Football is a sport for the most talented, the most hard-working, the most focused, the most level headed and some even say the most fortunate.
The prestigious FC Barcelona academy has produced some of the best footballers in world, the likes of Guardiola, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro, Thiago Alcantara and many others. The Masia as the academy is known has been a reference in youth football development over the years.
In the mid 2000s, Cameroon forward Samuel Eto’o created the Fundacion Samuel Eto’o or the Samuel Eto’o Foundation (Fundesport). Through the Foundation, a group of young players from Cameroon had the chance to participate in a prestigious youth football tournament in Spain playing against the academies of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona amongst others under the tutelage of the late Joseph Siewe ‘Diallo’.
Based on the partnership with Masia, the best players from Fundesport had to move to Barca’s prestigious academy. A group of five led by a certain Gael Etock were the first to make the journey with Gael who left his native Kribi aged just 11.
Others followed to create a real Cameroonian community in Barca’s Masia:
Gael Etock, Vivaldi Leonid Bakoyock, Jean- Marie Dongou Tsafack, Armand Ella Ken, Macky Frank Bangnack Mouegni, Olivier Moussima Ebongue, Joseph Fabrice Ondoa Ebogo, Alain Richard Ebwele, Wifrid Jaures Kaptoum, Zacharie Eugene Onana, Fabrice Olinga and Andre Onana.
For different reasons the careers of these players have followed different paths at club level and national team of Cameroon. Some who were considered to be the more talented like Gael Etock found themselves in the hands of agents who thought more of the money than the interest of the players, others like Jean Marie Dongou and Fabrice Olinga were put off the rails with the much hype that came with early success.
Today defender Vivaldi Leonid Bakoyock now 26 has disappeared from the radar. 24 year old forward Jean Marie Dongou who flirted with the national team of Cameroon some time ago is now playing his football with Club Lleida Esportiu, a Spanish football team based in Lleida, in the autonomous community of Catalonia. Founded in July 2011 it plays in Segunda División B – Group 3, holding home games at Camp d’Esports, with a capacity of 13,500 seats. He is on loan from Lugo. 26 year old midfielder Armand Ella ken is playing his football now with FC Inhulets Petrove in the Ukraine First League, defender Macky Bangnack is in Slovenia with NK Olimpijia Ljublajana, 25 year old forward Olivier Moussima Ebongue is with French amateur club FC Sens, 23 year old midfielder Alain Richard Ebwele plays his football in Finland for Vaasan Palloseura, while 23 year old midfielder Zacharie Eugene Lionel Onana is on loan at Leixoes in Portugal’s second tier from Lugo in Spain. The highly rated and talented Gael Etock is in Finland’s second tier with FC Lahti.
A few from this generation, from which much was expected have been able to keep their heads above the waters. Midfielder Wilfrid Kaptoum is with Betis Seville in the Spanish top division, Fabrice Olinga is no longer the teenage prodigy that he looked to be, struggling for game time with Royal Excel Mouscron in Belgium and always on the fringes Cameroon’s national team, while Fabrice Ondoa is holding his ground at Ostende in the Belgian top flight and was best shot stopper in the 2017 AFCON he helped Cameroon to win.
The pick of the bunch is Andre Onana who moved to the Masia two years after Ondoa and was given all the help he needed to acclimatize by his cousin who today has gone under his shadow. Onana had the season of his life with Ajax, winning the domestic double and only narrowly missing out from a place in the final of the 2019 UEFA Champions league. He showed his class all season, comfortably playing the ball from the back and showing a good sense of game reading. He is also credited with some wonderful saves all season.
It was therefore not a surprise to see Wilfrid Kaptoum, Fabrice Ondoa and Andre Onana making coach Clarence Seedorf’s 23 man final squad to defend Cameroon in the 2019 AFCON in Egypt.
For some of these boys it is all regrets, for others they cannot thanks God enough for giving them a chance through Samuel Eto’o, who it must be said still plays an important role in their development as human-beings and their professional careers, to give them a chance to pass through the prestigious Masia. Viva La Masia!