Eto’o’s omnipresence in running of ‘Lions’ attracts huge criticism

 Samuel Eto'o

Cameroon's Football Federation president Samuel Eto'o (left), Cameroon's head coach Rigobert Song (centre) and Cameroon's forward Vincent Aboubakar speak together during a training session on January 26, 2024 in Bingerville on the eve of their 2024 Africa Cup of Nations match against Nigeria. 

Photo credit: Issouf Sanogo | AFP

What you need to know:

  • A top footballer with a glittering career which also included two Africa Cup of Nations titles with Cameroon and Champions League, Spanish and Italian league titles with Barcelona and Inter Milan had promised to give Cameroon football its grandeur.

In December 2021, one of Africa’s greatest footballers, Samuel Eto’o Fils, made headlines across the world.

The Cameroonian superstar and four-time African Footballer of the Year had just been elected president of the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot), the country’s football governing body.

A top footballer with a glittering career which also included two Africa Cup of Nations titles with Cameroon and Champions League, Spanish and Italian league titles with Barcelona and Inter Milan had promised to give Cameroon football its grandeur.

Twenty-five months after, the Fecafoot president is making headlines again, but this time for the wrong reasons – his overbearing influence on technical staff and suffocating presence within the national football team of the country.

Eto’o was one of Africa’s former football stars whose presence at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Cote d’Ivoire attracted attention of fans.

He was seen in a viral video dancing and shedding tears of joy in celebration of Cameroon’s qualification for the knockout stage of the competition thanks to a spectacular 3-2 victory over lowly rank Gambia in their final group match – the only match Indomitable Lions won at the tournament.

Calamitous participation

Cameroon was, however, subsequently eliminated when Indomitable Lions fell 2-0 to the Super Eagles of Nigeria in round 16.

While head coach, Rigobert Song, has been blamed for the calamitous participation of the five times African champions, critics of the Fecafoot president have also blamed him for the dismal performance of the bronze medal holders at the ongoing tournament.

Jean Bruno Tagne, a journalist and writer who served as Eto’o’s campaign manager for the Fecafoot election but is his fiercest critic today, blamed Cameroon’s elimination on the omnipresence of the FA president in the running of the team.

Strangely busy on phone

He said that prior to the tie against Nigeria, Eto’o virtually took over from coach Song, leading last two video sessions during training, threatening that players who will violate his orders will be replaced after five minutes of the game.

During the match, Lions team manager, Raymond Kalla, also a former Indomitable Lion of his generation, was seen live on TV, strangely busy on phone and answering calls believed to have been instructions from Eto’o who was also caught on camera constantly on phone from the VIP stands.

A spokesperson for the Fecafoot president did not honour his promise to get back with comments, but Eto’o himself had told ITV Senegal that it is his right to intervene when he finds that things are not working well because the coach reports to him.

Tagne - who released a book called L’Arnaque  — which translates to “The Scam” in December about his experience with Eto’o as the latter clocked two years at the helm of the national football governing body, said the Fecafoot boss’s omnipresence in the den does not give Song and his deputy as well as the players the freedom to do their work and no one dares talk about.


“The only one who has dared so far is Andre Onana and you saw all the misery he had during this competition,” Tagne said. 

Reports hold that Onana was dropped from Cameroon’s starting XI in their last group game against Gambia at the last minute following a rift between him and Eto’o. 

Onana was also seen self-ostracised to one corner of the dressing room as Eto’o joined players in celebration after the victory.

Eto’o’s overstepping of the technical staff of the Lions did not start in Cote d’Ivoire anyways.  The Fecafoot boss had long come under heavy criticisms for undermining the authority of the coaches when a video of him giving players a dressing room dress down after an Afcon qualification match against Burundi in June 2022 went viral.

In the video, an angry Eto’o told the players he was not happy with their output.

“I don’t care who you play against; you represent Cameroon. I am not happy at all,” Eto’o said adding that: “In my time, I missed the World Cup because I knew what problems I had. Those problems won’t repeat themselves while I’m president.”

He furthered that: “Places in this team will be earned as nobody has a guaranteed place in this squad. You must do your job. Whoever comes here to wear this [Cameroon] jersey must do the job, or else, he goes and I will be happy to have the children play."

Despite the criticisms, Eto’o was again seen among the Lions’ technical staff, partaking in giving instructions to players at a training session during the Fifa World Cup in Qatar later that year.

While the FA boss is undermining his authority, Song who many local observers describe as ‘a puppet’ of the former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea star, is forced to endure the dictates of his former national teammate and captaincy successor, though it is not a healthy practice according to former Cameroon international Alexandre Song.

“It is unacceptable,” Alex Song a nephew of coach Rigobert Song said referring to the interference and omnipresence of the FA president in the running of the national team.

Overbearing influence

“We have to be professionals at all levels…If we want players to be professional, we have to be professionals ourselves,” Alex Song said adding that: “They (players and staff) deserve their space because in our time, we did not allow this interference from the elders.
Even in the time of those who run football today (referring to Eto’o and Song), they did not allow that,” Alex Song said.

But it is an open secret that Eto’o’s overbearing influence on the technical staff of the team is a long term trade mark.

“I would say that Eto’o has always had this overbearing influence on coaches. As someone who has played high level football, he would naturally love to see things done a certain way to meet up to certain standards,” said football analysts, Franklin Sone Bayen.

He recalls that at the Afcon 2008 in Ghana when he was still a player but not yet the captain, “Eto’o was seen live in TV in the stadium stands, seated besides then Indomitable Lions coach, German-born Otto Pfister, and dictating notes to the coach, believed to be ideas - if not instructions - on tactics or possibly the lineup,” Bayen explained.

Bayen agrees that during matches when he is technically prohibited to sit on the technical bench with the players, “Eto’o is often seen making calls at crucial moments of matches, believed to be instructions to the technical staff."

Coach Pfister might have taken instructions from Eto’o, but Frenchman Denis Lavagne who took over the team two years after him could not.

The Frenchman acknowledged Eto’o as an exceptional footballer with multiple aspirations, “wanting to be a player, scorer, captain, coach, even minister at same time." 

He could not accept, though he paid the price as he was fired just three months into his contract for what was understood publicly to be poor results.