Cameroon: Samuel Eto’o, Fecafoot president without a filter

By Alexis Billebault
Posted on Friday, 22 July 2022 11:40

Samuel Eto'o in Milan, Italy, on March 4, 2022. ©Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via AFP

Serial dismissals, change of equipment, omnipresence in the media... Since his arrival at the head of the Cameroonian Football Federation, Samuel Eto'o has been a very active president. Too active, according to his detractors.

More than seven months after his election as president of the Cameroonian Football Federation (Fecafoot) on 11 December 2021, Eto’o is continuing to shake up the institution. On 12 July, he sacked Bill Tchato, who had held the post of coordinator of national teams since January 2013, and replaced him with Benoît Angbwa, another former Lion. According to a source close to Tchato, the latter was still unaware, some ten days after his dismissal, of the reasons for his departure.

A few days earlier, Le Coq Sportif, the French equipment supplier involved with the Lions since January 2020, was in turn the victim of an unexpected decision by Fecafoot. The latter publicly announced on 1 July that after the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco in July, it would terminate -without the slightest explanation – the contract linking the federation to Le Coq Sportif until July 2023.

Eto’o wants things to move forward, even if it means shaking things up.

The French equipment manufacturer, which had replaced Puma, has since announced that it does not intend to stop there – just four months before the World Cup in Qatar. The case is likely to end up in court, as Marc-Henri Beausire, CEO of the French brand, suggested in a statement. He suspects that Fecafoot wants to sign with another equipment manufacturer for a lower cost before the World Cup. “If it goes to court, it could be expensive, and once again, it is the Cameroonian taxpayer who will pay the bill,” says a former official of the body

Beware the price tag

Another decision by Eto’o could relieve the state’s coffers of a tidy sum, following the sacking of coach Toni Conceição in February and his replacement by Rigobert Song. The Portuguese Conceição, who was paid around €60,000 ($60,945) a month, was under contract until August 2023 and took his case to FIFA, saying his dismissal was unfair. The bill could amount to €1.5m.

“Let’s say that in terms of the change of coach, Eto’o is within his role, since he felt that Conceiçao was not the right man to qualify Cameroon for the World Cup. The facts proved him right, as the Lions will play in the tournament, but it’s a high price to pay, even if qualification will bring money into the federation [a minimum of €8m paid by FIFA]. On the other hand, in the dispute with Le Coq Sportif, we are waiting for his explanation, but Eto’o has this flaw of wanting to control everything, to take care of everything; and since he doesn’t have good people around him, he makes bad decisions,” says another source close to Fecafoot, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Talking about the former captain of the Indomitable Lions who is now at the head of Cameroon’s football federation is an exercise in which several of our interlocutors were willing to engage in, provided they did not disclose their identity. “You understand that this is not France. We can’t say everything openly,” says one of these sources.

At Fecafoot no one sticks their head out, unless it belongs to the intelligent, straight-talking boss who’s comfortable with words. Obtaining an interview with Cameroon national team manager Rigobert Song is an uphill battle, particularly because he is not wild about the media game. However, according to several sources, a number of requests are also held up by Fecafoot’s presidency.

“Neither Song nor any staff member were allowed to speak after the World Cup draw,” a journalist says. In May, Benjamin Banlock, the federation’s general secretary, resigned, citing a disagreement with the financial management of the new board as well as the management in general. Banlock has been the target of a complaint by the federation and has even been banned from leaving Cameroon. “Samuel Eto’o listens, but when you talk with him, you must have arguments. He wants things to move forward, even if it means shaking things up, but working with him is a rather interesting experience,” says a federation employee.

A divisive man

Eto’o, who honoured his promise not to collect the salary normally allocated to the Fecafoot president (€5340 a month) and to give it back instead to Cameroonian football, also wants to settle the thorny issue of bonuses, often a source of conflict before and during competitions such as the World Cup and the CAN.

However, after the Indomitable Lions qualified for the World Cup in Qatar against Algeria last March (0-1, 2-1), the amount of the bonuses was conveniently leaked, an indiscretion that those close to Eto’o attributed to members of the government, or those close to it. In fact, the former striker can’t only count friends in the political sphere – including within the close circle of President Paul Biya – even if he does enjoy the support of Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, minister of state and secretary general at the presidency, and is appreciated by first lady Chantal Biya.

His enemies, and there are quite a few of them, are waiting for him at the bend… If he makes the slightest mistake, they won’t let up

The strong personality of the Cameroonian football boss is divisive, and his words either please or annoy. This was the case with his descent in the Lions’ dressing room after a sluggish win against Burundi (1-0) obtained on the neutral ground of Dar es Salaam last June, during the qualifiers for the CAN 2024.

In what was anything but an impromptu speech – Eto’o was equipped with a lapel microphone and a camera captured the scene – he scolded the players, telling them they’d have to do more if they wanted to make it to the World Cup, all in front of a technical staff who stared down at their shoes. Another example was his scathing statement that the state subsidy for professional clubs was being blocked by officials at the sports ministry, led by Narcisse Mouelle Kombi, with whom he has a terrible relationship.

In Cameroon, Eto’o (who was sentenced to 22 months in prison for tax evasion in Spain) enjoys great popularity among the majority of fans, who have not forgotten the grand career of the man who was one of the best strikers in the world, and perceive him as the only one capable of turning Cameroonian football around by improving the status of players, who have long been underpaid and under considered. “Everything he says or does will be dissected. His enemies, and there are quite a few of them, are waiting for him at the bend,” says a former international player. “If he makes the slightest mistake, they won’t let up.”

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