“When I started out with the national team, Samuel Eto’o came up to me and said: ‘You know, little guy, never judge strikers by goals alone’. I often think about what he said then, and it’s pushed me to work hard and excel myself.”
The words are those of Cameroon front man Vincent Aboubakar, in conversation with FIFA.com. The forward was only 18 when he received that nugget of advice, and would shortly afterwards find his name on the 23-man list announced by then Indomitable Lions coach Paul Le Guen for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
The Yaounde-born Aboubakar went on to make two promising appearances as a substitute in a tournament that ended all too early for the African side, who were beaten in all three of their group matches.
Much has changed for the striker in the four years since then. No sooner was South Africa 2010 over than he left for France to join Valenciennes, where he stayed for three years before switching to Lorient. The move to Brittany has paid off, with Aboubakar helping himself to 16 goals so far this season, a tally bettered only by Zlatan Ibrahimovic in France and more than the Cameroonian managed overall in the three years he spent at his previous club.
“Lorient play an expressive and very attacking style of football, with a 4-4-2 formation,” he explained. “I’m very lucky to be playing my football here, though I’ve also worked hard to make things happen.”
Though grateful for the role that Valenciennes played in his emergence in Ligue 1, Aboubakar was low on confidence when he finished his stint there. Released at the end of his contract, he was given another chance to shine in France by Lorient boss Christian Gourcuff.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” he said of his current coach. “He gave me some great advice when I arrived. He really picked me up and boosted my confidence at what was a difficult time for me. I owe him an awful lot, and the team too.”
The Lorient goal-getter has hit form at just the right time, with the Cameroon squad for Brazil 2014 to be announced shortly. Aboubakar hopes to be named in it, but is well aware that the Indomitable Lions face anything but an easy task in the world finals, not with the host nation, Croatia and Mexico providing the opposition in Group A.
“The World Cup is a very tough competition and we need to put the disappointment of 2010 behind us,” he said. “I know we’re in an extremely difficult group once again but I think that Cameroon can pull off a little bit of a surprise. As long as we fight for the jersey, I’m sure God will help us.”
Should he be given the opportunity to tread the big stage for a second time at the age of only 22, Aboubakar will look to draw on the experience of his mentor Eto’o, as he explained:
“I’ve played along Samuel Eto’o many times and he’s a great striker, a leader who lifts the team and sets an example for the younger players to follow. He’s a role model for me, as is Roger Milla, a larger-than-life character whom I’ve been lucky enough to meet and for whom I have the greatest respect. They are examples for Cameroon and Africa as a whole, both as footballers and people.”
That admiration for two of the greats of Cameroonian football past and present has not stopped the Lorient man from setting his own sights and wanting to build a lofty reputation of his own.
“It’s not easy but you expect that. It’s a mental challenge as much as anything,” he said, assessing what he needs to do to make his name. “When you’re a striker, you have to try and come to terms with the mental side of things, raise your game and show what you are capable of.”
Who knows, if he maintains his current trajectory, it could well be Aboubakar who succeeds the great Eto’o as Cameroon’s dispenser of goalscoring wisdom.