12, September 2018
When Cameroon appointed Clarence Seedorf on August 4, it appeared like a decision driven primarily by glamour and status rather than by practical on-field reasons.
Certainly, the 42-year-old enjoyed the kind of playing career that would be the envy of the vast majority of his peers, winning four Champions League titles and five major leagues, yet his coaching career has done little to inspire confidence.
Stints with AC Milan, Shenzhen FC and Deportivo La Coruna, the last of whom were relegated under his watch, were as brief as they were muddled, and the Dutch great has done little to suggest that he can translate his playing qualities to the dugout.
Had he been taking over an African national team without internal ruptures, a recent track record of underachievement, or the pressure of a major tournament on home soil, he’d have been a questionable pick.
However, Cameroon—considering their challenging condition—represent a mammoth challenge for a young coach with no notable managerial track record and no prior experience of African football.
Their Nations Cup success in Gabon in 2017 represents something of an isolated island of achievement after two underwhelming World Cup campaigns—in 2010 and 2014—in which they were the first team eliminated.
The side imploded in Brazil, hinting at the ongoing problems of governance and structure, and then missed out on qualification for the 2018 tournament – the first time they’ve not made it since 1986.
This failure, coupled with a sub-par showing at the Fifa Confederations Cup, prompted the dismissal of Afcon-winning coach Hugo Broos in early December, and interim manager Alexandre Belinga held the fort until Seedorf’s appointment.
His opening match, Saturday’s game away in lowly Comoros—ranked 149th in the world—represented, on paper, a relatively straightforward assignment for the Central African giants.
Comoros took the lead through El Fardou Ben Nabouhane’s 15th-minute effort, and Cameroon appeared on course for a famous defeat until Stephane Bahoken levelled 10 minutes from time after the hosts’ captain—Abdou Nadjim—missed a defensive header.
Of primary concern for the coach and Cameroon fans will be their lethargy and apparent complacency.
There was little urgency or focus about this Lions side—Eric-Maxim Choupo Moting perhaps the only exception—and they appeared to underestimate their opponents.
Yaya Banana’s Franz Beckenbauer-esque attempted slalom through the heart of the Comorian midfield—from centre-back—was an early sign of things to come, while the team grew frenetic and panicked when the prospect of defeat loomed, rather than intense and ruthless.
To those who questioned whether Seedorf’s lack of experience of the African game would make him a risky pick as Cameroon coach, this was fuel for the fire.
Without Sebastien Siani and Arnaud Djoum, two of several high-profile players cut from the squad, a midfield of Frank-Andre Zambo Anguissa and Georges Mandjeck floundered, failing to take a handle on the match or protect their defence.
His team selections also raised some question marks, with Seedorf seemingly redeeming his earlier error to start Gaetan Bong ahead of Ambroise Oyongo by introducing the latter late on.
It was Montpellier’s Oyongo who ultimately provided the assist for Bahoken’s equalier, while Bong had endured a torrid time—representing a nervous presence when under pressure and offering little going forward.
Once again, Cameroon’s showing served a reminder of how Seedorf should be making efforts to recall some of the squad’s ostracised stars.
He questionably cut Benjamin Moukandjo, Christian Bassogog and Siani from his maiden squad—denying the team of three key figures they could ill-afford to lose—and opted to start with Banana and Collins Fai in defence.
Panionios’s Banana perhaps deserves more than the handful of caps he has to date, but he’s an inferior prospect to Joel Matip or Nicolas N’Koulou, and Seedorf must make major efforts to ensure that both are dragged back to the fold.
Similarly, Seedorf can justify doing without arguably the Lions’ two best players—Moukandjo and Bassogog—if Cameroon are blowing away teams like Comoros, who were beaten 3-0 by Mozambique less than four months ago.
If they’re not, his hardline decision—opting to overlook players playing in China or the Middle East—becomes a rod to beat him with.
Ultimately, the coach didn’t seem too fazed by Cameroon’s struggles, and indeed was impressed with some of the things he saw from his side.
“It was obviously difficult conditions,” he said, as per the Cameroonian Football Federation, “but the team spirit, the fighting spirit to try to escape with the victory was there.
“I do not think another team would come here to have an easy day,” he added. “I am absolutely not disappointed, but happy with the spirit we have shown.
“I finally got to know the players,” Seedorf concluded. “This first step of this cycle has been very positive.”
If the Dutchman can imbue this squad of players with team spirit—as Broos did ahead of the triumphant Afcon campaign—then he may just be on the right track.
However, his lack of experience in the continental game, his scant success as a manager and the significant absentees—several now caused by the coach—leave him with a mountain to climb.
Culled from Goal.com