Rigobert Song is one of the biggest names in Cameroonian football. Now 34, the veteran central defender is about to appear in his fourth FIFA World Cup™ finals, the latest landmark in a hugely successful career.
The winner of CAF Africa Cup of Nations titles in 2000 and 2002, Song has also won two Turkish league titles and the Turkish Cup with Galatasaray and helped Metz win the French League Cup back in 1996. In addition to the trophies, he has also amassed 130 caps with Cameroon and appeared in four FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns, the FIFA U-20 World Cup Australia 1993, and two FIFA Confederations Cup competitions, reaching the final in 2003. With a record such as that, it is easy to see why he commands such respect at both club and international level.
Although he has handed the captain’s armband over to Samuel Eto’o and even if the likes of Nicolas Nkoulou, Sebastien Bassong and Aurelien Chedjou have gradually staked their claim for a place in the Cameroon side at his expense, the venerable Song remains an indispensable part of coach Paul Le Guen’s plans.
The reason for that is his vast experience at the highest level, allied to his unquenchable desire for success.
“I was lucky enough to form part of the previous generation and I learned that desire from them,” he says. “Back then just getting pre-selected for the squad was seen as a golden opportunity. To be there with players like Roger Milla, Francois Omam-Biyik and Cyrille Makanaky was a dream. They don’t hand Indomitable Lion caps out to anyone.”
The Song story started in Yaounde with Tonnerre, the club where he was discovered. A natural athlete, he was given a surprise call-up at the age of 17 to Henri Michel’s Cameroon squad for USA 1994 and played two games at the finals. Having lost his father at an early age, Song then had the chance to make a living for himself when he joined French club Metz a few months later.
It was there that he teamed up with one of his mentors, the revered Cameroonian goalkeeper Jacques Songo’o. His combative performances in the centre of defence and his immaculate positional sense earned him widespread recognition and in his 123 games for the Lorraine club he made an invaluable contribution to one of the finest periods in their history.
After appearing at France 1998 he left his adopted homeland for Italy, where he signed for Salernitana, the start of a luckless spell for the big stopper. In successive stints with Liverpool, West Ham and Cologne he failed to embellish his reputation and had to return to France to revitalise his flagging career. Lens was his destination, where he regained his commanding form of old. From there he moved on to Turkey, where he spent four productive years with Galatasaray before switching to Trabzonspor in 2008.
A symbol not just of Cameroonian football but of the African game as a whole, Song has appeared in no less than eight CAF Africa Cup of Nations, a record, and played an unequalled total of 33 games in the finals themselves.