THE MINIMUM WE WILL REACH AT THE WORLD CUP IS THE SEMI FINALS…RIGOBERT SONG
THE MINIMUM WE WILL REACH AT THE WORLD CUP IS THE SEMI FINALS…RIGOBERT SONG
Appointed at the head of the Indomitable Lions on February 28, Rigobert SONG has already achieved a resounding feat by going to snatch the qualification for the World Cup from Blida. Aware of the enormous expectations of the Cameroonian people, the record holder of national team selections is already planning for the next deadlines, with the World Cup in Qatar and the qualifications of the CAN 2023 in good place. In this exclusive interview with Corner, Rigo returns on his first brilliance on the bench of the Lions, at the same time as he presents the challenges that await him. All with a touch of humor of which he is the only one to hold the secret.
Good morning ! I would first like to thank Fecafoot which, through its magazine, gives me the opportunity today to speak to the many fans of the Indomitable Lions. If your question has to be answered, I would say that I have no preference. I think that each of these names traces my career perfectly: the years spent with the Indomitable Lions as captain, the love relationship that binds me to the Cameroonian people, the former player who has become a coach and today, the one who has the heavy but exhilarating mission to lead the technical staff of our pennant selection. In summary, I take everything (laughs). How do you feel ?
I feel like the Manager-Selector of a group which has succeeded, thanks to collective work, fighting spirit and group discipline, in snatching its qualification for the World Cup in the dying seconds. I am a satisfied man and I take this opportunity to express my thanks to all those who have worked to make this qualification possible. In particular my formidable group, made up of determined players and a dedicated staff; the Cameroonian people who really pushed us to surpass ourselves; the executive of the Cameroonian Football Federation and its president Samuel ETO’O who, after choosing us, spared no effort to put the team in the best conditions with the invaluable support of the Cameroonian government.
CAF recently drew the CAN 2023 qualifiers. Cameroon are housed in Group C with Kenya, Namibia and Burundi. Easy or difficult draw for the Indomitable Lions?
We can think at first glance that it is rather favorable. But you need to be careful. Today, there are no more small nations, especially when it comes to facing Cameroon. I would therefore say that it is a fairly open pool, especially since these matches will allow us to establish good cohesion to prepare for the major competition, the World Cup in Qatar next November. You have just returned from Qatar where the draw for the 2022 World Cup took place on April 1st. What is your opinion on the Cameroon chicken where we find Serbia, Switzerland and Brazil?
I think everyone agrees that it’s a very strong group. Brazil is not only currently the first nation in the FIFA rankings. It is also the country that has won the most World Cup titles (5) and an incredible pool of talent such as NEYMAR, VINíCIUS Júnior, or goalkeeper Allison BECkER. Switzerland impressed the world during Euro 2021 by eliminating the France team thanks to a group which is a clever mix of experienced players (Granit XhAkA, Xherdan ShAQIRI) and young wolves with very long teeth like Breel EMBOLO). Serbia is also formidable because it has elements like Dušan TADIć or Nemanja RADONJIć. But Cameroon remains Cameroon and we are determined to show that we do not qualify for the 8th time in the final phase of the World Cup by chance. And then, we know some of our opponents quite well, especially Brazil, which Cameroon has already beaten in the past. And don’t forget, Cameroon likes situations of danger and you know, “when we know we are in danger, we are no longer in danger. It is when we do not know that we are in danger that we are in danger. That’s what it’s all about! ” (laugh). It is when we do not know that we are in danger that we are in danger. That’s what it’s all about! ” (laugh). It is when we do not know that we are in danger that we are in danger. That’s what it’s all about! ” (laugh).
Does Cameroon have the means and the men to pass the first round?
I had just said it, Cameroon remains Cameroon and as we say back home, “impossible is not Cameroonian”. We have the chance to participate for the 8th time in a final phase of the World Cup and I think that we have a good group within which experienced players (Vincent ABOUBAkAR, Maxim ChOUPO-MOTING, Michael NGADEU) supervise the younger. Now they need to have more games together to build cohesion. At this level, I think the CAN 2023 qualifying campaign will help us a lot. But I would like to insist on the fact that we already have a good group, we saw it during the CAN. However, there are things to improve; we have already done good things with the qualification in Blida. Finally, the selection door remains open to everyone.
How do you envision the preparation program to be in the best possible conditions next November?
My staff and I are in the process of fine-tuning a preparation program, although it must be recognized that the tight international calendar is not going to help us much. Some European championships end in May, others in June; there are the CAN qualifiers, then we will have to find preparation matches with Sparring Partners that correspond to the qualities of our opponents. But we will put together a good preparation program. I can already tell you that there will be a course for local players at the end of May, in order to involve them. Because my staff and I watch the matches of the championship and there are young people capable of integrating the selection. In the same vein, we will work with club coaches, who will be involved in the selection of their various players.
What are the compartments of play on which it seems urgent to you to emphasize?
As Manager-Selector of the Indomitable Lions, I cannot content myself with improving certain areas of the game. It is true that there is work to be done in defense and in attack. But my staff and I aim to improve our team’s collective game plan. This is for example to make transmissions faster or to tighten the lines during the defensive phases. We have players able to join this project. But we need to have doubles in certain positions, especially the hard-hitting attackers.
In recent years, very few local players have participated in international competitions, with Rigobert SONG, what are the chances of seeing the locals in Qatar 2022?
The national selection is the grouping of the best players. If the local players are among the best, they will be selected for the World Cup. Don’t forget that several former Lions have gone to the World Cup while playing in the local championship. I am part of it. I’m also thinking of Pierre NJANkA who scored a memorable goal against Austria in 1998. So there’s no reason for local players to be sidelined. Cameroonians should know that the national selection is open to everyone. The proof is that Souaibou Marou and Patient Wassou, two young members of Coton Sport de Garoua, have been called up for the crucial match against Algeria. My staff and I live in Cameroon, we criss-cross the stadiums in order to observe and be able to find, if necessary,
One of your first actions as coach was to meet certain players who could be useful to you in selection. Are there any hopes on the binational side? Should we make a definitive cross on Joël Matip?
The day after my appointment, the president of Fecafoot allowed me to make a mini-tour of Europe to meet dual nationals and other players who had decided for multiple reasons to withdraw from the selection. I must say that the discussions were constructive on the whole. For example, we are in discussions with the young striker from Reims, hugo Ekitike. It’s going quite well. About Joël Matip, our wish is to see him again one day sporting the tunic of the Indomitable Lions. But you know, the decision is up to the player. He asked me for time to be able to decide. I’m still waiting, but you have to know that I don’t have all the time. At some point, I have to be able to make decisions, because I’m in a hurry.
Let’s go back to the Indomitable Lions match in Blida. How did you experience this qualification?
When we played football, there are things that we feel. I felt at the pre-match chat that the players were involved and determined to show a better face than that shown to NOUS SUR Douala in the first leg, in particular commitment, determination and refusal of contempt. I told the players that we were already in danger, we knew it and therefore in fact we were no longer in danger, because we had nothing more to lose. I think it was played on the mental level and I congratulate my players who reacted as patriots and true Indomitable Lions. How did you feel after the Algerian goal in extra time which eliminated the Lions at that time?
To tell the truth, I was very serene. As I just told you, I felt determination in our players and I knew they could make a difference at any time. We still have to give them a thumbs up, because they have done honor to the reputation of Cameroon. And when The Lions score the winning goal, how do you feel?
These are things that are hard to explain. Pierre kunde takes the ball to make a throw-in. He wants to do it long first. It’s me who says to him “pass the ball to Fai Collins who can put in a good cross”. At the start, Fai’s cross seemed a little off to me, but the ball landed on the head of Ngadeu and karl (Toko, Editor’s note) – I don’t know where he came from – he did what he had to do. You can imagine the sequel. I’m very happy with the players who have demonstrated that a lion remains dangerous even when it sleeps. How do you manage to remobilize your players after a defeat at home like that of Japoma and in a boiling atmosphere like that of Blida?
The first thing is that I am not in social networks to read and listen to everything that is said. Secondly, I knew that we were in danger and that the Cameroonians would not forgive us for being eliminated. So we focused on the mental aspect. I called the players individually, we talked, they understood that we had to give everything for everything. Thank goodness things came naturally. We discovered with you the title of Manager-Selector. What exactly is your role in the den?
In the national team today, we don’t just train, we manage above all. There are indeed situations for which training is not enough, it is discourse; a discourse to which the players must adhere. I think that’s what made the difference in Blida, in addition to the tactical adjustments. That’s kind of my role, in addition to making the choices. What does being a former Indomitable Lion bring to a coach once more? What is the contribution of the former teammates that we have seen by your side, like Samuel ETO’O, president of Fecafoot, who appointed you or Patrick MBOMA or Raymond KALLA?
I would like, before answering this question, to thank once again the president Samuel ETO’O who understood that sometimes it is only the footballer who can better understand the problem of the footballer. You have to have practiced to understand what the other needs. The presence of elders is an incredible source of motivation for young players. Seeing President ETO’O who comes to train with us makes young players dream, it leads them to surpass themselves. I would like him to come and train with us every time, when his schedule allows him. The presence of Patrick MBOMA, SOULEYMANOU hAMINOU, Raymond kALLA, Augustine SIMO, Rigobert SONG means that, only through speech, the players transcend themselves.
We take this opportunity to ask you what is the recipe for your famous “Hemlè” that made your reputation?
I think it’s something I’ve always had in me. This mindset of rage, self-sacrifice and combativeness developed due to two factors. The first is that I lost my dad very early, so I had to learn very quickly to fight against life in order to survive. The second explanation is my will to succeed. Once I was able to survive, I had such a desire to succeed, to put my family in the best conditions that I had to work hard, really hard. And when my chance was given to me, when I was still very young, everything had to be done not to disappoint, to give satisfaction. I believe it is this state of mind that has inhabited me throughout my career, both at the club and with the Indomitable Lions.
Mr. Rigobert SONG, you recently signed your contract at the head of the Indomitable Lions. Have you and your staff satisfied?
I must say that my staff and I have everything it takes to be comfortable. The president of Fecafoot, makes a point of honor on our working conditions. Now it’s up to us to work. To go out, what is your objective for the World Cup in Qatar? You know, the president of Fecafoot is passionate. Without telling me clearly, he hinted after qualifying that he wants to go through to the quarter-finals. Which means that our goal is at least the semi-finals. We will soon take leave of you. A particular message that you want to convey?
Thank you once again for the platform you have given me. I take this opportunity to urge Cameroonians to continue to support our team and our players. I do not forget women’s football which is booming, through the prowess of the Indomitable Lionesses and the players of the women’s championship. They must be encouraged for the