Clarence Seedorf’s first Cameroon squad shows new man is out of touch

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ESPN FC | Whoever Cameroon appointed as Hugo Broos’s long-term successor was always facing a tough job to prepare the Indomitable Lions for the defence of their Africa Cup of Nations title on home soil next year.

They ultimately plumped for former Netherlands international Clarence Seedorf, whose stellar playing career hasn’t quite dispelled the sense that his lack of tangible success as a coach makes him a significant gamble.

The Cameroon Football Federation aren’t the first African FA to be seduced by a high-profile coach who brings a certain glamour to the post, and it’s easy to see why Seedorf was tempted by the prospect of the Indomitable Lions.

Ironically, despite being the reigning African champions, Cameroon are in something of a slump considering their status – arguably – as the giants of the continent’s game.

The AFCON success in Gabon in 2017 represents an isolated island of achievement following two World Cups in which they were the first team eliminated, failure to qualify for the 2018 event – only the second time they’ve missed out since 1986 – and an underwhelming Confederations Cup display last year.

They still boast, in principle, the kind of talent that would make any of their continental rivals jealous, and yet Seedorf appears to have made a rod for his own back with his maiden squad reveal earlier this week.

Notably, the former Real Madrid and AC Milan midfielder opted to ignore Christian Bassogog and Benjamin Moukandjo, two widemen who are among the nation’s top talents and were influential during the AFCON triumph.

Both have been overlooked due to their decision to swap European football for a lucrative contract in China, with Seedorf explaining his policy of ignoring players who currently ply their trade in Asia.

“Good young players don’t compete in China or in Asia,” Seedorf told journalists, as per BBC Sport.

“Players must understand that if they go after more lucrative contracts, then they forfeit their chances of playing in the national team,” he added.

“We’re not closing the door on anyone, we want disciplined and hardworking players and if someone is in the Middle East yet he can deliver for the team, we’ll bring him in.”

It comes across as an astonishingly short-sighted perspective, particularly from an African point of view and particularly given the current dynamic – and one expects, the future dynamic – of player trading in world football.

While Asia’s leagues don’t yet match their top European counterparts in many regards, it’s reckless of the new coach to dismiss them, and to impose such a relatively arbitrary rule on his own selection policy, denying him two top offensive talents.

Does Seedorf realise that Africa’s most expensive player, Democratic Republic of Congo hitman Cedric Bakambu, currently features in the Chinese Super League?

Similarly, John Obi Mikel remains the heartbeat of Gernot Rohr’s Nigeria despite swapping Chelsea for Tianjin TEDA, while Brazil (Paulinho and Renato Augusto) and Belgium (Yannick Carrasco and Axel Witsel) also used players who have opted for China in their World Cup squads.

Two of the players who will surely be central to Kwesi Appiah’s rebuild of Ghana – Richmond Boakye and Franck Acheampong – also feature in Chinese football at the time of writing, and yet none of the aforementioned players are as reliant on their Far East-based stars as Cameroon.

Bassogog, the 2017 AFCON Player of the Tournament, was arguably the key inspiration behind the Lions’ title success last year. memorably scoring Cameroon’s second in their semi-final victory over Ghana.

Moukandjo, who wore the armband in Gabon, was also one of the competition’s top players, and was one of four Cameroonians who made CAF’s Team of the Tournament.

His prowess from set pieces gave the Lions an offensive weapon that helped them through some of the trickier contests early on in the competition – notably when he opened the scoring against Burkina Faso in the opening – and the role he played in the unity of the squad ought not be understated.

The 29-year-old scored 13 goals in consecutive seasons for FC Lorient in Ligue 1, and hasn’t become, overnight, a player unworthy of representing the Lions.

Seedorf’s decision to cull the duo has denied Cameroon of two of their key offensive threats, and if the new man is to include them in his plans over the next 10 months, he either needs them to transfer away from China or for him to make an awkward step down regarding players based in the Far East.

There’s realistic hope that the inclusion of former France international Paul-Georges Ntep will help to soften the blow of losing the two attackers, with Clinton N’Jie also overlooked

However, while the 26-year-old was a mesmerising talent during his last season in France with Stade Rennais, he’s lost his way since moving to Wolfsburg.

While the omissions of Moukandjo and Bassogog have stolen the headlines, and rightly so, Seedorf’s decision to cut the unglamorous Sebastien Siani hasn’t received anything like the attention.

The defensive midfielder, now 31, has perhaps also been axed following his decision to leave Belgian football for Al Jazira after 12 years, but even as one of the squad’s elder statesmen, he still had a lot to offer.

He was a stabilising presence during the Nations Cup success, helping Cameroon ride out the storm against several more talented opponents with his calming methodical play in midfield.

The veteran also stepped up to net an equaliser as the Lions – to that point uninspired and lethargic – avoided a humiliating defeat against Guinea-Bissau in their second group game and set them on their way to success.

Losing both Siani and Moukandjo denies Cameroon their two on-field leaders during the AFCON success, and until the likes of Nicholas N’Koulou return to the fold, the Dutchman is in danger of creating a vacuum of leadership – and another point of weakness within his squad.

Seedorf’s idealistic conviction that the hungriest players don’t move to China may appear superficially compelling, yet the world of African football is a fierce and demanding environment, and one where even the best teams may need all of their top resources to give them an edge.

It’s a bold move, and one that he may well come to regret between now and next summer’s showpiece.

Source: cameroononline