Nehru Cup finalists Cameroon attracted by I-League

A second-string Cameroon side might have suffered a 4-5 loss to India in the just-concluded Nehru Cup but many of the footballers now want to play in India's lucrrative I-League, given the falling standards back home.

"The Cameroon league is semi-professional. The players at the highest level get paid a little over $1000 a month. We are trying to make it fully professional," team coach Emmanuel Bosso told IANS.

"The Cameroonian players are looking at other world pro leagues and some of them, who were in India to play in the Nehru Cup, are keen on returning to play in the I-League. They are in negotiations with some top club managers and they should be playing in India's national league, if not this season, surely the next," he aded.

Not surprisingly, the financially unattractive domestic league, a players' revolt and a struggle to find adequate replacements for the ageing stars like Samuel Eto'o, Benoit Assou-Ekkoto and Eric Djemba-Djemba, to name a few, saw the African giants tumble 48 places from a high 11th rank on the FIFA charts 59th in a matter of three years from 2009.

Cameroon lost the Nehru Cup on penalties against India. PTI

Now, officials are trying to pacify the playes by promising to convert the semi-professional league into a full-fledged one to keep them home.

As things stand, the football pool in Cameroon, a West African nation neighbouring Nigeria, is restricted and efforts are on to spread the canvas.

"All the players turn out for their provincial leagues. The main local league has two divisions - Elite 1 and 2. So we scout for players from them and then try to get the best from there," Bosso said, talking about the squad that participated in the Nehru Cup.

Besides improving the league, Bosso said their plan was to phase out the older players and rebuild a new team.

"There are many older players in the senior side, they are from a different generation and they are hanging on beyond their expiry date.

"We are in a transitory period, you can't expect new players to straightaway start showing up and make an impact. We have to be patient as we are in the process of rebuilding," he said.

Cameroon have qualified for the FIFA World Cup more than any other African team but their fear is that they may find it difficult to make it in the next couple of editions. The signs were there to see in the 2010 Cup in Germany when they were knocked out in the first round.

The rot was not restricted to the World Cup alone; they are not a feared even their continent. Shockingly, a team that has won the African Nations Cup four times has failed to even qualify for the 2012 edition.

"It is very disappointing and came as a shock to all of us. No one in the country could believe that we didn't qualify but football is a game where you see a lot of highs and a lot of lows. Now we are building a new team and the older generation will be phased out soon," said Bosso.

"We must face the realities, many other African nations are on the ascent. Football is growing very fast on the continent. It is becoming increasingly difficult to even qualify for the finals of the African Nations Cup because the competition is so intense."

The national team is also mired in controversy and captain Eto'o, the star of Barcelona and Inter Milan, led a players' revolt, demanding payment of outstanding appearance fee and bonuses.

Bosso, however,denied reports of Cameroon legend Roger Milla waging war with the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot).

"Roger Milla wants the footballers to handle the football in Cameroon. There are so many non-footballers in the federation. He wants to bring football to the footballers."

With new players and new ideas, it remains to be seen whether the "Indomitable Lions" can get back the glory days of the past.

IANS