The contrasting careers of Cameroon’s goalkeeping cousins

Fabrice Ondoa and Andre Onana are well known for their goalkeeping feats for Cameroon. Both born to the same family and groomed in Spain with FC Barcelona, these terrific shot-stoppers have unrivalled skills among African goalkeepers. However, of recent, there’s been much contrast between these two and their goalkeeping skills. But why is this the case?

Ondoa was only 13 when he joined Barcelona in 2009. His cousin Andre Onana only got to make a move to Spain a year later. They were both from the Samuel Eto’o Academy in Cameroon where they were highly regarded despite their tender age.

They were even roommates together at the prestigious La Masia academy! Both followed nearly exact upbringings, so why the mixed fortunes?

Ondoa was one of the most remarkable teenage keepers who many were convinced was definitely going to compete at the highest level. He progressed through Barcelona’s youth setup and decided in 2014 to renew his stay with the Spanish club until 2017. He was keen on having an impact with the Catalans, but little did he know the fate that awaited him at the club.

In June 2014, Ondoa was promoted to the reserves in the Segunda Division but was only a backup to Spanish keeper Adrian Ortola during his stay. He faced tough competition from the starting goalkeeper and an attempt to wrestle the position from the Spaniard was not patent. Two years later, Ondoa agreed a three-year-deal with Gimnastic de Tarragona still in the second tier championship but was later assigned to play for CF Pobla de Mafumet of the third division. Three days later, he made his first senior appearances and leaked three goals as his side lost by a goal.

He spent eight months with the third-tier club and was loaned out to Sevilla Atletico on August 2016. He only made his official debut for the club in March the following year and was sent off in Sevilla’s 2-1 win.

Having spent ten months with the club as the second choice goalkeeper, Ondoa decided to sign for the Andalusians until 2020. But after they suffered relegation, he moved to KV Oostende in Belgium on a four-year deal. He has continued to battle with the same issues as with his former clubs, namely gross inconsistency and relegation battles and stuck in the shadow of Andre.

While Ondoa was hopping from club to club, Onana signed for Dutch giants Ajax in 2015, joining their youth setup. In five years Andre went from a youth player to one of the best goalkeepers in Europe, and it seems he can only get better. After four seasons as Ajax’s number one, it seemed that the Cameroonian would move to the Premier League, although a move never materialized.

On the international stage, Onana has claimed the starting goalkeeper spot for his country, a position that his cousin Fabrice proudly held as they lifted the 2017 AFCON trophy. 

Ondoa has not been privileged to have consistent games, which can be very hard as a goalkeeper. This has forced him to move from club to club in search of regular football. Currently, on the books of Oostende, the Cameroonian has been unlucky.

When William Dullot, former team goalkeeper left the Belgian outfit in the summer, Ondoa was tipped to become the next first-choice keeper but was dropped on the bench for Guillaume Hurbert. With growing frustration with the state of event and anxiety to perform in between the sticks, Ondoa’s aim for a place in the sun can have an influence to move on elsewhere.

In August, Serie A side Union Sportiva Lecce showed an interest in the Yaounde-born footballer. This could see the renaissance of the skilful and all-encompassing goalkeeper, should he be able to earn a starting spot.

In all truth, one can be tempted to concur that there are elements of fortunes in Onana’s story and that Ondoa doesn’t deserve such sour treatment.

Their plights differ, their achievements vary but their objectives remain the same – becoming the best from the continent.

Can we confidently assert that Ondoa can fully perform better if he secures a move to a better side while earning first-team opportunities like his compatriot?

Would he have been able to match Onana if not for his regression in Spain? There are certainly a lot of unanswered questions which could ease our understanding of the problematic.

Funny enough both players have sparked debates on who remains the best despite the gap in performance and excellence. On one hand, Cameroon’s much appreciated AFCON winning keeper and the other, the European superstar. What’s your pick?

With the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations to be held in Cameroon, it will be interesting to see who amongst the two shall become Antonio Conceicao’s favourite – the AFCON winning goalie or the Ajax Amsterdam superstar?