- There are no recognised superstars in the Cameroon team competing at Russia 2017
- Unity and hard work are the Africans’ greatest assets
- “We’ve all become firm friends,” explained skipper Benjamin Moukandjo
The first thing that becomes obvious to anyone spending time with the Cameroon squad that has travelled to Russia to take part in the 2017 Confederations Cup is the strong friendship that appears to unite the reigning African champions.
“When it’s just us, we tell jokes and make fun of each other, but once we’re out on the training pitch, everything gets serious again – we know when we need to get down to work,” forward Benjamin Moukandjo explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com in the Moscow hotel where Les Lions Indomptables have decided to base themselves ahead of their opening match with Chile on Sunday.
“I've been coaching for 29 years and I've never had a squad like this before,” the man at the helm, Hugo Bross, said earlier this year at the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, from which his charges emerged victorious. “I keep telling them every day that they have something they need to cherish – and that's friendship. They're genuine friends, and you don't often get that in a football team.”
Moukandjo smiled, nodding in agreement at his coach’s assessment. “Over time, and especially during the Cup of Nations campaign, we all became firm friends,” said the Lorient attacker. “We headed off to the tournament as a team, but while we were there we became a family.”
— #ConfedCup (@FIFAcom) 16 June 2017
This particular family, which has a distinct lack of big-name players, upset the odds significantly by claiming the continental crown in Gabon. “We knew that we had to create a real team spirit so that we could compete with nations with talented individuals, because we don’t have any real stars in the team,” explained the 28-year-old captain.
The fact that Moukandjo has come to symbolise the team’s unity and solidarity is fascinating, given that he and his team-mate, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, practically came to blows in front of a worldwide television audience during Cameroon’s match against Croatia at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
“That was a completely forgettable experience,” he said. “I left the pitch that day with sadness in my heart, like everyone else. Losing matches is just part of the game, but we were there to defend the image of Cameroon. We didn’t give a good account of ourselves, from a football point of view, but also more generally.”
He continued: “Now, as captain, I’ll try to make sure that this positive atmosphere continues for as long as possible. When you get that kind of brotherly love, you want it to last forever. The more experienced players like me have been doing all we can to maintain this team spirit.”
To prove his point, Moukandjo provided the example of two of his team-mates, Nicolas Nkoulou and Vincent Aboubakar. “Our coach had some tough decisions to make at the Cup of Nations, and there was a lot of debate back home,” he said. “But what was fantastic was how extremely professional both those players were about being on the bench. They never sulked, and when we needed them, they were there!
“And when youngsters see players of that calibre behaving in such an admirable and selfless way for the good of the team, all they want to do is follow suit.”