A year ago, the name Joel Matip would have meant little to even the most fervent football fan. The 18-year-old was still proving himself in the Schalke youth ranks at the time and was only given his breakthrough when Felix Magath took over as coach, the change in management quickly transforming the life of the promising defensive midfielder.
He disputed 20 league games in 2009/10 and scored three goals as his side finished second in the standings. While that successful start to his Bundesliga career came as a personal satisfaction, even better was to come when he was selected by Paul Le Guen for the 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Against all expectations, however, Matip opted not to travel to Angola. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right moment,” he said. “I would have needed to miss several hours of lessons with just a few weeks to go before my exams.”
The right moment eventually came on 3 March, when the player standing 1.93-metres tall wore the Cameroon shirt for the first time against Italy. Coming on at the start of the second half, he put in a convincing performance against the reigning world champions to convince Le Guen to bring him along to the global showcase.