An­dre Onana

Cameroo­nian keep­ing the faith at Ajax

World Soccer - - Contents - Mark Glee­son

African keep­ers are a rare com­mod­ity in the Eu­ro­pean game and even more so in the Cham­pi­ons League. But if Ajax are to make an im­pact on their re­turn to the group phase of the com­pe­ti­tion then Cameroon’s An­dre Onana could be key.

The Dutch club’s de­ci­sion to turn down an ap­proach from Mar­seille came as a huge re­lief to their sup­port­ers as Onana is a cult hero in the Am­s­ter­dam Arena; not only for his per­for­mances but also his sprints across the pitch to join in goal cel­e­bra­tions, his an­tics in the box and an easy charm off the field with the fans.

Even though the 22-year-old is not first choice for his coun­try and has turned down re­cent call-ups, he is bear­ing a bright torch for his con­ti­nent.

“My fight­ing men­tal­ity has re­ally grown,” says Onana. “When the sea­son started it was dif­fer­ent, but now I’m stronger, es­pe­cially in my head. Now I want to win ev­ery­thing.”

Onana has proved to be good busi­ness for Ajax, who paid Barcelona a pal­try € 250,000 for his ser­vices in 2015, as­sert­ing him­self to be a ca­pa­ble suc­ces­sor to Jasper Cil­lessen, who moved in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

The keeper then fur­ther en­deared him­self to his new club by turn­ing down a call-up to play for Cameroon at the African Na­tions Cup in Gabon in 2017, putting club above coun­try and risk­ing his fu­ture with the In­domitable Lions.

That de­ci­sion cost him a gold medal, but sur­pris­ingly it did his fu­ture in­ter­na­tional prospects no harm as he re­turned to the Cameroon squad as un­der­study to his cousin Fran­cis On­doa for the Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup in Rus­sia last year and now has four caps.

On­doa and Onana were both at the Samuel Eto’o Academy in Douala and shared a room for five years be­fore both headed for Barcelona.

“It was fan­tas­tic but I spoke no Span­ish and I was very young. I cried in the be­gin­ning but I got stronger,” ad­mits Onana, who was 14 when he moved to Europe. “As a keeper, it’s im­por­tant to be calm and that I am. But in my per­sonal life I’m a joker. I can’t sit with peo­ple who don’t know how to laugh.”

From Nkol Ngok, near Yaounde, he con­tin­ues: “In my neigh­bour­hood, no­body wanted to be a keeper. Ev­ery­one wanted to score.

“The coach said I must take a turn in the goal and I moved quicker to do it than I had in­tended be­cause ev­ery­one else was re­luc­tant. That’s how it started.”

Mar­seille’s in­ter­est in Onana has been long term, with tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor and for­mer Spain keeper An­doni Zu­bizarretta a big ad­mirer.

How­ever, with an eye on restor­ing lost lus­tre when they com­pete in this sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League, Zu­bizarretta’s op­po­site num­ber at Ajax, Marc Over­mars, says they will not sell the African keeper “not even for pots of gold”.

“It was fan­tas­tic but I spoke no Span­ish and I was very young. I cried in the be­gin­ning but I got stronger” On mov­ing to Europe at 14

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.