Coton Sport, kings of Cameroon
Some statistics just speak for themselves. That is certainly true of Coton Sport FC de Garoua, the side based in northern Cameroon whose vice-like grip on the domestic scene seems to grow stronger every year. Run by Pierre Kaptene and coached by Frenchman Denis Lavagne, Coton Sport recently won their fifth straight championship title, denying main rivals Tonnerre Yaounde and Canon Yaounde yet again. When the curtain fell on the season in October, they had only suffered three defeats, and Lavagne's men are hoping to cap that performance with victory in this year's Cameroonian Cup final.
As well as being the team of the moment, Coton Sport have also left an indelible mark on the last decade. Since the 1996/97 campaign, the club have been crowned champions a total of eight times and have captured the league and cup double on two occasions: in 2002-03 and 2003-04. In addition, they reached the final of the CAF Cup in 2003, only to lose out to Raja Casablanca.
Iya sets the ball rolling
Perhaps the most remarkable things about Coton Sport's record is that the team only came into existence in 1986, thanks above all to one man: Mohamed Iya. Re-elected to the summit of the Cameroonian Football Association (Fecafoot) in 2005, he remains the club's honorary President and is the central figure in Cameroonian football. An economist by training, he has likewise retained his role as general director of Sodecoton (Society for the Development of Cotton), the company that originally oversaw the foundation of a second major club in the Benoue region.
Coton Sport's origins can be traced back to the relegation of Garoua's principal outfit, Etoile Filante, to the second tier in 1986. Officials of the club's reserve side opted to enter their team into the country's league structure, in the hopes of eventually climbing the ranks. "There was no longer a team in the north of the country that made it possible for us to play first-division games," remembers Coton Sport President Pierre Kaptene. "Because of that, we joined the league framework, starting out at the corporate level."
Despite their current supremacy, things moved slowly at first as
the team struggled to find their rhythm, and the supporters had to
wait six long years for their heroes to grace the elite. When they
finally did, in 1992, it was time for Coton Sport to test their
worth against traditional giants Tonnerre and Canon from Yaounde
and Union Douala. Financed by subsidies from Sodecoton, the
newcomers wasted little time in justifying their presence, and they
finished runners-up in their very first campaign. Led by Pierre
Kaptene, they repeated that feat in 1995, before securing their
first championship title in 1997. Since then, they have been
stockpiling honours almost at will.
A professional mentality
There are various factors behind the Green and Whites' rise to the top, not least the club's solid financial backing and their professional organisation. With a budget of almost 500 million Central African Francs (750,000 euros), CS Garoua are in a healthy state and can attract some of the finest players in the region, while also being able to recruit foreign coaches such as Senegal's Lamine Ndiaye and current trainer Denis Lavagne.
The infrastructure is excellent too, and the players get to both
train and play on grass. Meanwhile, the training staff are able to
decide on how the club's finances are spent, which means the
players travel to and from away games by aeroplane, allowing them
to better recover their fitness.
Stability behind the scenes has also played into the northerners' success, according to Pierre Kaptene: "Everyone who has had a role in running this team since it came into existence has either served on the administrative council or the board of directors. They are passionate people who continue to devote their time and abilities to the team."
The club's long-term future also seems to be assured thanks to an increasingly professional set-up. Officials expect big things from the construction of a technical centre in the suburbs of Garoua, for example. "It's going to be a sporting complex spread over ten hectares and with several football pitches, fitness rooms, dormitories, swimming pools and offices," added the President.
Such solid foundations have made Coton Sport the team to beat in domestic competition, but they have so far failed to crack the continental scene. Despite regularly taking part in African cup competitions since 1994-95, their record is disappointing, if a little predictable. No Cameroonian club side has lifted a continental trophy since Union Douala secured the CAF African Cup Winners' Cup in 1981, and the reasons are all too familiar. "The big problem is that players move abroad very quickly and it's difficult to stop them," explained Lavagne. Unfortunately, it is an issue that afflicts the whole of Africa.