Two days before the Preliminary Draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, Cameroon left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto spoke about his country's recent run of poor results.
Five years ago, Assou-Ekotto spent 19 months on the sidelines after suffering a serious knee injury, a period of inactivity during which his attitude towards football changed significantly. Returning with a toughened mental outlook and a renewed vigour for the game, he has since emerged as a regular in the Tottenham Hotspur first team under Harry Redknapp.
When FIFA.com asked for his opinion on the Indomitable Lions, the former Lens defender chose the same direct approach he adopts when tackling opposing forwards.
The four-time CAF Africa Cup of Nations winners are on the verge of missing out on the 2012 edition of the event, due to be held in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. “Whoever we get in the World Cup draw, our margin for error is now likely to be very slight,” said the 27-year-old full-back.
FIFA.com: Do you still believe Cameroon can qualify for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations?
Benoit Assou-Ekotto: No, there’s no chance. I just don’t see Senegal losing to Mauritius. But you know, it may be a good thing in the end. I’d prefer not to go at all if we’re just going to get shown up once we get there. Other teams don’t fear Cameroon like they did five or six years ago, when we were solid and tough to play against. We will concentrate on our match, and if we win, so much the better.
What do you think is the root cause of Cameroon's recent poor run of form?
On paper, Cameroon have never had such a strong team. We all play in Europe and many of us even have UEFA Champions League experience. This team compares favourably to the famous 1990 side. But at that time, the players were on more of a mission to prove to people back home that they could live up to their expectations. There were no ego problems. Now every player’s at a top club or a so-called top club and meets up with the national squad thinking he’s a big shot. So it’s actually a mental problem when it comes down to it; it’s not a matter of technique, because we’re not lacking in skill.
It sounds as if the current players are not all pulling in the same direction?
No, and that’s what’s sad about it. We’re almost all fathers to little boys and girls now, but when I look at the silly little problems and dramas that crop up in the dressing room, it’s like we’re the kids. And when things like that happen, the players are obviously less focused on football and on the team. We’re just acting like children – we need to change our mindsets and put our egos to one side.
Where do you think the solution lies?
We still need time to sort things out. But as long as the key issues aren’t brought out into the open and dealt with, we won’t get anywhere. The team isn’t mature enough yet to realise that you have to rise above all the bickering.
Do you still enjoy playing for your country?
Honestly, I try not to pay too much attention to the internal problems. I leave that to others. I really couldn’t care less about all the squabbles. I just try to give my all out on the pitch so people can see I am doing my best, because my family is so proud when they see me pull on this jersey. If you’re not friends with one of your team-mates, you have to just ignore it and focus on the pride of playing for your country. I’m upset because we’re incapable of performing in a way that would delight 20million Cameroonians. And it’s all down to childish bickering.