Carlos Idriss Kameni is one of the men of the moment in the Spanish top flight. The keeper has played a fundamental part in Espanyol's recent exploits, helping them to last year's UEFA Cup final and to fifth place in La Liga this term. At the age of 23, the world seems to be the Cameroon international's oyster.
Reaching the top has been no easy ride for Kameni, though. After coming to Europe as a 15-year-old he had to fight hard to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings and overcome the many obstacles he faced. And it was not until he arrived in Spain after an unfortunate sojourn in France that he was able to hold down a regular first-team place.
Easy-going and affable, to the extent that he even helped his interviewer fix the tape recorder halfway through the interview, La Pantera was more than happy to answer a question or two for FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Carlos, let's start, if I may, with your Spanish name. You come from Cameroon, a French-speaking country, so was that a sign of things to come perhaps?
Carlos Kameni: No, no (laughs). What happened was that one of my uncles is called Carlos and my father decided to name me after him. It's not that uncommon a name in Cameroon either. There are quite a few more people called Carlos back home.
When you were 16 you won a gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Football Tournament, against Spain strangely enough. Is that when you started dreaming of playing in La Liga?
I'd always wanted to play in one of the world's big leagues. Having hopes and dreams keeps me going and I've always aimed to be among the best. Spain wasn't a specific goal of mine, though. I was always attracted to the idea of playing in England and Italy as well.
You have finally found success at Espanyol after spending a few difficult years in France, a country where Cameroonian players usually prosper.
Yes, I found it tough in the French league. I was with Le Havre for four years and they never had any faith in me, so much so that I never actually played a match for them. So when I came here my priority was to get a game or two and show people I had what it took to be among the best. And I think I've managed to develop while I've been here and play well.
You were also following in the footsteps of the great Thomas N'Kono, a legend at the club.
Yes, and it's an honour for me to be seen as the heir to the greatest Cameroonian keeper of all time. We also get on really well too (N'Kono is goalkeeping coach at Espanyol). He was my guide when I arrived in the city and he helped me adapt to life here much more quickly. He has also given me a lot of advice, and I can't thank him enough for everything he has done for me. He was my hero and now he is my friend. What more can you ask for?
Let's talk now about Espanyol, the surprise team in La Liga this year. How far do you think you and your team-mates can go this season?
Our dream is to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. The way I see it you have to really believe in your dreams and work hard to make them come true. I don't think it's out of the question for us to be in the top four places by the end of the season and to make it into the competition.
Last season you finished runners-up in the UEFA Cup but missed out on a place in Europe. Do you miss playing those games?
Of course, but the fact is we didn't make it because we didn't deserve to. All the same it could turn out to be a good thing for us because we don't have that big a squad and by focusing just on the league we might do well. Don't forget that we've also got the Copa del Rey coming up, which is a very important competition.
The club has three Spanish internationals who are really catching the eye this season: Riera, Tamudo and Luis Garcia. What is your opinion of them?
It makes me really happy to see them doing so well and that people are finally realising how talented they are. They are class players and it's thanks to them that we've made such a good start to the league campaign. I'm sure they'll perform just as well for Spain.
Turning to Cameroon now, after missing out on Germany 2006 do you see the qualifiers for South Africa 2010 as a chance to get revenge?
Revenge no, but we're looking forward to the opportunity to play in a World Cup in Africa. It'll be like playing at home. It would be fantastic if we could make it, because although I was there in 2002, I watched all the games from the bench and it's not the same. We've got to qualify, though, and first of all we need to have a good Cup of Nations. That's one tough competition, but we'll be looking to win it.
Roger Milla recently said 2010 would be a great opportunity for an African side to become world champions. Do you agree with that?Oh, that's a lot of pressure (laughs). I don't know if we'll go that far but it will definitely be an advantage to have our fans cheering us on. The big teams had better watch out. There are also more and more stronger teams coming out of Africa now. Just look at Togo, Angola and Côte d'Ivoire. It's not just the same old big teams anymore. Cameroon, Egypt and Nigeria have to be careful or they might end up getting a nasty surprise.
Tell us a little bit about your life off the pitch.I live with my family. I'm married and I have a three-and-a-half-year-old girl. My wife is expecting another baby too so I try to spend as much time as I can with them. When I finish training I eat with them, take my daughter out, watch a film and then go to bed.
And what about football? Do you have the time to watch a match?Of course. Whenever there's a good Champions League game on I watch it. I used to be a real football fanatic and spent every Saturday in front of the TV. First there was a Bundesliga match, then the [English] Premier, Serie A, French league and a Spanish game to finish off with. But my wife didn't like my routine much (laughs). Fortunately we've got TVs all over the house - in the lounge, the bedrooms and the kitchen - so she didn't complain that much.
Finally, where do you see yourself in five years time?
The start of my career was so tough that I'm absolutely thrilled with what's happening to me now. I've still got my dreams of course, and I picture myself playing the Champions League, winning the World Cup and playing for one of Europe's big teams. Manchester [United], Arsenal, Milan, Inter, Real Madrid or Barcelona; it would be an honour to play for any of them.
Barcelona? The Espanyol fans won't like you saying that!(Laughs). You're right, I don't think they'd be too happy about that. But you know, I'm a professional footballer and Barcelona is a great club. So if the chance comes up, then why not?