By Muambo Edward
Football Writer, kick442.com – Cameroon
2002 African Cup of Nations winning coach with the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, Winfried Schafer has revealed how he turned a young Samuel Eto’o into one of the world’s best goal getters.
The German reveals how he painted a stark picture for a young Samuel Eto’o, in order to get the player focused and bring out the best in him.
Samuel Eto’o Fils is without any doubt one of the greatest and deadliest strikers world football has ever seen. His 162 LaLiga goals for Barca and Mallorca, his four UEFA Champions League titles, three Spanish LaLiga titles, Italian Serie A title, two African Cup of Nations titles, his all times leading goal scorer’s record for Cameroon and the African Cup of Nations among other accolades and trophies are testament to the great striker Eto’o turned out to be after his timid start with Real Madrid.
The native of Nkon in Cameroon is arguably the best African player of all times and is without any doubt one of the top strikers in world football in the 21st century.
However, according to Winfried Shafer who coached Eto’o and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon from 2001 to 2004, the former Mallorca and Barca forward lacked the right attitude at times to make the most of his natural football abilities.
Schafer had a successful spell at the helm of the Indomitable Lions, leading them to AFCON glory in 2002 in Mali, though they failed to live up to expectations at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan. He however brought the team back to the top of World football, when they reached the final of the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup in France, beating Brazil on their way to the final.
Eto’o was at the heart of this achievements, though according the Schafer it wasn’t an easy ride. The German says he had to pull Eto’o aside during the 2002 African Cup of Nations and give him a serious warning on his future, because the then Mallorca forward lacked the right attitude and did not give in enough during training.
“Samuel was incredibly quick and a goal scoring threat. His problem was that he was early to the opinion that he was a great player. He did not always train full throttle when he was with us,” Schafer told Goal/SPOX.
“So before a match at the 2002 AFCON I had to talk with him. I said : ‘Samuel, imagine someone saying in three years from now: ‘Eto’o, that was a talented player. What does he do now? Do you really want people talking about you like that?’ He shook his head and finally started to work. Today he is still thankful for these clear words.”
The German went further to unveil the chaos and unprofessionalism that characterized the Cameroon team at the time, which definitely took a huge toll on their performance in the 2002 FIFA World Cup despite the enormous talent and potential in the team.
Cameroon failed to make it past the group stage, though they were the reigning African champions with players like Patrick Mboma, Geremi Njitap, Marc-Vivien Foe, Laurent Etame-Mayer, Pierre Wome Nlend and Salomon Olembe at their prime and in top European clubs.
According to Schafer, everything collapsed due to rows over match bonuses. The German recounted how the team only finally agreed to play in a friendly game against Germany in November 2004, just a couple of hours before game. They only managed to prepare themselves for the game on the bus ride to the stadium.
“It was a very tumultuous time. I remember that we flew to the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan five days late because the Secretary of Sports did not want to pay the players their bonuses they had earned with the qualification for the tournament,” Schafer explained.
“It was a joke, and the Germans benefited the most, because they came out top of our group. We did so well before the tournament , but these influences from outside are a real obstacle in countries like these.
“I never experienced as many strikes as I did in Cameroon. The game against Germany in November 2004 in Leipzig remains sadly unforgotten in that sense.
“At 5 PM, three and a half hours before kickoff, there was the team meeting at the hotel. The players entered the room and said: ‘Coach we won’t play.’ I thought it was a bad joke, but they had not been paid again. ‘We will have a nice evening’, they said and headed back to their rooms.
“I contacted the German Football Association to reach the President of Cameroon’s FA, because they had dinner. But he was not able to help me, because the Secretary of Sports was somewhere in Cameroon and did not answer his phone. In the end a guy from main sponsor Puma assured us that players will bet their money.
“It would have been a disgrace, if I had not made those calls that night. In the end, the players got dressed for the match in the team bus. Crazy.”
Some pundits hold he is one of the best manager Cameroon has ever had.
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