By Divine Ntaryike Jr.
Cameroon skipper Samuel Eto’o has attributed the boycott of an international friendly against Algeria by the Indomitable Lions last month to gross and protracted maladministration of the national team by the Cameroon Football Federation, FECAFOOT.
Eto’o was guest Tuesday evening on a two-hour-long special program aired by Douala-based private television broadcaster, Canal 2 International. It was his maiden media outing following a 15-match ban served him by the FA last Friday for instigating the mutiny over unpaid bonuses ahead of the friendly.
“It was a unique opportunity we had to try and restore order and find solutions to the problems plaguing Cameroonian football. We wanted to tell the managers enough is enough and draw the attention of the authorities, and if our gesture is not taken into account, it will be very regrettable,” Eto’o stated.
Deputy captain Eyong Enoh Tarkang was handed a two-match ban for his role in the boycott, while Tottenham’s Benoit Assou-Ekotto was fined 1 million FCFA for snubbing several summonses to defend the nation’s colors. The 30-year-old famed international added he was unruffled by the lengthy suspension. He was accorded 10 days to petition the verdict, but has stressed he will not do so.
“I have taken note of the decision and it ends there. With the 15-match ban or more, I will still play in the national team. I haven’t said my last word yet; I haven’t hung up my boots either and I think Cameroonians still want to see me in the team and I urge them to remain calm because until further notice, I remain captain of the Indomitable Lions,” he said.
But across the country, the ostensibly contentious decision has spawned multiform reactions. Eto’o fans in the South West region staged a 20km protest march from Mutengene to Tiko on Monday. The next day, a man was smacked into a coma in Douala for defending the ban. Elsewhere, Eto’o fan associations in the capital Yaounde have scheduled demonstrations on Saturday if the ban is not lifted.
Samson Fabien, a football consultant with the state-run CRTV, says the decision was mistimed, coming amid sustained rhetoric by the FA about the reconstruction of the limping team.
“The decision is not appropriate in the context. Let it not be seen as if some people are trying to settle scores with Eto’o. A 15-match ban is too much. The players mandated him; he was their spokesman to act the way he did,” Fabien reflected. Elsewhere, retired players of the squad including Joseph Antoine Bell termed the sanction “rubbish.”
Cameroon’s sports minister Adoum Garoua said in a statement Monday that the government is “looking at the possibilities of bringing together the various parties involved” in an attempt to “resolve the problem and restore harmony.”
In the meantime, the FA has remained unbending, though its widely castigated President Iya Mohamed reserves the prerogative to annul the decision. FECAFOOT maintains Eto’o was banned for “violating the internal regulations of the national team relating to loyalty and obligation of participating in a match.”
Junior Binyam, the FA’s Communications manager, said: “The captain assumed that he was the one who gave the instruction that the team should not leave for Algiers even if money was made available. The members of the disciplinary commission acted freely because they’re a jurisdictional instance. They just follow the regulations and apply the sanctions. A player can receive a reprimand or be suspended for some matches and the number is given according to the nature of the fault committed,” he explained.
Meantime, Eto’o, referring to himself as a long-serving scapegoat said the time had come for Cameroonians to be told the truth about the mismanagement of the ailing Lions who ranked last after the 2010 South Africa World Cup and have failed to book a place at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. “We needed to push the right button and show these people that we can no longer allow ourselves to be manipulated and the ban on us is a mere distraction. The problem in the national team is that there’s lots of money and where there’s money, there are quarrels and fights.
Where is all the money generated by the transfers of Cameroonian players all these years? Where is the money from sponsors and publicity? And yet, the government keeps on paying match bonuses. The authorities should begin asking questions,” he charged. He revealed that at present, there is US$ 8 million destined for FECAFOOT coffers from FIFA, plus various other contracts “circulating,” and then asked where all the money would go to.
Apart from what he called opaque financial management and allegations of huge financial swindling, Eto’o castigated long-drawn-out amateurish organizational lapses that have discouraged the likes of Assou-Ekotto. As if to sound a warning bell, the Anzhi Makachkala and world’s best paid player stated that without the approval of his colleagues in the national team, he would not have made the media outing.
In other words, the entire Indomitable Lions squad is behind him. “When the team was divided in South Africa, the blame was on Eto’o, now that we are united, the trouble is still Eto’o? I salute the courage of my team mates because with or without me there, they will never allow themselves to be manipulated again,” he said.