik for a foul on Caniggia, was harsh the French referee, Michel Vautrot, had little choice but to follow Fifa’s newly handed-down guidelines for ultra-strict arbitration. Brian Glanville, in his Story of the World Cup, insists that “a bruising game was made worse by [his] draconian refereeing” but in the following day’s Express, James Lawton proclaimed his victory over “a rising tide of wild and often cynical tackling” as “perhaps the greatest triumph” of the night. Sepp Blatter, then Fifa’s general secretary, boasted before the tournament began that, as a result of their fair play initiative, “players will behave in a decorous manner in all phases of the match”. The players, it turned out, hadn’t really been listening. “I’m unhappy the referee was forced to intervene as he did, but I’m pleased that he did,” Blatter said after the match, having criticised the behaviour of players who “want to destroy the game of soccer instead of letting creativity and genius flow”.
But though a recording of this match will never be of much use to anyone learning the art of clean tackling, there was significantly more to Cameroon than studs and muscle. “I don’t think they had any intentions of beating us up to win the game,” said Maradona. “I cannot argue, and I cannot make excuses. If Cameroon won, it was because they were the best side.”
“This was no fluke, the better team won,” wrote David Lacey in The Guardian. “They won, moreover, after finishing with nine men on the field … Such was their superiority that the Africans still finished looking as if they had more men on the pitch than their hapless opponents.”
Napoli, with Maradona their inspiration, had just won the Serie A title from Milan by two points, and the local fans delighted in his downfall, so much so that the Argentinian, who had been suffering from an ingrown nail and played with the aid of a protective carbon fibre “bionic toe”, claimed he had “cured the Italians of racism”. “The whole stadium was shouting for Cameroon,” he observed. “Wasn’t that nice?”
They say in Douala that “l’impossible n’est pas camerounais”, and never has the saying seemed more true than for those three weeks in 1990. For the Cameroon team that redefined the way the football of their continent was perceived arrived as if intent only on reinforcing stereotypes. Their preparations were shambolic, their squad divided, their players unappreciated, but for all that it took the unequalled penalty-earning skills of England’s Gary Lineker to beat them in the quarter-finals, when England came from behind to win 3-2 just as it was starting to look like Cameroon would be swept irresistibly to a showpiece reunion with Argentina on a wave of supple-hipped, corner-flag-bothering hysteria.
To say they were underestimated before kick-off would be to wrongly suggest that they were estimated at all. “The Soviet Union is a tough opponent, but I’m generally pleased,” the Argentina manager, Carlos Bilardo, said after the draw the previous December. “Our group is not the easiest but we should have no problems in qualifying for the second round.” Cameroon were widely quoted at 500-1 to win the tournament, among the rankest of outsiders.
A couple of years earlier Paul Biya, the country’s president, had asked the Russian FA to send over a few coaches who wouldn’t mind helping out for a while. The first to arrive was Valeri Nepomniachi, an unexceptional ex-player whose only experience of first-team management had been a single season at the helm of an obscure Turkmenistani club in Russia’s third division. Biya appointed him national team manager, even though he spoke no French and almost no English. At the World Cup his team-talks were translated by the man normally employed as a driver at the Cameroon embassy in Moscow, and by various accounts freely disregarded by the players. Nepomniachi only just made it to Italy, having come close to the sack after the country’s hapless displays at that year’s African Cup of Nations, where as reigning champions they lost to Zambia and Senegal and were eliminated in the group stage.
After that failure, and just a few weeks before the World Cup, Biya made another intervention. He called Roger Milla, a 38-year-old who had retired from international football three years previously and moved to Réunion, a tiny French-controlled speck in the Indian Ocean, where he played for a team called Saint-Pierroise. Biya demanded the striker’s return; Milla announced that he was “always ready to be called to my country’s colours” and back he came.
Cameroon’s pre-tournament training camps in Bordeaux and Yugoslavia not only featured frequent defeats to obscure club sides in warm-up matches, but also intense bickering, both about Milla’s arrival and the delayed payments of bonuses due to the players. The goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell became the voice of the players’ demands for cash. Perhaps, having just come second in the voting for France’s footballer of the year, he felt his position in the team was secure enough to survive a little controversy. But then, on the eve of the tournament, he criticised his team-mates in a newspaper interview, saying they had “no chance of coping with Argentina, or any other team” and that they “will go out in the first round without much glory”. Even though his place had, he insisted, been absolutely guaranteed by Nepomniachi, he was dropped. “I used to believe that he selected the team,” he said. “I don’t any more.”
Bell seems to be an unusually divisive figure. In 2011 he published a memoir, Vu de ma Cage, with a controversial section on the 1990 World Cup that was dismissed by the defender Stephen Tataw as “500% lie”. “I don’t do reflections, I write about facts. The book tells what I have done, it tells the facts of my life,” insisted Bell. “Every time he spoke his tongue dripped with the poison of selfishness,” countered Tataw. Bell returned to the team for the 1994 World Cup; when Cameroon were eliminated in the group stage fans back in Douala burned down his house.
Until just a few hours before kick-off in Milan Thomas N’Kono had considered himself unlikely to even be in the matchday squad – Bell didn’t like him, and wanted the relatively inexperienced Jacques Songo’o on the bench instead. Suddenly he was first choice, a decision taken so late, and so unexpectedly, that his wife missed his moment of glory having decided to go shopping instead. “I thought it was a very bad team and we were going to lose,” N’Kono told Jonathan Wilson in the latter’s book on goalkeeping, The Outsider. “Suddenly the coach said I was going to play. Five hours before the game. I said no way. I had no confidence in the coach. The federation, the minister of sport, seven or eight people were telling me I had to play and I was saying I didn’t feel ready. They said if I wasn’t going to play they would play Songo’o, and if he didn’t want to play they would put an outfielder in goal. I went to talk with the president of Cameroon, and eventually I agreed to play.”
The replacement’s performances at the World Cup proved so good that a promising 12-year-old midfielder from Tuscany decided that he’d prefer to be a goalkeeper all things considered, and bought his first pair of gloves. “It was N’Kono and his spectacular saves that made me fall in love with the position. He became my hero,” the kid said, many years later. As an adult, he named his son Thomas in the Cameroonian’s honour. The young Italian’s name was Gianluigi Buffon.
Argentina shared a few of their opponents’ problems, including controversial team selection – Jorge Burruchaga was surprisingly chosen ahead of Caniggia – and goalkeeping issues. Still, their evening did not start so badly. “Everything was under control until Cameroon went down to 10 men and we got disorganised,” said the Argentina manager, Carlos Bilardo. Six minutes later Cameroon scooped a free-kick into the penalty area, Cyrille Makanaky flicked it on and Omam-Biyik rose unfeasibly high, while his nominal marker Nestor Sensini hesitated. His header flew low towards goal, though neither very hard nor very far from the goalkeeper, but Nery Pumpido, a World Cup winner in 1986, inexplicably shovelled it into the net. Eleven minutes into their second match Pumpido broke his leg, and he would never play for his country again. Like N’Kono his replacement, Sergio Goycochea, went on to have a fabulous tournament, excelling in the penalty shoot-outs that took Argentina through the quarter- and semi-finals even if he was beaten by the one penalty that really mattered, Andreas Brehme’s in the final.
Bilardo called this defeat “the worst moment of my sporting career”, and after it Carlos Menem, the Argentinian president, and his predecessor Raúl Alfonsín both phoned him to recommend certain tactical tweaks. “Everyone called me to tell me what to do,” Bilardo said. “I heard from the president, two former presidents and the opposition leader.” The politicians clearly had some decent ideas, as Argentina made five changes for their next match, and improved sufficiently to reach the final. “I have never seen anything like it before in my life,” said Bilardo. “I have never seen anything unify the nation like that. Not politics or music or anything. Everyone was watching and hoping for the team. And when we came home, they were happy for us. We were proud to have reached the final.”
Milla played only the final nine minutes of this game, but settled into his role as Cameroon’s supersub and scored twice against Romania in their second game and twice again against Colombia in the second round, becoming one of the sensations of the tournament. He returned in 1994, where he broke his own record as the World Cup’s oldest goalscorer by grabbing his side’s consolation in a 6-1 thrashing by Russia at the age of 42 years and 39 days. “I’ll tell you something,” he told France Football after Cameroon were finally knocked out in 1990, “if we had beaten England, Africa would have exploded. Ex-plo-ded. There would have been deaths. The Good Lord knows what he does. Me, I thank him for stopping us in the quarter-finals.”
Having played for Laval in the French second division, Omam-Biyik’s performances earned him offers from some of the biggest clubs in Europe, but he refused to break an agreement to join Rennes. Shortly after the tournament he was asked in an interview with the Guardian whether his match-winning goal against Argentina had been the best moment of his career. “It was one of them,” he replied. “The best ‘moment’, if I can stretch the definition of the word, was the whole of that wonderful time we spent in Italy – the experience we gained, the atmosphere, and the money.”
The team returned to a rapturous welcome, with the government announcing a national holiday to enable everyone to celebrate. “When we arrived at Douala airport, the aeroplane had to pull up and come around again,” said Omam-Biyik, “because the runway was totally flooded with people.” The players’ victory parade lasted two full days, and ended with President Biya conveying honours not only upon the players, but their coaches, the support staff, and even journalists.
Twelve years later the holders were again beaten 1-0 by unheralded Africans in the opening game of the World Cup finals, France falling to Pape Bouba Diop’s goal. But while 11 of Cameroon’s 22-man squad in 1990 played for domestic clubs and not one outfield player was based at a European top-flight team, by 2002 all but two of Senegal’s 23 was based in Europe and 16 of them played in the French top-flight. “No team could ever again do what we did in 1990,” said Milla. “The element of surprise is not there. Everybody knows everything about all the teams now.”
The fanfare for Diego Maradona was drowned by the drums of Black Africa in Milan last night as Cameroon defeated Argentina, the World Cup holders, to open the 1990 tournament by destroying a whole package of preconceptions.
This was no fluke, the better team won. They won, moreover, after finishing with nine men on the field, the result of Michel Vautrot’s determination to obey Fifa’s guidelines in dealing with persistent and cynical fouls. The French referee sent off two Cameroon players but such was their superiority that the Africans still finished looking as if they had more men on the pitch than their hapless opponents.
This result, the biggest shock in a World Cup since Algeria’s 2-1 defeat of West Germany in the opening phase in Spain in 1982, has immediately thrown the new tournament off its predicted course.
Argentina’s chances of winning Group B already look slim. On last night’s evidence one would not give much for their hopes of defeating either the Soviet Union or Romania. Maradona began brightly but when he faded the whole team fell away, losing rhythm and confidence and looking just another poor side.
England, if they finish runners-up in Group F, will meet the second-placed team in Group B in Genoa in the second phase. Now Bobby Robson might prefer it not to be Cameroon. Better even Maradona than the inspirational Francois Omam-Biyik, who scored the winning goal five minutes after Kana-Biyik had been sent off and departed blowing a farewell kiss to an adoring crowd.
The Third World has long since threatened to arrive on the wider footballing stage in style but nobody seriously expected Cameroon to make the entrance they did on a balmy Milanese evening after half an hour of noisy pomp and ceremony had made it a natural setting for Maradona.
Long after the finish, in a stadium empty except for reporters, the PA system suddenly burst forth into the theme music from Ben Hur. Certainly this was one race which had seen several collisions and the finish that the majority wanted. The Milan supporters, remembering the way Napoli had pipped their team for the Italian championship, made sure that Maradona did not feel at home by whistling and jeering every time he touched the ball.
Cameroon, and in particular the tall muscular figure of Benjamin Massing, one of four French League players in the side, fouled Argentina’s new ambassador for sport at almost every opportunity. Maradona must have felt he was encountering a distant relative of Claudio Gentile.
Massing became the second Cameroon player to be dismissed when Vautrot showed him the red card two minutes from the end after he had taken out Caniggia, sent on by Argentina’s manager Carlos Bilardo in the second half to give his struggling team an extra attacker, thigh-high. Massing had been the first of three Cameroon players to be cautioned, so he had to go.
And so did Kana-Biyik, without the preliminary of a caution, for coolly tripping Caniggia just past the hour. To him fell the distinction of being the first player to receive a red card in the opening game of a World Cup since referees started carrying red cards.
Fifa had been specific in its instructions on how to deal with this sort of offence and Vautrot set the sort of disciplinary standards the World Cup needs to heed, otherwise there will be anarchy.
While there was a natural inclination to rejoice with Cameroon, ugly images of their tackling lingered in the mind’s eye. But when all is said and done it was a joyous occasion which did not lack a sense of irony. Four years ago, when Maradona sent Burruchaga clear to score the winning goal in the last World Cup final, their green-shirted opponents West Germany collapsed in the centre circle in despair. When the game ended last night the green shirts, what was left of them, dissolved into a celebrating heap, leaving Argentina to wonder if the new roof of the San Siro had not fallen in on them.
Cameroon never looked like a side which had been sent into the opening match to play stooge to Maradona. Their man-to-man marking system was tighter, they were first to the ball in all parts of the field, they created space with greater ease and opened up ever widening gaps near goal as the holders’ defence became threadbare.
From the start Omam-Biyik’s willingness to run at a retreating defence looked like causing Argentina problems. Not only that, Cameroon had more skiil on the ball than their supposedly superior opponents.
There was little hint of a shock at the start, which was an anticlimax after all the hype. A couple of touches from Maradona might have given Argentina two goals had not N’Kono, keeping goal instead of the more experienced Bell, somehow blocked the danger.
A goal then might have settled the holders. As it was, they became unsettled by Cameroon’s close marking and hard tackling and never got their act together thereafter.
Midway through the first half Burruchaga was just able to flick the ball away from an empty Argentina net after Omam-Biyik had caught them square with an early through ball. Seven minutes before half-time the same player produced a sudden shot from a narrow angle that nearly went in under Pumpido’s body.
When Cameroon scored Pumpido was badly at fault. Ironically the goal followed a gratuitous Argentinian foul by Lorenzo, who conceded a free-kick on the right.
Cameroon players pile on top of each other as they celebrate the only goal. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Bob Thomas/Getty Images
As the ball came across, Lorenzo rose with Makanaky and it spun off the defender high to Omam-Biyik, whose header was well aimed but should not have carried the power to beat a goalkeeper of international class. However Pumpido appeared confused by its direction, reacted like a dosing slip fielder and allowed the ball to squeeze under his right hand and over the line.
Argentina could not believe it, the crowd could not believe it, the world television audience probably did not believe it and even now it seems like something out of a fantasy. It is one thing to beat Argentina with a full side but to finish on the attack with nine men is rather rubbing it in.
Eaglets get N2m each, national honours
November 11, 2013 | 0 Comments
BY OLALEKAN ADETAYO*
President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday announced a cash gift of N2m each for all the players of the nation’s Under-17 team, the Golden Eaglets, who won the 2013 FIFA Under-17 World Soccer Championship on Friday in Abu Dhabi, United Emirates.
The players, their handlers and key members of the Nigerian Supporters’ Club, according to the President, will also be honoured with national honours during the next award ceremony.
Jonathan announced the rewards at a reception he held in honour of the players at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The President announced a N3m cash gift to the team’s Head Coach; the assistant coaches get N2.5m each; the team doctor, physiotherapist and team secretary get N500,000 each while the team technical officer, team coordinator, medical officers and the curator will get N300,000 each.
Jonathan said with the gifts, he was keeping his earlier promise to the team when he charged them to go and conquer the world.
Describing the cash gifts as token, the President encouraged state governments and members of the organised private sector to join the Federal Government in appreciating players, saying no amount of reward could be adequate for the young Nigerians.
“The team, the handlers, the coaches and the officials including some key members of the supporters club and the Nigerian Football Federation will all be rewarded when we give national honours,” he said.
The President said he was pleased to host and honour the players who he said by their outstanding performance had brought pride and honour to Nigeria and Africa.
He said the players won fairly and convincingly, adding that the victory is for the whole of Africa.
*Source Punch Nigeria
Samuel Eto’o: Cameroon soccer officials after my life
February 9, 2013 | 1 Comments
By YUH TIMCHIA in Yaoundé*
Cameroon’s national football team captain Samuel Eto’o has stirred up debate about the country’s football woes after he accused local federation officials of wanting to take his life and challenged them to a live debate on national television.
“They want to kill me. I live in the national team with gendarmes, not out of snobbery…I cannot put the team jerseys on, I get mine directly from Puma,” the footballer said in an online video chat with young Cameroonians Wednesday organized by local satirical magazine Je Wanda.
The FC Anzhi Makhachkala striker also said he is cautious about what he eats during training camps.
Eto’o was among 11 players who did not honour a call up for a friendly against Tanzania on Wednesday. He cited an injury as the reason for his failure to show up in the game Tanzania won one nil.
However, some critics say it was a phony reason, which shows Cameroon football is still in perilous waters.
Others blame the Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) for the falling standards of the sport in the erstwhile continental heavyweight.
The four-time African player of the year does not see a bright future for Cameroon football unless the wrangling pinning it down is resolved.
Eto’o said that FECAFOOT officials are incompetent, corrupt and should all resign.
“These aged persons have swindled our money enough…instead of managing football for the general interest, they are only concerned with fictitious missions, first class travels and untraceable bank accounts in Europe.”
Cameroon faces Togo in March in playoffs for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and Eto’o does not think Cameroon in its current state will be able to beat the Sparrow Hawks.
He said the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations has had a good level so far adding that merit goes to teams like Nigeria and Togo that solved the problems plaguing their football.
FECAFOOT has still not commented on the team captain’s allegations.
In a report on afrikitalia.it, Italy-based Cameroonian journalist Jean Claude Mbede Fouda said a
FA official told him Eto’o was unpatriotic and his claims “frivolous”.
“When you’re a friend to a group of individuals currently detained for embezzlement, and are responsible for destabilizing the country’s football to topple the government, you act like Samuel [Eto’o].”
The official reportedly said the FA was ready for the televised debate and said he was sure Eto’o will not emerge winner.
The four-time African champions, the Indomitable Lions, were booted out of the
without a single point. They then failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012 and this
*Source Africa Review
Cameroon’s outspoken footballer
January 24, 2013 | 0 Comments
Assou-Ekotto: I say what I think … if you don’t like it, I don’t care
By Alex Thomas*
Off the pitch, however, Tottenham Hotspur left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto is far from your ordinary top-level footballer.
Opinionated and strong-minded, Assou-Ekotto’s surprisingly candid views have often been at odds with the monotonous, if not pretentious, rhetoric that often surrounds the beautiful game.
The French-born Cameroonian international has famously admitted that he’s playing the sport just for the money on offer. He’s grabbed headlines by saying every player is driven by riches and has openly criticized badge-kissing peers of “hypocrisy.”
he refreshingly open, yet soft-spoken, player describes football as a “very, very, very good job,” but says there are more important things in life. He shies away from the celebrity lifestyle favored by many of his English Premier League colleagues and has few friends within football.
“For me it’s very important to have a normal friend and not only friends in football because you can see the reality and the difficulty of the life, [which] you can forget as your job is a very good job,” he explains.
Is he concerned whether some of his comments can be seen in a negative way? “I’m honest and I say what I think,” says Assou-Ekotto, who is known as much for his frank comments as his eye-catching hairstyles. “If you don’t like, I don’t care — I know how I speak maybe will not help me, but I don’t care and I have too much confidence in me.”
With a French mother and having grown up in the city of Arras, northern France, Assou-Ekotto, 28, could have played for the French national team.
I have more feeling with Cameroon and Africa,” he explains.
Assou-Ekotto says that his decision to play in Africa does limit his earning potential at club level in Europe. He claims African players don’t earn the same wages as other players, partly because they have to play in the Africa Cup of Nations. The tournament, which is usually held every two years, takes many of the continent’s top football stars out of action for their club teams at a critical period in the European domestic season.
“When you make a choice and play for an African [national] team, the football will be more difficult for you because you have the Africa Cup of Nations and there’s not a club [that] wants their footballers to travel one month out in the middle of the season,” he says. “A French player or an English player or a Belgium player or a Spain player would be all the time more expensive as an African player — it’s like that, it’s a reality.”
Yet, for Assou-Ekotto, the choice to represent Cameroon’s “Indomitable Lions” was easy to make.
“I prefer to be proud to play for my country, even if my football will be more difficult, [than] to play for France and don’t have a feeling,” he says.
Assou- Ekotto, who joined Tottenham from French outfit Lens in the summer of 2006, comes from a fine footballing pedigree. His older brother Mathieu played top-flight football in Belgium, while his dad, David, left Cameroon for France as a teenager to play professionally. Assou-Ekotto’s footballing education came from watching matches with his dad, who was an astute mentor, passing on the nuances of the sport.
“Every weekend when I was about 10 I go with him to see football and to play football and then I said, it’s a good job,” remembers Assou-Ekotto. “I said, okay, I will focus only on the football.”
Disinterested with learning in the classroom, Assou-Ekotto dropped out of school at the age of 16 to pursue his sporting ambition. But although his gamble has paid off, Assou-Ekotto says today he regrets not completing high school.
His view on the importance of education has prompted him to start BA32, a foundation promoting the idea of teaching youth in a practical and interesting way, focused on encouraging children across the globe to learn more about mathematics, science and technology.
“When I make this foundation [it] is to give the opportunity to a young boy to understand that the education and the school is very important because you know when you are young you don’t see the real problems of the life; to sleep under the roof you have to pay every month,” he says. “I think it is more easy to pay this kind of stuff when you are clever and when you have a good job.”
Assou-Ekotto is keen for his philanthropy, rather than his sporting success, to be his lasting legacy.
“I prefer to be remembered about what I will do after football because every weekend about 40,000 people enjoy with me and my team but I hope to help more than 40,000 people after football over the world,” he says. “People need help and that will be more interesting for me. People [will remember me] not just as a footballer, because I am not just a footballer.”
10 Highest Paid African Footballers
November 24, 2012 | 0 Comments
*By Kate Hodges*
Africa’s football stars have become a common sight in the world’s most competitive leagues. These sons of Africa are among some of the highest earning athletes in the world. Howzit MSN looks at the current 10 highest earning footballers from Africa.
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon)
Striker Eto’o moved to Russian football club in August 2011, as a result he is currently the highest paid footballer in the world. His annual salary tops €20 million after tax. In addition to his whopping salary, Eto’o earns millions from sponsorship deals annually. Eto’o started his club career at Real Madrid aged 16. He then moved to various Spanish clubs before a five-year stint at Barcelona and two years at Inter Milan. He has 110 caps for the Cameroon national team in which he has scored 53 goals.
Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast)
The Manchester City midfielder commands a salary of €15 million a year. Before Eto’o moved to Russia Toure was the highest paid African footballer in the world. Toure is a power player with an impressive record with former team Barcelona. He moved to the Premier League to join Manchester City in 2010. Since his move he has played a central role for the resurgent City side – earning himself the African Footballer of the Year award for 2011.
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)
The Ivorian striker’s move from Chelsea to Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua sees him earning a salary of €12.9 annually. The power forward moved to the Chinese side at the end of June 2012 when his contract with Chelsea expired. Drogba scored 100 goals at Chelsea in 226 appearances over a period of eight years. The striker has scored 59 goals in 90 caps for his national team. He has undertaken several projects for charity and has started his own foundation – The Didier Drogba Foundation. The double African Footballer of the Year winner is a UN Goodwill Ambassador.
Seydou Keita (Mali)
The Malian midfielder earns an impressive annual salary of €12 million from Chinese Super League club Dalian Aerbin F.C. He moved to the Chinese side in 2012 following a successful four year spell at Barcelona. He has already scored four goals in 12 appearances for his new side. Dalian Keita has made 72 appearances for Mali since making his international debut in 2001. He has scored 19 goals for the national team.
Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo)
The Togo striker’s current salary is €10 million. He finally joined Tottenham Hotspur, where he spent a season on loan from Manchester City, permanently following a protracted salary negotiation. In contrast to Adebayor’s reputation as a difficult player, he is also one of the most charitable footballers around. He has undertaken several projects in his native Togo and other parts of the continent. Earlier this year he launched his own charity – the SEA Foundation.
Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast)
The Ivorian earns €5.8 million a year, an impressive sum for a defender. He moved to City following a seven year stint at Arsenal. Toure made his international debut in 2000, he has since made 98 appearances and scored 15 goals for the national team. Toure was linked with a move to Turkish giants Galatasaray during the last transfer window, but the centre back remained at City when the window closed.
Christopher Samba (Congo)
Congolese defender Christopher Samba joined the list following a lucrative move to Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala. His current salary is in the area of €5.5 million. Samba’s move came after a five year spell at Premier League side Blackburn Rovers. He was often played as a striker at Blackburn, scoring 16 goals in 161 appearances. He has 26 international caps for Congo.
Frederic Kanoute (Mali)
The Franco-Malian striker joined Chinese club Beijing Guoan for a reported salary of €6.2 million annually. Kanoute, who was born in Lyon France to a French mother and Malian father, was a Spanish side Sevilla for seven years. The devout Muslim helped buy a mosque in the Spanish city. He scored 23 goals in 39 appearances for Mali, before retiring from international football in 2010.
Michael Essien (Ghana)
Ghana midfielder Michael Essien reportedly earns a salary of €5.1 million annually. The former BBC African Footballer of the Year also has several lucrative sponsorship deals with Nike, MTN, and Guinness-Africa among others. Following a seven year spell at Premier League giant Chelsea, Essien was reunited with former manager Jose Mourinho, when he went to Spanish super club Real Madrid on a season long loan.
Mikel John Obi (Nigeria)
Mikel John Obi reportedly earns a €4.5 million salary from Premier League club Chelsea. When he was just 18-years-old he was linked with a move to Manchester United, but ended up signing with Chelsea under highly controversial circumstances. He has made 172 appearances for Chelsea and 38 for the national team. He has been shortlisted for the 2012 African Footballer of the Year award.
* Source african.howzit.msn.com/
John Obi Mikel Starts Record Label
October 16, 2012 | 0 Comments
He set up his Matured Money Minds (MMM) label with his brother Patrick, and has already signed four artists. Those artists are: Edgar, Perfect wikdyz, Splash, Charass and Jason ‘Kido’ Igho.
The 25-year-old, who started playing in England’s Premier League days after his 18th birthday, recently quit the social networking site Twitter due to racial abuse. Mikel was abused after he took to his @Mikel12Official account to apologise for a mistake he made against Juventus in the Champions League.
Mikel, who was born in the Plateau State capital Jos, has made 166 appearances for Chelsea and has 37 caps for the Super Eagles.
Mikel will run out for Nigeria on 13 October 2012 in Calabar for their 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match against Liberia.
*Culled from MSN Africa
Uganda Olympic champion Kiprotich given hero’s welcome
August 15, 2012 | 0 Comments
Kiprotich, a prison warden who won the men’s marathon on Sunday, was then presented with a cheque for $80,000 (£51,000) by President Yoweri Museveni.
He was also promoted nine ranks to become an assistant superintendent in the prisons service.
Mr Museveni promised that more would be done to invest in athletes in future.
The BBC’s Catherine Byaruhanga in Entebbe says people lined the street as Kiprotich waved from an open-top car with the personalised number plate “UG GOLD”.
At one stage the convoy was forced to stop by the crowds blocking the road on the way to State House, where Kiprotich had breakfast with the president, she says.
After Kiprotich was presented with the cheque, he asked the president if he would build a house for his parents in north-eastern Kapchorwa district.
Mr Museveni agreed that a three-bedroom house would be constructed.
The president also admitted that funding in sports had suffered as the country had concentrated on development projects such as building schools and roads.
But he promised that in future all athletes who won international medals would receive a 1m Ugandan shillings (about $400) monthly stipend to help them train.
A high-altitude training school would also be built, he promised.
Correspondents say the reaction in Uganda to Kiprotich’s victory has been euphoric.
The state-owned Vision media group set up a fund to raise prize money for the runner after he won on Sunday – and in three hours raised more than $100,000 – it aims to make it to $500,000.
Uganda’s last Olympic champion was 400m hurdler John Akii-Bua, who won gold at Munich in 1972.
London Olympics: 10 African nations win medals
August 14, 2012 | 0 Comments
London, Great Britain – Following is the list of the 10 African nations that won medals at the 2012 London Olympics which rounded off on Sunday night. Overall, 53 African nations were represented at the 27 July to 12 Aug Games. United States emerged the overall winner of the games with 46 gold, 29 silver and 29 bronze for a total of 104 medals, followed by China (38-27-22=87) and host Great Britain (29-17-19=65)
Country Position Overall Position in Africa Gold Silver Bronze Total
South Africa 24 1 3 2 1 6
Ethiopia 25 2 3 1 3 7
Kenya 28 3 2 4 5 11
Tunisia 45 4 1 1 1 3
Algeria 50 5 1 0 0 1
Uganda 50 6 1 0 0 1
Egypt 58 7 0 2 0 2
Botswana 69 8 0 1 0 1
Gabon 69 9 0 1 0 1
Morocco 79 10 0 0 1
African nations should bid for 2024 Games-UK minister
August 4, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Avril Ormsby*
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson encouraged African nations to bid to host the 2024 Olympics, saying on Saturday the Games should not be the preserve of Western nations and the rich.
South Africa burst onto the international sports scene in 2010 when it hosted the soccer World Cup, and the continent’s runners dominate long-distance events.
But an African nation has yet to host the Olympics.
“I am a firm believer that the Olympics should not just be restricted to western Europe, to the Americas, to the prosperous nations of the Far East,” Robertson told Reuters at a National Olympic Committees of Africa event.
“That’s one of the most exciting things about Rio (the 2016 Olympic host city). And I would very much like to see the Olympics in future years go to the continent of Africa.”
No African city is on the shortlist to host 2020, the winner of which is due to be announced in 2013, after the few who proposed making a bid failed to follow through.
But Casablanca, in Morocco; Durban, in South Africa; and Alexandria, in Egypt, are being touted as possible bidders for 2024.
“I very much hope that African nations will bid in 2024,” Robertson said at the Africa Village hospitality and cultural arena, in London’s Hyde Park.
“I think it is really good for the Olympics to be spread out around the world, that the Olympic values should travel as far as possible. I would absolutely like to see that happen on the continent of Africa.”
DREAM COME TRUE
He welcomed the participation of South Sudan marathon runner Guor Marial who will compete in the marathon under the Olympic flag.
South Sudan, the world’s newest country which was recognised only last year, has not yet established a national Olympic Committee and so was not able to send a team to the Games.
“You want as many people competing as possible from as many different nations,” Robertson said.
“And South Sudan is now independent, so I’m delighted they’ve got representation here, and it will be under their own flag soon, won’t it.”
Ethiopian IOC member Dagmawit Girmay Berhane said the Olympics would come to Africa eventually, it was just a matter of when, helped by a bit of extra resources, infrastructure, political commitment and creativity.
“In my local language there is one word which says ‘yechalal’, and it literally means ‘yes, it can be’,” she said, still smiling from Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba’s successful defence of her Olympic 10,000 metre title.
“So no matter how long it takes, I am sure it will happen.
“We have the athletes, we have the passion. We love the sports.”
The only thing lacking was the infrastructure – but the cost of the Games would be outweighed by its value, she said.
“The value is more than monetary value,” she told Reuters.
“We have the will, we have the volunteers, we have the spirit, it is the resources. Resources and infrastructure, we need political commitment and we need the creativity.
“I think there is a generation looking forward to it, and it will touch a generation in terms of a dream come true.”
(Editing by Alison Williams)
*Courtesy of Reuters
How Kenya Builds The Fastest Humans On Earth
July 31, 2012 | 0 Comments
By John Burnett*
The long- and middle-distance runners to watch during the London Olympics are from Kenya, a country with a rich tradition of producing elite track athletes. The country won 14 medals four years ago in the Beijing Olympics.
Many of the world’s best marathoners have come from a highland region above the Great Rift Valley. There, the famed town of Iten produces some of the fastest humans on Earth.
‘I Want To Be Rich’
Down the main road, past vendors of mangoes and charcoal, past the Zam Zam Hotel and Mama Mercy Salon and under the arch that reads, “Iten, Home of Champions,” there’s an unmarked road the color of rust.
If you turn on it and continue past fields of corn and passion fruit, you’ll see them: young men and women with zero body fat in black Lycra shorts and bright running shoes warming up for the morning run.
One of them, a woman in a pink Nike top, gives her name as Charity. What’s her goal?
“I want to be rich,” she says. “Yeah, I want to be rich.”
At 9 a.m. sharp, they’re off, 400 legs pumping uphill in loping, relaxed, efficient strides.
These are some of the 500 to 1,500 runners at any given time who come to Iten from around the world to train and be discovered.
Farmer Robert Toraitizh stands in front of his gate and watches the runners admiringly.
“We are proud of them running like this,” Toraitizh says. “Sometimes we see them live on TV, and then, after all, we see them running live … here.”
Far behind the rest of the pack, a lone white runner passes, huffing and puffing. Toraitizh smiles ear to ear.
“Yes, you see a small country like that one beating the huge America, even not America but other countries, rich countries,” he says.
Training The Next Champions
Kenyans are immensely proud of their athletes — and for good reason.
On these dirt roads pass some of the world’s fastest long-distance runners, like David Rudisha, the world record holder in the 800-meter; Mary Keitany, the world record holder in the women’s half-marathon; and Wilson Kipsang, the second-fastest marathoner of all time.
Wearing a gold-trimmed hoodie, Kipsang lounges on a sofa in the dining room of a hotel that overlooks the Great Rift Valley, which appears as a misty chasm in the green earth.
Kipsang is a local favorite here in Iten because he lets aspiring young runners train with him. The slight, soft-spoken Kipsang is captain of Kenya’s Olympic marathon team, which is scheduled to compete on the last day of the games.
Kipsang echoes Charity: He wants to make money. The runners want to live a comfortable life, buy some land, build a house, support their extended family, maybe even invest.
Most of Kenya’s runners grow up dirt-poor. They see prize-winning runners buying farms, hotels and matatus, the omnipresent Kenyan jitneys. For these young men and women, running is the only means to escape poverty, Kipsang says.
“Provided you really focus and train very well,” he adds.
Altitude is another reason why Iten produces such extraordinary athletes. They train at 8,000 feet above sea level. The idea is to strengthen circulation by creating more red blood cells to carry more oxygen to muscles.
“This valley is 6 miles down. They run up these hills every single day,” says Peter McHugh, director of Run-Fast, a British sports management company with a training camp in Iten.
Admittedly old-school, McHugh admires the elegant simplicity of how Kenyan runners train.
“My argument is, for instance, that if you want to build strength in your legs, you should do what the Kenyans do, which is to run up hills,” he says. “We are distracted enormously by heart rate monitors, by distance monitors, by very sophisticated gymnasiums, by taking blood tests, by measuring all sorts of things.”
Starting With The Basics
The Run-Fast facility here in Iten is not what you’d expect a training camp for aspiring elite athletes to look like.
The muddy compound is fenced with corrugated metal. Runners live in Spartan-like rooms with the names of famous marathons printed over the doorways: San Diego, Boston, Vienna and Frankfurt. Their coach is former champion Kenneth Kibett.
“For those who’ve got a chance to stay in our camp, we provide accommodation, provide food, provide training,” Kibett says.
Run-Fast gives team members a bed, daily training, shoes and clothes, and simple, healthy food. Forget sports drinks and nutrition bars. Here they eat corn, beans, kale and an occasional steak.
It’s pretty basic, but this is what every hungry, young Kenyan runner wants: sponsorship and a manager. Few are accepted at Run-Fast. The men must have a marathon time of at least 2 hours, 10 minutes.
A good example of a Kenya success story is Kibett’s wife, Hellen Kimutai.
“I grow up in here a place called Simara,” she says. The village is not far from Iten.
Kimutai is 35 years old with a broad forehead and braided hair. In March, she won the Rome City Marathon and the prize of 40,000 euros. The annual per capita income in Kenya is less than $2,000 a year.
Growing up in a one-room hut, she began her athletic career running back and forth to school — 6 kilometers, barefoot — when she was 15.
That was before she ever thought about running as a vocation. She ran because she had to. Eventually, she ran because she loved to.
Ethiopia vs. Kenya in London
July 31, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Martin Keino*
When the world’s best long-distance runners take to the track and road at the London Olympics this month, the fierce competition and one of the most intense rivalries in athletics between Kenya and Ethiopia will take centre stage. Ethiopian runners have dominated the 5,000m and 10,000m events on the track for many years. Kenya has won these races at the Olympics only once. Ahead of London, the tables seem to have turned, with Kenyan athletes now favourites.
The history of the rivalry dates back to 1968, when Kenya emerged to win three of its firstever gold medals at the Mexico City Olympics, challenging Ethiopia as the regional athletics powerhouse of the era and triggering its domination of the middle-distance races since then. The two East African neighbours live and train in similar high-altitude areas of the Rift Valley that cuts across their borders. Their athletes have similar physical builds, and the countries share a determination to change their socio-economic conditions that brings them to the start and finish lines almost on an even keel. What makes these runners the best in the business is the healthy competition among them, a good rapport they share with each other and, most importantly, fierce national pride. The London Olympics will usher in a new level to the rivalry. After successful 2008 Beijing games for both countries, they are looking to protect and increase their medal tallies by sharpening up in events that they had missed out on. Kenya wants to reverse the paucity of gold medals in the 10,000m, and in June controversially held some of the trials for its Olympic team in Eugene, Oregon, in a climate closer to London’s.
Having had little success in middle-distance before this year, the Ethiopians have come out guns blazing in recent Diamond League races with new athletes upstaging their more renowned neighbours, effectively changing the form-chart for the Olympics. The fierce head to-head battle for long-distance supremacy between Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot and Ethiopian Meseret Defar will resume in London, along with Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele against Kenya’s top men in the 10,000m.
After winning every major citymen’s marathon in 2011, breaking every course record, as well as claiming World Championship gold, the top 20 places on the world ranking lists and the world record, Kenya looks set to defend its marathon title from Beijing. It won’t be as easy as it sounds, however. So far in 2012, Ethiopia has proved it can match the Kenyans’ performance, winning most of the major marathons and breaking just as many course records as Kenyans did last year. The stakes have been raised, and this fantastic rivalry between the two neighbours will provide many of the highlights of the London Olympics.
*Source www.theafricareport.com.Martin Keino a former Kenyan pace-setter, is a sports marketer.