Onguene: There’s no room for error

15 Jun 2015

According to numerous websites and online encyclopedias, Gabrielle Aboudi Onguene is the daughter of former Cameroon international and coach Jean Manga Onguene.

That useful piece of information provided with a starting point for an interview with the midfielder, who has impressed so far at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™, and also seemed reason enough for setting up an interview with the ex-Indomitable Lions player himself.

There was only one problem: the information was entirely inaccurate.

“But who are you talking about?” said a nonplussed Gabrielle when it was put to her that her father Jean Manga must be feeling very proud to see his daughter represent Cameroon on their FIFA Women’s World Cup debut. “He’s not my father.”

Cue a hurried explanation from the interviewer followed by a profuse apology, which was immediately accepted by the interviewee, who found it all rather amusing and was more than happy to continue answering the questions put to her.

Our apologies should also go to Gabrielle’s real father Clement Onguene, who in an ironic twist, has a photo of Jean Manga hanging in his lounge.

“He is like a father to me, though,” said Gabrielle of her namesake. “He’s a father to all of us footballers because of everything he did for the Cameroonian game,” she added, her face all smiles at the mix-up.

A reluctant student The midfielder, as she freely acknowledged, has not been immune from making the odd mistake herself, especially when she was starting out in the game.

“I was playing with some boys from the neighbourhood when a man, Mr Ibrahim – who’s passed away now – spotted me and took me to a girls’ club,” she said, recalling her early days with Ngondi Nkam de Yabassi, in Douala.

“When I got there, I saw that it involved working, attending workshops and doing drills. For me, football was more a question of going out, putting my boots on and playing. Back in my neighbourhood nobody told me what I had to do, and after a week of training I decided to up and run.”

It was a mistake that Mr Ibrahim was determined to rectify. After tracking down the young Gabrielle, he persuaded her to play in a tournament, where she was spotted by  Canon de Yaounde, one of the country biggest clubs.

Within a year, the national team came calling, and nine years later, Onguene now finds herself at the Women’s World Cup.

“Nobody spoke about the women’s team back then,” said the midfielder, who now plays for Louves de Minproff. “For me, football was a question of having to play with the boys, and it seemed very easy for me when I started playing with girls instead.

“I realised that I had talent but that I hadn’t made the most of it till then. I started to enjoy training and I got really motivated.”

So motivated in fact that she has been a driving force behind the gradual progress that Les Lionnes Indomptables have made in recent years. Fourth at the African Women's Championship in 2010, they improved to third in 2012 and second in 2014.

There are no prizes for guessing where Onguene believes Cameroon should finish when the competition is next held, in 2016: “We have to win the trophy,” she announced.

Citing Nigeria, who have proved Cameroon’s nemesis time and again on the continental scene, as the team to beat in Africa, she added: “I don’t think there’s a big difference between in us. But when it comes down to matches, there are some mistakes than can cost you dear and, unfortunately for us, we tend to make more of them.”

No margin for error Gabrielle and her national team colleagues learned a lot from Cameroon’s appearance at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, their debut at the Games. Despite suffering three defeats in as many matches and scoring just the one goal – courtesy of Onguene – the Cameroonians were anything but disappointed with the experience.

“It was our first big tournament and it all went so quickly that some things are a bit of a blur now,” she recalled. “We let in a lot of goals, but we were proud of ourselves because the only way we were going to learn what to expect at these major competitions was to qualify for them.

“Thanks to that experience we know that we can’t make the same mistakes that cost us dear in 2012.”

So far so good for Cameroon at Canada 2015, where they began by putting six goals past Ecuador without reply, with Onguene getting one of them, before pushing reigning champions Japan hard in a 2-1 defeat.

“The standard of the national league isn’t high enough when it comes to preparing for a World Cup,” said Les Lionnes’ vice captain. “That means we all have to try and make up for that on a personal level. Training with our clubs is not enough.

“I decided to do extra training sessions and I also worked with the men’s teams so I could get used to the higher level and be able to take on the best teams in the world.”

That hard work nearly paid off against the Japanese, who nevertheless pounced on two early lapses in concentration to deprive Cameroon of a result that would have taken them to the brink of a place in the Round of 16.

The Africans will get another bite of the cherry against Switzerland on Tuesday, an occasion on which Gabrielle Onguene knows she and her team-mates cannot afford to put a foot wrong.