Finke in the Lions den


Perhaps Cameroon have gone for a little vorsprung durch technik with the hiring of Volke Finke as their new coach.

Unheralded he may be, but Finke is not the first German to take the Cameroonian helm. He becomes the fourth German to take the reins of the Indomitable Lions - following in the footsteps of Karl-Heinz Weigang, Otto Pfister, and 2002 African Nations Cup-winner Winfried Schafer.

These are different times for the Indomitable Lions. Schaefer especially had a skilful and powerful side that included the likes of Eto’o, Song, and Mboma arguably at their peak. Schafer brought organisation and discipline as Cameroon hit 11th in the FIFA rankings.

Success helped to still the viper pit that is Cameroonian football politics, but no more. Recent years have been lean and while Finke may well turn out to be a very shrewd appointment, events off the pitch could not be more convoluted.

It’s hard not to be negative when on the subject of Cameroonian football politics. The football world off the pitch in Africa is a rough place where only the most savvy street fighters thrive.

It will help to have the backing of the Sports Minister Adoum Garoua because in Cameroon they are the ultimate paymasters. Being German one might also assume that his appointment meets with the approval of Puma, the Indomitable Lions long term and influential sponsors. The whispers are that they were not totally enamoured with his predecessor Jean-Paul Akono and were partly behind his undignified removal.

Finke’s work at Freiburg testifies to what he can do if given a chance. He cut his managerial teeth in the German lower leagues but is best known in his homeland for his 16-year spell with Freiburg, during which time he masterminded three promotions to the Bundesliga and took the club into the UEFA Cup twice.

The character of Freiburg during those years is like chalk and cheese when compared to life within Fecafoot. Freiburg at that time was a small, smart and loveable club that were late joining the German football establishment. Things only began to fall apart at Freiburg when people begun to take Finke and Freiburg for granted.

At the end of the Freiburg years the divorce was far from amicable, yet there was no danger of a scenario where he and his old club would meet in court. “I don't even have a written contract. Only once did we ever put something down in writing,” he said. 'That was back in 1991.”

The Indomitable Lions are different. There was a rich, almost unbroken vein of success running through from 1982 to 2010. World Cup qualification, Olympic triumph and African Cup of Nations triumphs came thick and fast but the Cameroon flag has not been unfurled at the last two African Cup of Nations.

So, once again why Finke? The names in the press that were rumoured to be at the top of the list included Raymond Domenech who took France to the 2006 World Cup final. To choose Domenech would be to return to a coach in the French style to which they are certainly accustomed.

The fall of the Indomitable Lions has been swift. In January 2010 Cameroon were ranked 11th in the world and were considered the best team on the continent. The AFCON qualification failures saw them plummeting down the FIFA ranking table.

It is only since the disappointment of missing out on a place at the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations that they have taken a leap forward. The 2-1 victory against Togo in a 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil qualifier in March has seen them not only remain on course for a place at Brazil 2014, they have also moved to 60th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking - up 19 from their March ranking.

It’s not a job where a coach can expect time to get it right. The demand for instant success weighs heavy on any one heading this pride of Lions.

When he was at Freiburg, in the early years (1991-2001) Finke built an identity for the typical Freiburg player - inconspicuous but clever, technically gifted and fast-learning. That’s what he’ll have to do with Cameroon.

In the middle part of those early years Germany won the European Championship. That 1996 triumph was the end of a cycle and was followed by the national team's debacles at the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championships. Only then did German football finally moved into the foreign Freiburg territory and made it comfortable there.

Their style, which once contrasted so sharply with the game as played by the other teams, had become the new standard over the course of all those seasons.

As early as 1997, there were young managers such as Armin Veh at Fürth, Ralf Rangnick at Ulm or Joachim Löw at Stuttgart who were following in Finke's footsteps.

Yes, the same Joachim Löw who became assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann as the renaissance of the national team began, and continued it after Klinsmann quit in 2006.

In 2001, Finke would look back on his decade at the helm and say: 'The tactical advantage we used to have is gone.' By which he meant that the league had learned too much from Freiburg. Some compliment.

When it comes down to it, results are the name of the game. They’ll have to be good because in football politics and impatience make poor bedfellows.

At least the Indomitable Lions currently in a strong position sitting atop their qualifying group ahead of Libya, DR Congo and Togo.

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