By Ben Hayward
Few Espanyol fans will be surprised by the likely departure of goalkeeper Carlos Kameni to Roma this summer. The Cameroonian has been linked with a move for each of the last three years and when he failed to turn up on the first day of pre-season training last week, an exit appeared inevitable. Now, it's a reality, and while many Espanyol followers will have mixed feelings about the player's prospective transfer, few will be mourning his likely loss.
The Barcelona-based club looked to have struck gold with Kameni. The goalkeeper caught the attention of the Catalan outfit following a match-winning performance in the Olympic final in 2000, thwarting Spain with a string of sensational saves as a 16-year-old in Sydney to become the youngest-ever footballer to win a gold medal. A difficult period in France with Le Havre followed, but the keeper remained on Espanyol's radar and, advised by former Cameroon No.1 Thomas Nkono, he sealed a move to Spain in 2004.
Agile and athletic, Kameni impressed immediately and became first-choice keeper in his second season at the club. Fans were wowed by his rapid reflexes and his ability to make seemingly impossible interventions. His performance in the 0-0 draw with champions and city rivals Barcelona won wider acclaim, as he denied Frank Rijkaard's side with a series of stunning stops, including a brilliant one-handed effort to repel an Andres Iniesta drive.
But Kameni was capable of the very best and the very worst - the sublime and also the ridiculous. Two very poor mistakes gifted a 2-0 win to Osasuna the following season, while there was another high-profile error against Athletic Bilbao. The Cameroonian eventually lost his place to Gorka Iraizoz, but won it back the following season and has kept it ever since.
SNAPSHOT | CARLOS KAMENI (Espanyol & Cameroon)
"My mistakes will make me mature," he vowed, and they have. Nevertheless, the 27-year-old is still prone to moments of madness now and again. Espanyol fans often marvel at the African's agility and shot-stopping, but there is usually one heart-in-the-mouth moment per game at Cornella, be it an ill-advised charge off his goal line, a risky dribble outside the box or an unwise attempt to come and claim a cross that should be left to his defenders.
Such sorties can be costly and the Cameroonian was at fault for at least two - and arguably all three - goals in his side's 3-2 defeat at Almeria back in February, when the keeper's early lapses of concentration allowed the Andalusians to race into a 3-0 lead.
At Roma, Kameni will be under the intense spotlight and scrutiny of a big club for the first time in his career. The Cameroonian will be handed the starting spot at Stadio Olimpico next term, ahead of Julio Sergio and the soon-to-depart Alexander Doni. But, he will need to add improved composure and concentration to his game in the high-pressure atmosphere of Serie A, where one mistake can be crucial and games are often tight, decided by the smallest of details.
Discipline could be an issue as well. Kameni squared up to a supporter in 2008-09, fought with team-mate Gregory Beranger the same season and has fallen out with coaches at Cameroon as well, while public criticism of the club for a perceived lack of ambition appears to have hastened the custodian's departure. In Rome, such behaviour is unlikely to be tolerated.
Roma represents a step up for Kameni - but the keeper must step up as well. Coach Luis Enrique has clearly highlighted the potential of the undoubtedly talented African and he must now find just how to coax the brilliant best out of the 27-year-old as the player nears his peak. Tame this Indomitable Lion, and the African's adventure at Roma is likely to be a roaring success.
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