There are few things in football as sad as the out of position player.
While some are happy enough just to lace up their boots and fight for the greater good, others just end up going through the motions. Dejected, heads down and ineffective. Pitiful really.
Of course many players end up like this when they are played in their favoured position by their club; “I’m ready to move on when this shambles gets itself relegated, my agent can get me a move to Italy…..once the loyalty bonus has kicked in of course ” Just insert relevant name here, we’ve all seen ‘em.
But at international level things are different, well sometimes anyway. I watched Japan beat Cameroon (do I need to have an s on the end of that? should Hartlepool still be Hartlepools?) in what was one of several uninspiring first round games at the South Africa World Cup. Japan worked hard and deserved their victory. Cameroon, once the darlings of World Cup football, were toothless and insipid. In their own continent, and with a new batch of players, Paul Le Guen’s side, while not expected to pull up trees at South Africa, could surely be expected to put on a decent show. But no.
The main reason for Cameroons ineptitude stemmed, as far as I could see, from their coach, Paul Le Guen. Le Guen has an extensive, if somewhat mixed CV. He was lauded a s a genius in France after a spell with Lyon, winning the championship three times while in situ, but labelled a clown in Scotland following his time at Rangers. I read a comment yesterday from Oliver Kay of the Times, who questioned whether Le Guen’s time at Rangers had been a blip. He concluded, after watching the Japan game, that it was Le Guen’s time at Lyon that was the blip.
Whilst they huffed and puffed, Le Guen’s side looked lost. Bereft of ideas, the African side resorted to the most basic of long ball tactics, with no positive outcome. Whilst they were never Brazil, Cameroon were always easy on the eye, if not the ankle, as Claudio Canigga will probably concur.
What I found to be particularly sad though, was the site of striker Samuel Eto’o, cut adrift on the right flank and left helpless, like a lost child in a supermarket. Of course top players should be able to roll up their sleeves, get stuck in get on the front foot for their country, especially if they’ve been made captain. But I have sympathy with Eto’o; he doesn’t give the impression of being a shrinking violet, but deep down he looks the type that probably needs the velvet glove treatment. Eto’o clearly needs to be loved. And played up front.
‘Play to your strengths’ is a maxim that works well on the national stage, with current World champions Italy the embodiment of that philosophy. Eto’o has been in sparkling form this season for Inter, playing just off and just behind Diego Milito, but he was equally devastating at Barca as a main striker. Quite why Le Guen saw fit to stifle the life out of his best player, the player he made captain, is well beyond my comprehension. Evan Japan appeared shocked at the selection, and probably couldn’t believe their luck at seeing such a potent force tucked away as ball after ball sailed straight down the throats (not literally you understand) of their centre backs.
I can recall a similar situation at Newcastle United in the mid 1980’s. Incumbent magpies manager Jack Charlton, decided that it was his way, which was also the high way. Deploying two burly strikers in George ‘Rambo’ Reilly and Tony Cunningham, with service provided from Chris Waddle on the left, and the deft Peter Beardsley shoved onto the right, Charlton felt that getting the ball lofted into the box by hook or crook gave the best chance to score. In fact Charlton’s tactics also asked ‘Pedro’, not to get too involved with crossing the halfway line. Reilly and Cunningham struggled, Beardsley struggled and Newcastle struggled. Waddle went to Tottenham. Within 12 months Beardsley was thankfully back in position for club and was a huge star for England in Mexico 86. Redemption.
Sadly for Eto’o, this will likely be his swansong at international level. Fiercely criticized by 107 year old Cameroon legend Roger Milla for his lack of international prowess, Eto’o cut the look of dejection perfectly. There will be no surprise should he announce his international retirement by the time Cameroon pack their bags and head North, which looks like being sooner rather than later under Le Guen’s guidance.