The indomitable Lion: Song overcomes the biggest challenge to get to fifth FIFA World Cup edition

Rigobert Song Bahanag

Cameroon bowed out from the 2022 FIFA World Cup in style, with a 1-0 win over Brazil, adding to their good performance in the competition, after a 3-3 draw against Serbia and a 0-1 loss against Switzerland. Sure, the ”indomitable lions” were eliminated and will be heading home, but at least they kept their heads high and duly delivered some exciting football, the usual brand of courage brought to the table, mixed with some excellent attacking skills.

Chief responsible for revitalising this team was Rigobert Song, their 46-year-old coach, a former defender renowned for his appearance, dying his hair and beard blonde, who featured for Liverpool, West Ham United, Lens and Trabzonspor in his playing career.

As a player, Song had 137 games and five goals for Cameroon, was the team’s captain and featured at four editions of the FIFA World Cup, in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2010, in a career spanning 17 years, between 1993 and 2010.

After his last game, which coincided with Cameroon’s elimination at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Song went into management, with his father’s influence, Paul, always close to him. But the current Cameroon coach did not have an easy life, as Paul passed away when Rigobert was young, making it hard to make do on a daily basis.

It took Song a few years to find his vocation as a coach, but he took up the challenge of managing the divisional team of Cameroon, after the negotiations to lead Chad’s national team broke up. But as soon as he made his first steps, the biggest challenge of his career started.

It was not football, because Song might have just navigated it with ease. It was about life and death, as the former defender, strong as a rock during his playing career, suffered a stroke.

A brain aneurysm knocked Song unconscious. The former Cameroon international had huge luck, receiving first aid quickly, and was transported immediately from Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde, to Paris.

“I was watching TV, but I felt very tired.” Song told French outlet “L’Equipe”,

“I left the door open because I was expecting a visitor. If it had been closed, it was over because my family was in Paris. My dog must have felt something and started barking. Then the person who was waiting came and saw me lying on the floor.”

Even the Cameroon president, Paul Biya, intervened personally for Song to receive the best possible care and his life was saved. According to the current Cameroon manager, doctors in Paris told him that from 40 cases of the aneurysm he had, 30 persons would die, with a survival rate of only 25%.

“I did not know what was happening to me. I was totally innocent. I did not even know I was fighting between life and death. But when I came back out of the coma, that was when I had echoes of what really happened. That was when I started understanding that there were people really behind me. Everyone wanted to know what was happening,” added Song, according to the BBC.

The current Cameroon manager totally changed his lifestyle after the event, mentioning that a series of visions helped him recover, including meeting his father and his uncle.

“My father died when I was 9 years old, but I recognized him. He told me: ‘What are you doing here? You have to go back,” added Song.

He did come back and took up the position of the Cameroon Under-23 team, which he led between 2018 and 2022. In February 2022, a few months before the Qatar 2022 tournament, former teammate turned President of the Cameroon Football Federation, Samuel Eto’o called.

Eto’o believed that Song was the perfect man to lead Cameroon at the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the former defender accepted the challenge. One that he never believed he would have in his life.

“If I have advice to give to others, it’s: ‘live your life!’ But, be careful. You ought to take precautions, for example, you may have a headache…go see the doctor. Also in life you need a normal life, not one with a lot of pressure. Take things calmly”, concluded Song.

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