Cameroon’s failed wonderkid

The year is 2012. Douala born talent Fabrice Olinga is being tipped as one of Africa’s rising stars and the worthy successor to Samuel Eto’o’s number nine jersey for Cameroon. Everything seemed perfect, until Olinga’s shine evaporated.

Olinga began his youth career at the Samuel Eto’o Foundation in Cameroon. Little did he know that a few years later he would be teaming up with the namesake of the academy for his country.

In 2009 he joined the RCD Mallorca youth system aged 13. Two years later Malaga’s academy director Manuel Casanova spotted the young Cameroonian forward and enticed him to join his club’s academy.

Coming into the 2012/13 season, Malaga had lost Ruud van Nistelrooy, Salomon Rondon and Santi Cazorla, leaving manager Manuel Pellegrini with no choice but to look to the youth for minutes.

After playing a crucial role in helping his team reach the Copa del Rey Juvenil (youth version) final, Olinga was called up by Pellegrini for Malaga’s 2012/13 season opener. Named on the bench as his side travelled to newly-promoted Celta Viga, the diminutive Cameroonian made an instant impact when he was brought on in the second half.

Just moments after hitting the post, Fabrice scored a rebound goal off of Diego Bounanotte’s shot in the 84th minute. Oling’s goal was the decider as his Malaga side won 1-0.

Aged 16 years and 3 months, Olinga became the youngest player to appear in a La Liga appearance since 1984, and became the youngest La Liga goal scorer of all time.

Four days later, Olinga started in the Champions League against Panathinaikos FC. Everything was looking up for the 16-year-old. It wasn’t even September yet and he had made into the first team.

Fast, agile and technically gifted, one would never guess that Olinga was only 16.

A month later Olinga was called up by Cameroon for an AFCON qualifier. Just like his start with Malaga, he scored on his international debut against Cape Verde in a 2-1 win.

Unfortunately, Fabrice’s stardom faded almost as quickly as he became one. He would only make nine more league appearances after his debut until he left the club 16 months later.

As was revealed in Football Leaks, Olinga’s Israeli agent Pini Zahavi forced the Cameroonian out of Malaga in very suspect circumstances. Zahavi rejected Malaga’s improved offer for the youngster and shipped him to Cypriot club Apollon Limassol, a club controlled by Zahavi himself.

It could have been an opportunity to enjoy more minutes, but in reality, the Apollon coaching staff did not expect anything from Olinga. As soon as he arrived in Cyprus, Olinga was loaned to Zulte Waregem of the Belgian Pro League, where he would play only 270 minutes in six months. 

Olinga was selected by Cameroon coach Volker Finke for the 2014 FIFA World Cup squad at the age of 18, being the youngest player in the competition but remaining an unused substitute.

Olinga playing for Cameroon

His decent start in Spain propelled him to greatness, even prompting comparisons with Samuel Eto’o, but his departure without a doubt ruined his career. Today, the comparison appears to be far-fetched.

Fabrice Olinga, now 24, has been contracted to Belgian outfit Royal Excel Mouscron since 2015. After the spending the first year as a bench warmer, Olinga has since adjusted to football in Belgium.

Olinga’s story is that of a wonderkid who failed to live up to the expecttions set before him. Can he return to his previous glory? Only time will tell.