The star shot stopper of the Indomitable Lions, is one of the star attractions of this Total Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Egypt 2019. The 23-year-old Cameroonian international is back in the running for Cameroon after a successful season with his Dutch club Ajax, and he sat down with CAFOnline.com to speak about Cameroon’s chances.
CAFOnline.com: Three points against Guinea Bissau in the first match. How important was it?
Andre Onana: It was a crucial match for us because it's important to start well. I am happy for this deserved victory. I want to congratulate the coach and the collective work of the team as well.
We managed the match, in both good and bad times. It was not easy facing a very big opponent. Personally, I am satisfied with my performance in the match. Keeping a clean sheet is something that we obtain collectively as a team because I am not alone in the field. I'm happy with the defensive work we did and the performance of the whole group.
As the defending champions what are the targets in this tournament?
It's clear that the goal is to win this prestigious competition. But you have to be realistic. Before winning, there are several games to play. And it's game after game that we move forward. We won the first game and we'll get the second one.
It is clear that we must respect all the opponents. There are some very good teams we will have to face. I think it will be fine if we stay true to our philosophy, if we stay positive. And as I usually say, the most important thing about football is to play your own game. I think if we are ourselves, we are more likely to win this competition.
The jury is out that you are the best goalkeeper here. Agree?
It's something good. It is rare that an African goalkeeper is at this level. This is the result of the work done by my technical staff, my goalkeeper coaches and I want to thank them.
It's a double motivation for me. I had the chance to play against the best goalkeepers like Neuer (Manuel) or Courtois (Thibaut) and with whom I could exchange ideas with after matches. It's good to see these people and to understand that they are human like us (laughs) and that they are not different from us. With a little work and luck, we can reach their level.
Most players or fans do not see themselves turning out to be goalkeepers but rather as infield players. Why did you decide to become a goalkeeper?
My older brother was a goalkeeper and he was my inspiration. When I was a kid, I tried to follow his footsteps. Unfortunately, he could not make a professional career as a goalkeeper but he was able to do it as a central defender.
And like all children in the village, I was a center-forward. When you are very small, no one wants you to play in goal. Everyone wants to score, to be center-forward. I think the key to this decision came from my big brother.
Has it hit you that you are now the star of this Cameroonian team?
In the last 40 years, the goalkeeper position has changed the most. The current goalkeepers are taking risks, moving forward. Ten years ago, that was not possible. Football is modernizing. I think that's why we have goalkeepers who are being starred than in the past.
Who are your role models as a goalkeeper?
In Cameroon, we have legends like old Tommy (Thomas Nkono) and old Bell (Joseph Antoine Bell), these two are like father figures with whom I have very good contact with. I really want to thank them for their advice.
I had to do some training with Tommy including a week in Berlin with him and I really enjoyed it. It was a rich session learning.
But sincerely as a model, I try to take the best in all these legends. Today I see Neuer or Courtois. Whatever they do, I try to reproduce it and apply it to be the most complete custodian possible.
When you enter the Cameroonian dressing room, the atmosphere is joyous and there is a lot of friendship within the team. What is this all about?
Yes our team is young. It's almost the same generation with almost the same age. We are very good friends. We even go clubbing together when we're on vacation (laughs). We have known each other and have been friends for a while. We have developed very close links.
And yes, we have a very good cohesion. There is a very nice atmosphere in the group.
Can Cameroon replicate the performance from 2017?
I hope we can do it. If we succeed, it will be wonderful in a collective and personal capacity because at the end of the day, it is for us that we do it first, then for our country and our families. We try to give them pleasure. I really hope we'll go all the way.