An Indomitable Spirit

Libiih Thomas, Victor Ndip Akem, Louis Paul Mfede and the rest of the team members will always be remembered for their spectacular performance in the World Cup, but what has become of them since they retired?

Former defender, Libiih Thomas and midfielder Louis Paul Mfede, spend their time attempting to groom the future football stars of Cameroon while Ndip Akem, once an impressive centre back, has turned his hand to cocoa farming.  With the FIFA World Cup tournament being held on the African continent for the first time in history, these once highly-regarded heroes reminisced about days gone by, and shared their frustration of being discarded by the nation they worked so hard to represent.

“How can we be called ambassadors when we have no retirement benefits and no social security?” said Libiih, who represented his country in both the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cup competitions.

The soccer star set up the Libiih Thomas Foundation in 2000 in an attempt to invest his skills and knowledge in the younger generations. He gets no financial assistance from either the FECAFOOT (Cameroon football federation) or the Ministry of Sport. With many mouths to feed at home, managing his finances and responsibilities is a source of great anxiety for him.

“I am indebted about 80 million to FCFA in running the foundation just to occupy the kids and provide them with competition that is absent in Cameroon. I am confident to reach the end of the tunnel with my ambition,” said Libiih.

Driven by this sense of purpose, he spends his time roaming towns from Akono to Nsimeyong trying to organize football competitions for the youth. Unfortunately, his commitment to raising the future footballers of Cameroon has meant sacrificing his relationship with his family. “No woman stays with me because I am never at home. I have a lot of problems with my children and I am not on talking terms with my mother because everything I get goes into the Libiih Thomas Foundation.”

In spite of this, he is a father of 12, and his 17-year-old son has recently signed with Pantakikos, a first division club in Greece. Another one of his children is in a football academy in Italy. Recalling his days of glory with The Lions, Libiih explains in detail the goal that Omam Biyick scored in a match against Argentina during the 1990 World Cup.

“Fabulous, that match was simply fabulous, the goal against Argentina was extra-ordinary for Omam Biyick François, that vertical descend was astonishing,” he said as if it were yesterday.

Elsewhere, on a cocoa farm in Kumba, 1000km from Yaoundé, Victor Ndip Akem’s eyes sparkle as he recounts his fondest memories from the tournament.

“You saw my tackle against Maradona,” he said, explaining in great details how Maradona dribbled past Benjamin Massing, his team mate, and Victor was able to stop him from progressing any further. Suddenly reserved, he looks at his hands, “My hands are full of blisters. I am now a cocoa farmer.”

However, Victor shows no signs of regret as he shows off his cocoa farm. In February 2010 he even invited Roger Milla and a host of other retired players to celebrate his golden jubilee at the farm.

Unlike the footballer-turned-farmer, Louis Paul Mfedé, a father of seven, is still involved in the life of the game and spends his time coaching. With a spacious home in the Nkomo neighborhood, 10km from the capital, Louis is making up for all of the time he spent away from his family as a young footballer.

“I spent a lot of time away from my family, and now I have to take care of my wife and children,” he said.

After coaching in Guinea and Gabon, Louis has come home to rest and spends his days “watching birds in the sky” from the second floor of his spacious home “hoping for things to get better”. As he looks through the window into the palm trees, he thinks back to 1990.

“Playing the opening match against the world champion, Argentina, with some of the best players in the world, including Diego Maradona, was simply an overwhelming sight,” he said with a board grin.

The fond memory of playing for their country in the World Cup all those years ago is not the only thing that unites these three men. They also share a sense of disappointment that Cameroon’s national squad is not up to scratch. Despite some of their nation’s top stars playing for teams in the European League, their national team lacks what it takes to achieve soccer greatness.

According to Libiih, he and his team mates “sacrificed for each other” and were convinced of their quality as players. He believes that if the likes of Eto’o Fils, Alexandre Song, Jean II Makoun and Mbia Stephane were willing to make the same sacrifices, Cameroon could once again produce a national team to be proud of in the World Cup tournaments to come.