Voted the best African goalkeeper of all time, Joseph-Antoine Bell is a force to be reckoned with on and off the football field. When he arrived in Europe aged 30, he had already claimed every African honour possible with Union Douala, Africa Sports, Al Moqaouloun al-Arab and, of course, the Cameroon national team. Yet, over the next decade in France, he only got better during spells with Marseille, Toulon, Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne.
In the often cosy environment of football, his ways with words – or, to put it bluntly, his plain-speaking – led to more than a few polemics. But there was no way of stopping him: Bell always said what he thought. Capped 50 times by the Indomitable Lions, he felt strongly about defending the values of the game he loves and sometimes let the gloves come off. Not usual for a goalkeeper, but then again, he was no ordinary custodian.
"If we are honest, if we are sporting, and the first quality of a sportsman is to be honest, to go to the World Cup with Cameroon now the continent has five places should no longer constitute a performance in itself. Not when they were already doing it when Africa had two, then three places."
Bell dampens the celebrations with his assessment of Cameroon’s qualification for South Africa 2010 *
*"The unit of currency of success is neither the euro nor the dollar. It's the relation between the satisfaction and the project."
*Bell turns philosophical*
"What sport teaches us in general, and football in particular, is precisely not to succumb to the temptation to take revenge for violence. It is not right to want to respond to an act of violence with another act of violence. Whatever the reason, we should be able to control ourselves."
Bell expresses his opposition to violence, particularly in sport
"In Africa we go and see witch-doctors. In Europe, they go and check statistics."
Bell questions the organisation of African teams
"If I say 'the Lions are going to win', everyone will take it to mean that 'Cameroon are going to win'. But if I say 'the Lions are not sure of winning', everyone will interpret it as 'our players are poor'."
Bell on the reaction to his comments about Cameroon *
*"I hate the emergence of this gladiator-style football played by physical monsters."
*Bell does not hold back in his analysis of the 2002 CAF African Cup of Nations final between Cameroon and Senegal in Mali*
"Africans think they have professional footballers. Other countries have professional leagues in which Africans go and play."
Bell stresses the need for greater professionalism in African football
"North African countries long looked on their emigrés with a bit of scorn. And then Zinedine Zidane came along. In the colours of the France team, he found redemption for his fellow North African emigrés."
Bell offers words of praise for footballers from north of the Sahara
"You can't go into a tournament with just your history. If that were the case, Brazil would never be beaten in the World Cup."
Bell says Cameroon must move with the times
"Our players are developed to satisfy the needs of clubs in Europe. And these clubs are not looking for creative players – they’ve no shortage of those – but of 'destructive' players. In Cameroon they've stopped cultivating their own game and have brought in these different pieces to rebuild the national team with. It's no surprise that all they've got in return are players who can recover the ball for you. "
Bell's frank assessment of Cameroon’s 2004 CAF African Cup of Nations campaign
"No African country will win the 2010 World Cup. Take Côte d'Ivoire. Their coach says the match against Ghana is a reference point. But that's beating Ghana's juniors and you don't win a World Cup with that. In Cameroon's case, if losing to Gabon, playing a poor nil-nil with Tunisia and beating Zambia are our references, I don't see how we can win a World Cup. To win it, you have to show something more. Up to now, our World Cup teams have not shown anything."
Bell talking bluntly again when considering the FIFA World Cup™ teams' first-round displays at the 2010 African Cup of Nations
"If you're going to lose, it's better to do so with young lads who can improve rather than with those at the end of their career who can't give anything more."
Bell considers Cameroon's defeat, and the failure of their young players, at the 2010 CAF African Cup of Nations
"I would be very happy if the stars were above all leaders. But the word 'star' denotes individual, ego. It's a team game and for a team, it is better to have a leader than a star."
Bell may have been a goalkeeper but he was always part of a team first and foremost
"When I stop a shot, I am a star. When I push my trolley around a supermarket, I am just a black man."
Bell reflects bitterly on the racism he often encountered
"It is easier to copy stupidity than intelligence."
Bell's reaction to being showered with bananas during a match between Marseille and Bordeaux in 1989
"You can't blame money if men cannot control their desires. It's up to men to keep a cool head and resist the temptation. Nobody says that you have to suppress women in order to stop adultery."
Bell on the 1993 Marseille corruption scandal *
*"One day at Bordeaux, we won a match 3-0. The president came into the dressing room and had a go at everybody. Why? Joseph-Antoine Bell was the man of the match. The 3-0 shouldn't fool you because we weren't as good as the scoreline suggests."
*Bell shows his perfectionist streak *
"Real life is like sport. You have to get back to work the next day because if not, someone else will come and take your place. "
Bell points to the constant uncertainty faced by sportsmen… and everybody else
"Don't forget that you fall down more quickly than you get up. So teams need time to rebuild."
Bell on Cameroon's cycle of success and failure