Interview: Wilfried Happi, Talents scout

Wilfried Happi, Talents scout: “Samuel Eto’o is very good on his position on the right but he would be more helpful having a more offensive system of play”

By Jean-Marc Soboth in Ottawa, ON

As you know, the Cameroon national team, the Indomitable Lions, is in the South-African for the 2010 World cup. In particular regarding it’s first game scheduled next Monday, how do you believe can  be its performance after what is being analyzed as a catastrophic preparation process led by French coach Paul Le Guen?

The preparation in itself cannot really be considered as catastrophic because all has been done by the technical staff to allow the players to prepare themselves in best conditions. They were in Austria with eight others teams participating to the cup, which means that Austria as a target for the training camp wasn’t a bad idea. For me, this team has a lot of potential. People could say whatever they want but the players had been really well chosen by Paul Le Guen.  The only problem lies on how to use these players. Being a head coach, you have to know what is your players’ positions on the field. For example, it is obvious that Georges Mandjeck is not a left back. Samuel Eto’o is very good on his position on the right but he would be more helpful having a more offensive system of play. We are asking ourselves if Eto’o is a striker anymore or an offensive midfielder.  I think it would be more interesting to get Jean II Makoun as a joker being the substitute of Joel Matip. The last game showed a team that is not yet perfect. But that has highly increased from the preceding games. I am convinced that we have the possibility and the potential to do well in this world cup. Some errors from the goal keepers have to be fixed in order to prevent us from losing games in which we apply certain cohesion in the play.

Some observers are still criticizing a maximum influence of the government and of officials of the Cameroon football Federation as a justification of that hypothetical situation…

No, I don’t agree with that statement. I don’t think we can attribute any hypothetical situation to a maximum influence of government and officials. The responsibility must be conferred to the people playing on the field and the persons giving them the directions to follow. We are not anymore, I guess, at the time where a minister or any influent member of the staff or Government could select the ones that are called up or those that would be on the field, moreover, even at the time where influence from people external to the technical staff was at his paroxysm. A lot of winnings have been recorded.  We won the African cup of nations in 2000 and 2002. We won the Olympics games in 2000. And so, should we attribute those victories to any external influence or to the quality and level of play of the Indomitable Lions?

People assisted recently to a violent media row between Roger Milla and Samuel Eto’o regarding the striker’s weak result within the Lions. What are your comments about that row and subsequent point of view?

It is true that Samuel Eto’o is not actually fully fulfilling his role as our main striker. In other words, he scores fewer goals than he did in the past with the national team. His performances with his clubs seem to be higher than what he does with the national team. But without giving any excuse, playing with very talented players such as Leonel Messi, Xavi,  Iniesta or Deco in FC Barcelone, who are able to deliver very fantastic passes and develop a very good system is very helpful. They allow to make your play smoother and bring your efficiency at his maximum. We can also ask ourselves if giving the captain role to Samuel Eto’o has not increased the pressure put on him by others and himself. Having now more obligations than putting a ball inside a goal might have decreased his aptitudes with the national team. But we should not forget that if Samuel Eto’o won three times the Champions League, has been three consecutive times African balloon and has accumulated numerous distinctions and recompenses, that simply means that he is one of the most talented players that the World has ever seen. I simply believe that the position and the role of Samuel Eto’o on the field are not adequate to allow him to deploy totally his potential.

Former Indomitable Lions coach, Pierre Lechantre, said in a Paris-based weekly magazine that Roger Milla has nothing as suggestion to improve things within the national team… Do you think that old Lions are psychologically toxic to their young counterparts?

I respect everyone’s opinion. Every Cameroonian, since this team belongs to all of us, has the right to express opinion and share remarks about the National team. Based on Samuel Eto’o statistics, it would be legitimate to say that he has not the same performance with his clubs than with the national team. Do not misunderstand! I am talking about his personal statistics with the Indomitable Lions and not about his overall career. But I truly believe in this quotation saying, there is a right time and a right place for everything. Maybe, Roger Milla should have waited the end of the competition before launching such a comment. Because it might have a significant influence on the player head. But at the same time, he has been a very good motivation for Samuel Eto’o who is known to have a great sense of combativeness. Eto’o will have the chance to show once again to all the Cameroonians and the World that he is not one of the best striker of the world for no reason. I don’t think that old Lions and Roger Milla particularly are psychologically toxic to their young counterparts. It is the role of older brothers to advise younger and less experimented. But I point out the communication style. It would had been more profitable for Milla if he had addressed directly his critics to Samuel Eto’o through a more circumscribed way of communication.  Such a polemic would had not existed.

As the senior team will be playing in South-Africa, the junior team enters into its period of preparation for the next African nations’ junior cup with coach Ndtoungou Mpile. As a talents scout, do you think Cameroon has valuable young players who would had been involved and who still are not?

For me, Cameroon can be considered as an Eldorado for people looking for talented players. I just spent five months in Cameroon trying to understand how the detection of talents works there, what are the systems and mechanism already set up and determine whether or not  the best players are the one playing in our first division championship. I figured out that we have a lot of very talented players that do not evolve in the 1rst or 2nd division championship because whether they have not the good connections to get into some of the club belonging to these championships, or the perpetual problem of salaries. Some players prefer to stay at home or look for a job that would allow to cover needs and those of family rather than playing without salary because of non respect of their contractual conditions. I know a very talented 19 year old player named Franck Siaka who should be called up for the national junior team (See video on youtube, following`link:

He has been the best assists player in the national first division championship in 2008 and is well-known as an excellent potential by peer. He is pure product of the Mount Cameroon Center, like other interesting players such as Eyong Enoh or Charley Roussel Fomen. I have also noticed that many talented players stay for long time in training centers before going straight to Europe.  I can point out the example of Samuel Eto’o, Stephane Mbia, Nicolas Nkoulou, Georges Mandjeck and others that really played in the first division Championship in Cameroon. All of them are from Kadji Sport Academy, which still is considered as reference in terms of detection of talented players in Cameroon. However, there are many interesting players that have been called up by the coach Ndtoungou, such as Mvom Beyo’o Ghislain, a very good player from regional championship, and Sally Edgar of CotonSport Garoua.

African players are frequently deceived during their contracts negotiations with northern soccer clubs. Can you explain to us how the behind-of-scene related process works? How can you, as a professional, help a talented African player find a good club with a good contract?

The first thing to know is that being an African player coming straight from Africa is an inconvenient because you do not come with the same value compared to a player evolving in Europe, Asia or South America. For instance, even the way we calculate the indemnity of training for a African team is different. It is somewhere logical, since a player trained in Africa costs less than a player in Europe. All the soccer agents are not dishonest, but some of them forget that the main role of an agent is to provide good advises to players, and not taking advantage of the poverty and lack of knowledge of clients to gain more money.  We are not supposed to be the ones putting our interests before those of our players and that happens sometime. Since it is the agent who is in charge of negotiating the player’s contract, there is regularly a conflict of interests. The interest of a club will never go with the interests of a player. So, sometimes an agent can get more money by accepting to reduce the financial conditions in a player’s contract.

It is often better to work with people belonging to a firm rather than people working alone, because people in these companies are really concerned by the reputation of their company. They will work only if they can attract new players.  As soon as my company detects a talented player, we have two options. The first one is to bring him for a trial in a club belonging to one of the main championships in Europe (France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, etc.). If the process is successful, we immediately negotiate a contract. It is the option that we used for the transfer of our countryman Jacques Zoua. We had Kingsley Pungong as partner, working at this time for a company named Wasserman Media Group. We took Jacques Zoua to FC Basel for a successful trial.

At that time, Jacques Zoua was minor, I think. How do you manage this kind of specific status?

Yes, his contract has been immediately negotiated and since he was minor, we arranged for his father to fly to Switzerland and the contract was signed.  Jacques have done a fantastic first year in Basel with the first team.

In fact, the other option, which is applied when the player does not have the possibility to travel, is to send some scouts from the club interested in the player, in order to evaluate his potential in situ. This is what we had with Aboubakar Vincent. My brother and I detected this very talented guy in august 2008 while he was still a player from the junior team of CotonSport; he was also a cadet international but nobody knew him. We obtained for him letters of invitation from the French Olympique Lyonnais and AS Monaco.  He should have gone to Lyon for a trial in November 2008 but delays with the deliverance of his visa changed the plan. When he was about to go to Monaco in July 2009 after the African championship, some issues with Cotonsport didn’t allow that. So we took the decision of sending two scouts in Cameroon in December 2009 and January 2010, in order to supervise the player. It had been very well graded and Monaco informs Cotonsport of their decision to sign for the summer windows Transfert in January. Unfortunately, when Monaco was about to make a firm offer for the player in April 2010, they informed us that the players had already signed with Valenciennes. I think that Cotonsport with such a talent would had wait up to the opening of the transfer windows to make a decision about any proposal. Monaco wasted time and so was late. Cotonsport would had earned more money and the player too since there is no taxes for people working in Monaco.

Cameroon striker Achille Emana’s management is somehow criticized as his actual club climbed down. What can be, in your point of view, the optimum option for him in order to gain the best contract?

As I said before, a great player needs to have great advises. A player cannot be concentrated on his physical and technical performance and, at the same time, on his career. He needs somebody to help him. I cannot criticize Achille Emana’s management because they surely know what they are doing, but it could had been done better. Achille Emana is a fantastic player, with a lot of potential and many big in Europe would like to sign. And I can say that I know this dossier. During the transfer summer period 2009, my partner in England Chris Nathaniel (who was one of the Top 30 most influential Black Britons in football in 2008 and 2009) and me were interested in transferring Achille Emana to England. We took attach with his legal representatives and three days after received a mandate. Two days before the closing of the window transfer, we got an offer from Birmingham City for a global amount of almost 13 millions pounds. We don’t know how it had been managed at the level of Sevilla, but the deal didn’t go through. So, who is really responsible of the failure? I don’t know.

Interview with Jean-Marc Soboth

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