- Indomitable Lions possess two outstanding young keepers
- First-choice Fabrice Ondoa has just spent a season on the bench with his club
- Despite starring with Ajax, Andre Onana is a national-team understudy to Ondoa
Just as they did in the glory days of Joseph-Antoine Bell and Thomas Nkono, Cameroon have a good problem to deal with between the posts, with the talented Fabrice Ondoa and Andre Onana fighting it out for the No1 jersey. One of the heroes of the Indomitable Lions’ 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations triumph, Ondoa is still waiting for his club career to take off, while Onana has enjoyed a superb season with Ajax but currently finds himself second in the national-team pecking order.
The two keepers have much in common, not least the fact that they are cousins and were born within three months of each other. Both spent time at the Samuel Eto’o Foundation before joining Barcelona’s famed La Masia youth academy, where Ondoa – as is the case with the national team – got the nod ahead of his younger cousin.
Onana left Barcelona for Ajax in 2015 and nailed down a first-team place in the 2016/17 season, one in which he kept an impressive 15 clean sheets in the Dutch league and reached the UEFA Europa League final. Determined to keep his place in the Ajax starting line-up, he chose to skip the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
Loaned out to Sevilla, Ondoa has not enjoyed the same success as his cousin, spending the season as an understudy in the club’s B team, Sevilla Atletico. His fortunes may be about to change, however, with the Andalusian club having just signed him on a deal that will run to 2020.
That lack of playing time has not impacted Ondoa’s international career, however, with his commitment to the Indomitable Lion cause never wavering. “There’s no reason why I should change anything in terms of who I choose between Ondoa and Onana,” said Cameroon coach Hugo Broos. “You saw the Africa Cup of Nations what Ondoa had. Why should I make a change? Ondoa stays the No1 and Onana will be the No2,” added the Belgian coach, who nevertheless handed Onana a start in the 4-0 friendly defeat to Colombia on 6 June.
Speaking to FIFA.com, the legendary Thomas Nkono expressed his delight at Cameroon’s abundance of goalkeeping riches. “Cameroon are lucky to have two such great keepers,” commented the former custodian, a role model to the great Gianluigi Buffon. “It can be tough to manage sometimes, because it’s a situation in which tensions can rise if the guy who’s on the bench feels he can do better than the other one. It’s still a good thing for the national team, though, because they’re still focused and looking to do their very best. Whoever plays, they do what they can to hang on to their place.”
Advice from Eto’o
Speaking on Cameroonian TV recently, Samuel Eto’o – who is close to both keepers – revealed that he has spoken to both of them: “I told Fabrice and Andre that they are both great keepers with different styles of play and that they need to learn from each other. I said that they’re lucky enough to be 'brothers' and that they should turn that to their advantage, to prevent people trying to put them against each other.”