Manchester United’s Andre Onana will be under pressure to perform if he plays for Cameroon against reigning champions Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations on Friday after arriving late at the tournament and missing their opening game as a result.
“I take responsibility,” Onana told broadcaster Canal Plus following his country’s 1-1 draw with Guinea on Monday, a match he missed after only arriving in Ivory Coast from England the previous night.
The 27-year-old missed the Indomitable Lions’ pre-tournament training camp as well as their first match at the tournament, much to the chagrin of many close to the Cameroon team.
“There is no issue with him arriving late. Everything is fine within the squad, there is no need to worry about what has been said on social media. There is no problem,” insisted the Cameroon coach, Rigobert Song.
He did not guarantee that Onana would start against Senegal, after Fabrice Ondoa of French third-tier side Nimes played for the five-time African champions against Guinea.
However, the privilege of arriving late accorded to the usual first-choice goalkeeper has caused some irritation according to several sources close to the team.
Onana was sent home from the Cameroon squad at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after a dispute with the coach and later decided to quit the national team entirely.
Yet in September, shortly after swapping Inter Milan for Old Trafford, he performed an about-turn and announced his return.
Nevertheless, United managed to negotiate a deal with the Cameroonian Football Federation to allow Onana to stay and play in last Sunday’s 2-2 Premier League draw with Tottenham Hostpur.
“When he moved to Manchester he had made himself unavailable for international duty, so Manchester United were within their right” to keep him until the very last minute, former Cameroon goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell told AFP.
USED TO CRITICISM
United then laid on a private jet to take Onana to Yamoussoukro, where Cameroon are playing their first two matches at the tournament.
However, his flight was prevented from landing in the Ivorian capital due to fog, and eventually touched down in Abidjan, from where he was taken by car to Yamoussoukro, arriving at 4am on Monday.
As a result, he was in no condition to play against Guinea.
“People can keep criticising me, I’m used to it,” said the player who has had a difficult start to life in England.
“It has been part of my daily life for ages. I do what is good for my country and what is good for me.
“To place this country so high up you need to be playing well for your club,” explained the former Ajax shot-stopper.
“I have lots of things to say but I won’t say them here because the competition is ongoing.
“The most important thing is that we stick together. We are here to win the Afcon. I ask the supporters to support us in the good times and the bad.
“I am one of the leaders so I take responsibility and that is why I am here. I don’t want the young players being criticised. Let people criticise me, I am used to it.”
He was a target of fan ire after being sent home from the World Cup before the final group game against Brazil, which Cameroon won 1-0.
“It was a management issue,” explained Bell, working as a radio pundit at this Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast.
“This incident didn’t just disadvantage the player but the whole team. It became a distraction for everyone,” added Bell of a player who also served a lengthy doping ban in 2021.
Erik ten Hag, his coach at club level, has described Onana as “a strong character”, which he will need to be to convince Cameroonians that he is a worthy successor to illustrious goalkeeping predecessors such as Bell, Thomas Nkono and Carlos Kameni.