Exclusive Interview: Fai Collins – Cameroon’s Geremi Njitap replacement

Fai Collins Ngoran says ‘it was a regret’ to lose to continental arch-rivals Nigeria in the round of 16 of last year’s African Cup of Nations in Egypt.

Cameroon lost the thrilling encounter 3-2, despite leading 2-1 at the break.

They conceded two sudden second-half goals in only four minutes shortly after the half-hour mark from Odion Ighalo and Alex Iwobi.

The pacey right-back who made the final cut to the biennial competition under Clarence Seedorf had just recovered from a thigh injury. He started in all four games for Cameroon en route to the round of 16 before their unprecedented exit to the Super Eagles. It marked his second AFCON with the Indomitable Lions after a productive 2017 debut when they won the trophy in Gabon.

Speaking to African Football HQ, Fai conceded there’s plenty to regret over their defeat and admitted the clash against Nigeria did not appear to be the most challenging of their games.

“No! We created chances and dominated most of the game. It was a regret, looking at the quality of players we had,” the 27-year-old explained.

The former Union of Douala full-back, currently on the books of Standard Liege in Belgium believes the 2021 edition of the continental showpiece will offer Cameroon the opportunity to make amends before their home fans.

“We have to look back and correct the mistake of 2019,” Collins said. “More to it, we are playing at home. That is already a motivation.”

Collins has racked up close to thirty caps for Cameroon. He rose through the U-21 and U-23 youth setups were he made remarkable strides as he looks to replicate the exploits of the legendary Gerimi Njitap.

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Cameroon has produced a plethora of world-class defenders over the past two decades.

Although much attention has been given to the attacking aptitude of the squad since 1990 when the national team rose to prominence to a global audience.

While the likes of Geremi, Rigobert Song, and Lauren were lauded during their era – it’s nothing close to the attention received to the attacking talent that has donned the famous national team jersey.

LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 25: Geremi  playing for Chelsea (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)

Cameroon’s attacking fluency has dropped over the years, no doubt.

Reputable strikers like Samuel Eto’o, Patrick Mboma, Roger Milla and Francois Omam-Biyick have possbily set the bar too high with several highly rated forwards yet to break into iconic status.

The midfield has equally suffered a similar fate, albeit there are plenty of rivalries with newfound talent on a steady rise.

But the back four is slightly different. The competition is astounding.

Among the defenders hailed for their glittering career with the Lions, is Geremi Njitap.

The free-kick expert who won two Nations Cups and an Olympic medal in his 14-year spell with the Central African nation was widely considered as the landlord of the Lions right wing.

Since his retirement in 2010, no has been able to reach similar heights, however, that has changed with the rise of Fai Collins.

Standing at 1.67m in height certainly doesn’t reflect those of colossal right-backs of his grade. However, his incredible pace, agility, composure, and technique has ranked the rampaging wide-man as the brightest prospect of Njitap’s legacy.

Interestingly, like Geremi Njitap, the Bamenda-born talent is a versatile player, capable of playing on both flanks of the Lions defence.

Since making his international debut for Cameroon in 2012, but only featuring as from 2015, Fai has become one of the many positive figures for his country.

It is very plausible that the rising defender may have been propelled earlier to the limelight barely two years after Cameroon’s iconic right back drew the curtains on his international career.

Nevertheless, he remained faithful and when the opportunity presented itself, he took it without further delay.

Today, he enjoys first-team opportunities, not by elements of fortune but by hard work, perseverance, and his five outstanding performances. As luck would have it, he has been able to address some of Cameroon’s underlying problems at the back as most players find little joy when he enters the pitch. And with his terrific form yet to reach its summit, there are obvious signs he will develop his legacy if he continues in his current career trajectory.

If the comparison were permitted, then one would be tempted to line up a set of world-class defenders with whom Collins Fai has similar attributes.

Regarding the pace of Dani Carvajal, the accuracy of Trent Alexander-Arnold or even the creativity of Achraf Hakimi, Fai’s ability would be on par with some of the best full-backs in world football.

In all of this, you surely see traces of Collins’ talent. He is a sensation to watch and has constantly demonstrated he is a player who’s presence in a team will undoubtedly improve the quality of the squad’s output.

With only 28 caps for the country, the tireless right-back has already left an undeniable mark with the men’s football team.

He won the African Cup of Nations in only his first set of appearances at the continent’s most celebrated football tournament; the Afcon and continues to put up impressive figures for both club and country.

With a good number of youngsters eyeing Fai’s place in the squad, the Cameroon League one champions could fall under more pressure to further impress, a challenge the right-back is set to accept.

Fai Collins guided Standard Liege to a fifth-place finish in the Belgian Pro League which secures them qualification for the Europa League next season. He made eight league appearances last season and has twice helped them win the Belgian Cup twice in 2015-2016  and 2017-2018.

He believes his early days in Cameroon and Romania played a major role in improving his professional career and believes he has become a better player at Standard Liege.

“It was an honour to win a major trophy in Cameroon’s Professional League. I think it helped me to adapt immediately when I got to Europe.”

“It was really easy because I had travelled a lot with the U-20 and U-23 so, it gave me the confidence to adapt.

“(My) memorable moments (has to be my) first official game with Dinamo and the other is the first victory against the rivals Steaua Bucharest.”