“We don’t have any specific objective, but we’re not setting ourselves any limits either. I’m not saying we’ll definitely reach the final, but there’s no reason why we can’t.” That forecast comes not from one of Cameroon’s wise old heads but from 20-year-old Nicolas N’Koulou, who in the space of a few short months has become an essential component of the Indomitable Lions squad.
Born in Yaounde, N’Koulou learned his trade with the highly regarded Kadji Sport Academies before beginning his rapid ascent to prominence with Monaco. The teenager did not spend long in the Ligue 1 club’s youth teams, impressing in a couple of first-team friendlies en route to making his league debut at the age of 18 in September 2008. Over the course of that season he became an integral part of the side, thanks in no small part to his ability to slot in as both a holding midfielder and a central defender.
After several outings for Cameroon’s U-21 side, N’Koulou earned selection for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, the stepping stone to a place in the full national squad, where Le Guen has been using him primarily as a centre-half.
The youngster’s performances have been so assured, especially at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Angola 2010, that even national stalwart Rigobert Song is no longer guaranteed a starting place at the heart of the Cameroon defence.