Blessed with the booming voice of a tennis line judge, when Rigobert Song talks you have to listen. Just before the 2010 World Cup, Song, sporting peroxide locks that made him personify the most indomitable of lions, outlined the range of monikers that had been bestowed upon him during a lengthy career.
"My nickname changed and evolved through time," he explained. "They used to call me 'Le Magnan' (Brother of all brothers). I then evolved to a higher status and they called me 'The Charismatic Dinosaur'. Now, with this mane, I'm called 'The Phoenix' because, as you know, when facing adversity, it rises from the ashes."
And so it was that when the Cameroon players went on strike in November 2011 and relations between the players and football federation rendered to an all-time low, something had to change. The relationship back then had dwindled into "us and them" territory and a key line of communication was needed to galvanise the two parties.
Having expressed interest in sharing his experiences with the national team in some capacity, if solicited, upon retirement in 2010, the populist candidate to dilute the dissidence was Song .
With goodwill from his nation, Song was deemed the figurehead of reconciliation under the role of "team manager". He had been dignified when he retired amidst the post-mortem of the disgraceful 2010 World Cup, not revealing any tales of dressing-room conflict despite constant, calculated probing from journalists.
Instead, in March 2012, two months into his new role, he released a creed for all Cameroon international players and officials to sign and adhere to -- undoubtedly a result of the frailties he had seen, and overseen, over the years.
The 11-point mission statement was pretentious but also patriotic, and though the majority of the points overlapped -- togetherness and communication were unsurprisingly common themes -- it was more a reminder to both parties of concepts that had become alien. The document included the tenet, "I shall communicate with my coaches, comrades and officials, dialogue shall remain my strength," while also in there was, "with my teammates I shall be strong, with friendship and solidarity my watchword."
An experienced tournament trekker, boasting a record 138 caps, Song possesses extensive eye-witness experience of the unrest and discontent that afflicted the Cameroon dressing room from 1994 to 2010 and he is working to ensure it doesn't become commonplace again. One of Africa's greatest footballers, Song was more about courage and combativeness rather than natural ability; the living embodiment of an Indomitable Lion in the manner he maximised his abilities.
Playing in a record eight African Nations Cups, he led Cameroon to victory in the 2000 and 2002 editions, as well as playing at the 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2010 World Cups. The over-enthusiasm and roguish charm that characterised him as a player has made him an apt choice for the role, too. He may wear a suit when he sits on the Cameroon bench but that's just for the sake of protocol. He is no man-in-a-suit, no football federation representative. He is young enough to have played with some of the players, and so the players still view him as one of their own.
He's even young enough for the younger members of the squad, like Cedric Djeugoue and Joel Matip, to have glimpsed him in his pomp, leading the team at their most indomitable in the early 2000s, when they were football-crazy kids.
When a player like Benoit Assou-Ekotto, not one to speak in platitudes, tells you that it's the best squad atmosphere he's been part of, it is largely due to the positivity generated by results, yes, but he, like many in the squad, is also particularly fond of Song.
“The over-enthusiasm and roguish charm that characterised Song as a player make him an apt choice for the role of team manager.”
While he has been in his new role for nearly two years, it is in these major tournaments where the success of his role will be truly assessed rather than the one-week international break get-togethers.
Immersed in the 24-hour, seven-days-a-week World Cup psychological bubble, some players may be disheartened at not being involved in games. Some players, especially the younger ones unused to such excursions, may suffer from homesickness. Some may make the costly errors that lower their morale and plunge them into self-doubt. Song has experienced all this and, of course, was no stranger to costly, erratic defending himself.
Whatever their worries or concerns, the Brother of all Brothers will, with unfailing charm, amble through the hotel, team bus or dressing room in a dreadlocked majesty and give them a friendly ear and some enlightenment.
For all the Cameroon football federation's ills, its appointment of Song as team manager was one of the more astute moves.