Cameroon’s coach Paul Marie Le Guen of France initially earned widespread respect among restive fans of the Indomitable Lions when he helped it qualify for the 2010 South Africa World Cup. In due course however, Le Guen, considered a tenacious disciplinarian, became a target of critics.
Many criticized his support for Samuel Eto’o whom he eventually named captain, and for his choice of players and their positioning on the pitch. Critics also say under his direction, the team lacked a convincing play-style.
Le Guen’s popularity in Cameroon plunged last January when he was blamed for the teams lackluster performance in Angola and finally failed to make it beyond the quarterfinals. But the government retained him despite mounting calls for his dismissal.
Le Guen is yet again coming under fire, following Cameroon’s dismal output and an eventual 0-1 defeat against Japan in their Group E World Cup icebreaker Monday at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein. It was Cameroon’s first defeat in a World Cup opening game, and the fans say it was predictable.
They don’t understand why Le Guen benched experienced arsenal midfielder Alexandre Song, why he positioned striker Eto’o deep in midfield, why he debuted the encounter with panic-stricken greenhorns like Joel Matip who has never played at national level, why he fielded more defenders than attackers, and much more.
Before the blunder Monday, Le Guen said he was hoping to replicate Cameroon’s 1990 surprise win over Argentina in the opener and its successful climb to the quarterfinals. He says the Lions game plan on Monday against Japan’s Blue Sumarais was wrong, and he accepts responsibility for their performance.
Cameroon, formerly rated one Africa’s best chances at the South Africa global football showpiece, now trails behind Denmark, the Netherlands and Japan.
A small number of optimists, including Samuel Eto’o, are hoping for a victory Saturday against Denmark, which is also hoping for a come-back after stumbling 0-2 against the Netherlands.
Jules Nyongha, a former coach of the Indomitable Lions, says Cameroon will have to produce more focused and creative to overcome their next opponents. He says the team was completely ineffective and displayed uncharacteristic inexperience Monday, but can turn around their fortunes.
For many however, such hope is farfetched amid reports of mounting tension in the Lions den. Some sidelined players are reportedly venting anger, and questioning why they weren’t called to play in the encounter against Japan.
The media and fans are watching to see if Paul le Guen can pull the team – and his reputation – out of a slump.