Rigobert Song is undoubtedly one of the greatest African footballers and it was no surprise when he was nominated for the Glo-CAF Legend award. In this chat with KUNLE ADEWALE in Accra, Ghana, Song spoke on the dwindling fortune of Cameroonian football, Victor Ikpeba’s disallowed penalty against the Cameroon and a number of issues concerning African football.
Cameroon used to be a powerhouse in African football and its quarter finals feat at the 1990 World Cup in Italy is yet to be surpassed by any African country. In recent years however, Cameroonian football has nose-dived tremendously, culminating in its failure to qualify for the last edition of the African Cup of Nations hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. The country will also be absent next January at the Nations Cup slated for South Africa.
“In the last two years, Cameroonian football has been facing some problems, we are going through a transition which is something that is not strange in football circles because every team has to pass through it at one point or the other. And unfortunately, it is the turn of Cameroon now, but we will overcome it very soon because we now have a new generation of players that are very committed and are raring to go,” the former Liverpool of England defender stated.
Asked if these new generation of players have the kind of talent to rekindle the kind of form and dominance that Indomitable Lions were noted for in the days of Roger Milla down to his generation, Song said: “When some of us started playing for the national team, we were not known, we had no name, but through commitment and hard work, we got to the top of our career and took Cameroonian football to its height. These new set of players can achieve the same thing as long as they are focused and are ready to play as a team. It could be gradual but it’s very achievable. We’ve been absent from two Nations Cup now, which I think is too bad for our football and to miss another edition will be unacceptable and the players are fully aware of it too.
“We are already preparing for Brazil 2014 World Cup qualifiers and the confidence of the players has been boosted ahead of the qualifying matches, but we still need to approach it systematically though.”
If there is one match Song would not forget in a hurry, it was the final of the 2000 Nations Cup jointly hosted by Nigeria and Ghana.
“It was one game I will always remember and it still remains one of my best moments donning the colours of Cameroon. The atmosphere was different and fantastic, the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, is one of the best places I have played. The Nigerian team boasts of many big names but football is a game of chance and we took our chances on that day,” he said.
Song is not known for taking penalties, but at the final against the Super Eagles, he took the last and decisive penalty that won the trophy for Cameroon.
“When the first round of five penalty kick-started, I was not listed to be part of those that will take it, but after it was a stalemated in first round of kicks, and as the captain of the team, I had to live up to my responsibility and took the crucial kick which gave us the trophy. At that point, the only thing I had in my head was to put the ball in the net which was what I did.
“I must confess I was under immense pressure but pressure is always part of the game. You only have to do your job. I really felt for Nigeria because they played very well, most especially Victor Ikpeba’s penalty that was disallowed but I’m not the referee. As a matter of fact I didn’t know the ball entered into the net, I only saw it later on television. The referee took a wrong decision and fortunately it was our lucky day and we are grateful to God for it.”(Laughter).
On the insinuations in some quarters that the presence of CAF President, Issa Hayatou, who is a Cameroonian influenced the decision of the centre referee to disallow Ikpeba’s goal, Song said : “No, I don’t think so. Sometimes when something happens, everybody wants give their own opinion, but I think that line of thought is not good for the person and image of Hayatou. It was just a referee’s poor sense of judgment which has nothing to do with Hayatou.”
Continuing, he said before the final game against Nigeria, there were a lot of mind games among the players whenever they ran into one another, but said there were good feelings among them after the game as they ran into one another on several occasions. “We have a lot of respect for one another,” he noted.
Song claims to know a number of Nigeria players, saying the Super Eagles always turn out a blend of young and experienced players that are very good.
“All what Ronaldinho was doing now, Austin Okocha had done it before a long time ago, since his days at Fernarbache of Turkey; then at Paris St. Germaine and today a lot of players crave to be like Jay Jay. I have a lot of respect for him not because he is a Nigerian but because of the quality he possessed,” the Indomitable Lions Team Manager said.
Asked which Nigeria player gave him the toughest time, he replied: “There are quite a lot of them that gave me tough time. But I think Julius Aghahowa gave me a lot of problems because he was so fast, and I never liked coming against him because he was always running and I didn’t enjoy it when my opponent ran at me. I remember telling him at one point that I was going to injure him if he kept running at me- all in an attempt to intimidate him. John Utaka is another dangerous Nigerian player, who combines skill and speed. He likes creating a lot of problem for me and he scored the winning goal in the Nigeria’s quarter final defeat of Cameroon at the 2004 Nations Cup in Tunisia and I was not happy with him. Tijani Babagida is another player I don’t enjoy contending with, especially when he’s coming from the wing. His speed and technique were immense. To make matters worse for me, he is short which made it more difficult to tackle. As for Nwankwo Kanu, though he is tall, his technique is high class, he is great player. So too was Daniel Amokachi and Ikpeba. Those were the days when Nigeria boasted of a great team, that even when they lose, their opponents still acknowledged their potential,” Song recalled.
He wore a smiling face throughout the interview session which was an exact opposite of what he portrayed on the field of play in his active days- a towering no-nonsense defender with a scary face that most attackers dreaded. He said in as much as he tries to catch a niche for himself, his love for former hard tackling Nigerian defender, Taribo West, influenced him. I love him so much so that I always wanted to be like him. He was one player that I respected so much and I tried to emulate some of his character,” Song confessed.
Asked to predict the country that will win the Nations Cup in South Africa, the former Cameroonian captain admitted it was a difficult thing to do because there are many good teams coming to the competition now.
“We now have Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia and they will all be there to win the trophy, but I think the four teams have a brighter chance than the remaining teams. But I believe the rivalry will make the competition and makes it more interesting.”
Song however praised CAF for recognising him by nominating him for the 2012 Glo-CAF Africa Legend Award.
“I’m very happy to be nominated for the award. I wasn’t really expecting it, it came as a surprise. It is recognition of my good work while I was playing. The award is good for me and my image and will also inspire upcoming players. It’s always good to recognise heroes of the game,” he noted.