Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions have a new head coach. Rigobert Song Bahanag was appointed Monday, February 28 by the Minister of Sports and Physical Education, Narcisse Mouelle Kombi “on the very high instructions of the President of the Republic.”
Song, one-time emblematic captain of the Lions replaces the Portuguese, Antonio Conceiçao who had led the team’s technical staff for the past three years.
Song will be assisted by Frenchman Sébastien Migne who has been a close associate of perhaps the most experienced Frenchman to coach in Africa, Claude Le Roy.
Augustine Simo will also be assisting the trainer, along with former keeper, Souleymanou who comes in as trainer for goalkeepers.
Another former Lion, Raymond Kalla Kongho will play the role of team manager.
For the first time, foreign tacticians will play second fiddle in the country’s top squad.
Conceiçao’s sacking could be seen coming. The Portuguese tactician received a flurry of criticism, including from FECAFOOT President, Samuel Eto’o, after Cameroon crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations in the semi-finals.
Yet, the Minister of Sports and Physical Education was quick to give Conceiçao the green light to continue at the helm of the team, saying that his stewardship had been remarkably successful and that in the interest of stability, it was necessary to renew his contract.
That didn’t sink well with the Eto’o-led FECAFOOT. Eto’o then reportedly worked behind the scenes to cause Conceiçao’s sacking and secure the top spot for his former team-mate and Captain, Rigobert Song Bahanag.
Jean Bruno Tagne, a journalist and Eto’o close aide, mocked the Minister of Sports in a Facebook comment.
“They make you sign your own humiliation. If it’s me, I’m not signing,” he said.
Song will be facing a couple of challenges, the very first test of his competence coming on March 25 when he takes the Lions to the World Cup qualifier playoff against Algeria in Douala with the return leg scheduled for Blida in Algeria on March 29.
The new trainer also must deal with the situation of attacking powerhouse, Eric Maxim Tchoupo-Moting who stormed out of the den, saying he will never play for the Lions as far as Conceiçao remained at the helm.
Born in 1976, Song was a solid defender who played a record eight Africa Cup of Nations tourneys and four FIFA World Cup competitions. He holds the record for most consecutive games played at the AFCON with 35 first-team games.
He won two CAF Africa Cup of Nations titles in 2000 and 2002. In 2009, Song was dropped as Cameroon’s skipper by new coach Paul Le Guen, who eventually appointed Samuel Eto’o as the new captain but later caused concerns as Song had never been on the bench in more than 11 years for Cameroon.
With 137 appearances, Song also holds the record of the most capped player in the history of the Cameroon national team.
At the professional level, he played for Metz in France, Salernitana, in the top-flight Italian Serie A, and joined the Premier League in 1999 where he played for Liverpool, West Ham United, and FC Köln.
Song later returned to France to play for Lens. He stayed there until 2004 and moved on to Turkey, where he spent four years with Galatasaray, winning two Süper Lig titles and the Turkish Cup. Song then signed a contract with Trabzonspor in 2008, where he won another Turkish Cup and stayed until 2010.
Aside from Zinedine Zidane, Song is the only player to have been sent off in two different World Cups, once against Brazil in 1994 and against Chile in 1998.
He also holds the record as the youngest player ever to be sent off in a World Cup, aged 17.
As a player, Song is still very much admired by Cameroonians who lovingly refer to him as ‘Capitaine Courage.” But that love affair could evaporate overnight should the trainer fail in his very first assignment-qualifying the Lions for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
If his dismal performance at the 2018 Africa Cup of Nations Championship in Morocco in which Cameroon finished bottom were any pointer, then the love affair with Cameroonians would very certainly evaporate in a matter of months.