Esperance's N’Djeng putting team first
© AFP

Recently-crowned African champions Esperance Sportive de Tunis will write a new chapter in their long history on 11 December, when they take on Qatari side Al-Sadd in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011 in Toyota.

Yannick N’Djeng’s career with the Tunisian giants may still be in its infancy, but the powerful forward is more than ready to shoulder the bulk of his side’s attacking responsibilities in Japan. FIFA.com caught up with the Cameroonian youngster just days before he and his team-mates set off for their base in Osaka, where they will begin adjusting to the local climate.   

N’Djeng was just 21 when he finished the 2010/11 season as the second top scorer in the Algerian top flight, and on arriving in Tunisia, his physical attributes prompted comparisons with former Esperance striker and club icon Michael Eneramo. The fans naturally have high hopes for their new arrival, but N’Djeng appears to be taking the pressure in stride.

Indeed, N’Djeng avoids comparing himself to Eneramo, and is reluctant to become overly concerned with his own goals tally. “I judge a centre-forward on the number of battles he wins, his changes of pace and his passing, and not simply on his goals,” said N’Djeng, outlining his idea of the perfect forward. “I prefer forwards like Fernando Torres, who are always working for their side. Running for the team and finding space is also something I enjoy. I need to work for the good of the team.”

Talent in every position
Clearly, N’Djeng is not the kind of forward who needs to score goals before he can get a good night’s sleep. “Without a good team around me, it would be difficult for me to make a difference,” he said. “It’s very important for my performance on the pitch that I have good support around me.” N’Djeng must be pleased with his current situation, then, as he believes the Sang et Or have quality in every position, “from the goalkeeper to the forwards, including the substitutes”.

N’Djeng is too modest to mention his own contribution up front, which has been outstanding so far. If he is not bearing down on the opposition’s defence, then he can be found working hard to make himself available to his team-mates. His passing is simple and direct, and while he clearly has good technical ability, he is always careful not to do too much.

I need to work for the good of the team.
N'Djeng on his role in the team

Yaounde-born N’Djeng joined Esperance from Algerian side JSM Bejaia in the summer, and his integration into the team has been helped by the presence of compatriot Banana Yaya. The willowy centre-back is a key component of coach Nabil Maaloul’s side, and has no shortage of admirers in the dressing room.

“Yaya really is very strong and calm, he reads the game well and has an impressive ability to win his battles,” N’Djeng said of the 20-year-old, who celebrated his first international call-up earlier this year. N’Djeng is determined to prove that Cameroon’s best forwards are not necessarily all based in Europe, and Yaya’s progress will no doubt give him added motivation to succeed.

Focused on the here and now
The talented Cameroonian pair appear to be central to Esperance’s plans, but as N’Djeng explained, neither player was brought to the club by chance. “We [Cameroonian players] often have that bit extra in terms of physical presence, will to win and combativeness,” said the recent CAF Champions League winner. “But I can only express myself if I’m part of a good group,” he added, referring to the importance of his team-mates in Esperance’s continental triumph.

N’Djeng has earned the nickname “Mboma” in reference to former Cameroon great Patrick Mboma – a player who, interestingly, enjoyed successful spells in Japan. N’Djeng signed for Esperance in the hopes that the club would play a leading role in the CAF Champions League, and just five months later he held the prestigious trophy in his hands. He now has the chance to compete on the world stage at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011, and he will no doubt be dreaming of further success.

However, N’Djeng is keen to take it one challenge at a time, which is an approach that contributed to Esperance’s recent continental success. “We took it one match at a time, and though we always knew there was a trophy at the end of it, we remained focused on the present,” said N’Djeng, a fan of former Brazil striker Ronaldo.

Esperance will need all their powers of concentration once again when they take on Al-Sadd, with a semi-final against Barcelona the prize at stake. As always, N’Djeng’s main goal will be to help his team-mates succeed. But, on this occasion, the self-confessed Real Madrid supporter might not be too unhappy if they can help him to shine in his own right.