‘Dictator’ Eto’o and chaos in Cameroonian football 0

Cameroonian football is in a state of chaos.

For a proud country which boasts five continental titles and the most World Cup finals appearances by an African nation, the past two months have seen a very public row play out over who should coach the Indomitable Lions.

Last week Belgian Marc Brys was removed as boss – only to be reappointed within 48 hours.

But the sideshow off the pitch ahead of crunch 2026 World Cup qualifiers is only the tip of the iceberg in a battle for control of the game.

The man now running football in the Central African nation is former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto’o, a legend of the game on the continent and Cameroon’s record goalscorer, who was elected football federation (Fecafoot) president in December 2021.

But Eto’o has been described as a “dictator” by one former international team-mate because of the way he is steering the organisation – epitomised by the spat with the nation’s Ministry of Sport (Minsep) over Brys.

“Samuel was the biggest player in Africa but there’s a lot of trouble around him,” the retired player, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of a backlash, told BBC Sport Africa.

“He does not listen to advice. When you manage people you do not need to [act] like a dictator.

“I didn’t know he would be like that, and it will be hard for him to continue.”

Players have issued a plea for the team to be kept “politically free” but some fans have become so desperate that they have called on world governing body Fifa to suspend Cameroon.

The curious case of Marc Brys

The arrival of Brys as coach in April, after the departure of Rigobert Song following a last-16 exit at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), created a storm few would have expected.

Fecafoot expressed its “great surprise” when Minsep announced the appointment of the 62-year-old whose coaching career has been with clubs in Belgium, the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia.

Eto’o’s alternative list of high-profile candidates had reportedly included two-time Afcon-winning coach Herve Renard, Italian World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro and ex-Nigeria boss Jose Peserio.

“The only problem was the salaries,” Cameroonian sports journalist Giovanni Wanneh told BBC Sport Africa.

“Brys is not the best, but we’re not talking about someone we picked from the gutters. Minsep has played this card before and it worked out fine for Cameroon.”

In Cameroon, as is the case in several other African countries, the government pays the salaries of the national team’s coaching staff and feels entitled to weigh into Fecafoot’s affairs.

Eto’o did not turn up to the presentation where Brys signed his contract on 8 April, and their first in-person meeting on 28 May quickly descended into an unseemly row.

An empty chair sits behind a desk with a place card for the Fecafoot president, microphones and flowers
Image caption,Eto’o was absent for Brys’ unveiling, with the Fecafoot president saying he only received an invitation two hours before the event and was busy organising his father’s funeral

Fecafoot reacted by replacing Brys with an interim coach, only to quickly backtrack after pressure was applied by Minsep.

Yet a tense atmosphere continued this week when the Indomitable Lions squad assembled in Yaounde ahead of the visit of Cape Verde in World Cup qualifying on Saturday.

Players were met by two different sets of administrators at the team hotel, and Fecafoot did not provide kit for the first training session due to be held by Brys – leading forward Moumi Ngamaleu to call for unity.

“The responsibility is for you to help keep the team politically free and to maintain a clean environment for us to perform without problems,” his Instagram message read.

“We hereby approach you to overcome the differences, put the ego aside and remember we are all here to put the people of Cameroon on the map and give them honour.”

Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana was among several players who reposted Ngamaleu’s message.

A senior Confederation of African Football (Caf) official said it is open to mediating in the row between Fecafoot and Minsep, although such a request is yet to be received.

‘Grave irregularities’ under Eto’o

Eto’o’s treatment of Brys is only the latest instance of his behaviour garnering negative attention since he assumed control of Fecafoot.

“The fact that you are a top footballer doesn’t automatically make you a great administrator,” said Wanneh.

“When he came in, I thought he was going to change the narrative in our football. But Cameroon football is living its worst moment.”

In July last year, a group representing amateur clubs in Cameroon called on the 43-year-old to resign, citing “grave irregularities” in the organisation.

That included Eto’o taking an ambassadorial role with a sports betting company – potentially in violation of both Fifa and Fecafoot rules.

Moreover, an investigation by Caf into allegations of improper conduct against Eto’o is ongoing.

“He is the legitimate president of the federation. But nobody is above the law,” Caf secretary general Veron Mosengo-Omba told BBC Sport Africa.

A battle for control

Cameroon's President Paul Biya and First Lady Chantal Biya wave at the crowd from a car during the opening ceremony of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations
Image caption,Several footballing decisions in Cameroon have been made “on very high instructions” from President Paul Biya (left), who has been in power since 1982

In Cameroonian sport, the influence of President Paul Biya has been keenly felt in the past.

He insisted on Roger Milla being included in the squad for the 1990 World Cup – with the then-38-year-old netting four times – while the appointment of Brys’ predecessor Rigobert Song in 2022 was made “on very high instructions” of President Biya.

It is the government financing and pumping in the money,” said Wanneh.

“Fecafoot is not structured in a way that it can cater for its burden and expenditure,” the journalist added. “If it was then we would not have this scenario.”

Countries whose governments interfere in footballing affairs are at risk of suspension by Fifa – a fate that has befallen many African nations in the past, including Cameroon – yet Minsep has so far trodden a path which has not provoked the Zurich-based governing body.

While Fifa’s social media channels have been bombarded by messages to take action, Eto’o retains the backing of many Indomitable Lions supporters in his bid to break free of perceived governmental control.

Cameroon fans hold out their hands in the stands of a football stadium
Image caption,Eto’o’s running of the game has split opinion among Cameroon fans

“Eto’o knows the challenge he’s getting into,” said Heuyo Hubert on the streets of Yaounde.

“I can only wish him good luck because it’s not easy to have Cameroonians who can fight for their rights to be restored nowadays.”

Another fan, Calvin Ngimbond, felt the row with Brys “had its place”.

“There was need for things to be made clear. Marc Brys must align himself with the requirements of the Fecafoot president,” he added.

“We hope things will improve for peace to reign.”

Fecafoot, Minsep and Fifa were all contacted by BBC Sport Africa to comment on recent developments, but none of the parties responded.

World Cup qualifiers now loom large against two sides who out-performed Cameroon at the 2023 Afcon, with a trip to Angola on Tuesday following the tie against Cape Verde.

Brys has already endured a turbulent start to his new job and will be aware the pressure could soon increase.

“Cameroon are no longer the biggest national team in Africa,” the anonymous former international added.

“I am very sad when I look at what’s going on. If they want to be back at the top level, they need to reorganise everything.”

Headlines being made ‘for wrong reasons’

Analysis by Paul Njie, BBC reporter in Cameroon

The ruckus in Cameroonian football is not new, but the way the rift between Fecafoot and the Ministry of Sports has morphed is staggering.

Now, not only are football stakeholders divided, but Indomitable Lions supporters are also at odds over who is right and wrong.

In many ways the row has been seen as a true test of Eto’o’s leadership in a country where government interference in football is almost the norm rather than an exception.

Despite the deluge of allegations against his management and the investigation by Caf over alleged misconduct, the four-time African Player of the Year’s popularity has not waned much. He continues to enjoy widespread love, admiration and support in the country and beyond.

It is unclear how the uproar will end, but there have been growing calls for the country’s President Paul Biya to personally address it once and for all – especially as both rival camps claim to be implementing “high instructions” from him.

Until then, much of the discourse on the streets, in markets, bars, and local media, will continue to be dominated by doubts as to whether the Indomitable Lions will even play their World Cup qualifiers against Cape Verde and Angola.

Cameroonian football is once again making headlines across the world, but for all the wrong reasons.

Source: BBC