Onana looks to redeem himself after AFCON 2024 debacle – Man United return imminent?

Cameroon and Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana's AFCON 2024 voyage hasn't gone to plan after he saw his Indomitable Lions side crash out of the Africa Cup of Nations following a 2-0 loss to Nigeria.

For the second consecutive match, the goalkeeper was omitted from the starting XI as coach Rigobert Song preferred to start Fabrice Ondoa in goal, who incidentally is Onana's cousin.

The feeling was like a punch to the stomach for Onana, who had not only flown more than 4500 miles in a private carrier following an arrangement with his club just few hours before the first match of the campaign, but coach Song had done what Erik ten Hag couldn't do all season – bench the player no matter the class.

He had previously fallen out with his coach and that saw him retire abruptly from the national team in 2022 but reversed his decision following some interventions.

Andre Onana surprisingly benched for the second game
Photo by Icon Sport

The decision to delay his arrival to the AFCON might have but been a flop as Cameroon fluffed their lines in all group games save for the dramatic win over Gambia.

Unconfirmed reports also have it that United paid a staggering amount for his chartered flight, but Song deemed Onana’s arrival too late.

Onana's AFCON 2024 diary

Having arrived late to team up with the squad and missed out on the first group game, Onana was included in the starting XI for the second group game against holders Senegal, with the coach hoping that his ‘big boys' would step up in that matchup as he had watched his side drop points against Guinea.

Onana and the rest of the team couldn't match the firepower of the holders as the goalkeeper failed to register any saves in the 3-1 defeat.

Onana in action vs Senegal - AFCON 2023
Photo by Icon Sport

The feeling in the squad and amongst Cameroon supporters was that Onana shouldn't have been in the squad, especially as his AFCON 2024 arrangement was seen as “arrogant” and appeared to be an “unwise decision”.

The aftermath of that performance sparked up the debate if Onana or his cousin should start in goal ahead of their crucial tie against Gambia that would make or mar their stay in Ivory Coast.

Coach Song had the final say and opted to start Ondoa in goal for the game against Gambia and the side got the needed win that propelled them into the knockout stages.

Stephen Keshi had similar AFCON arrangement as Onana

When the discussion of a special arrangement was confirmed between Manchester United and the Cameroon FA, football followers across the globe thought it to be an unwise move.

Some even dubbed it as being disrespectful to the national team and the competition but we can tell you that it is not the first time that such has been witnessed.

At the 1988 AFCON held in Morocco, there was a similar arrangement between the Nigeria Football Association and Anderlecht player Stephen Keshi.

The club had claimed that they had needed the player for the business end of the season so a deal was struck with the FA.

Keshi missed out on Nigeria's opening game versus Kenya, in which his side won comfortably by 3-0. He was flown in a private jet for Nigeria’s second game against Cameroon, started in the game and helped his team register a 1-1 all draw, then flew back to Belgium.

He then missed the final group game against Egypt, which ended in a stalemate.

The Nigerian team advanced to the semi-finals, where they traded tackles with Algeria, and according to the existing arrangement, Keshi missed out on that game with his team triumphing on penalties.

The defender then flew back to Morocco for the final against Cameroon, and the Indomitable Lions ran out 1-0 winners in that clash.

The gamble of such an arrangement didn't pay off for Nigeria back then, and the same can be said about Cameroon and their ‘special arrangement' with Manchester United for Onana.

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Photo by Icon Sport

Attention shifts back to club football for Onana

With international football not happening again until March when the FIFA window resumes, Onana would have to worry and shift his attention to retaining his number one spot at Old Trafford.

He is expected to land in Manchester early this week after just one AFCON appearance that was far from convincing and push the Turkish international Altay Bayindir back to the bench.

Bayindir will be nursing his own thoughts about keeping his shirt following his debut against Newport in the FA Cup, where he conceded twice..

Onana has hardly made the number one spot at Old Trafford his own, but with the rusty team display against League Two opponents Newport, where they eventually won 4-2, Bayindir knows that a lot of wrestling still has to be done to keep Onana away from the starting XI.

When will Onana be back for Manchester United?

The Cameroonian will be available for United's next game against Wolves on Thursday in the Premier League, but it is not certain if he will get the nod to start, Ten Hag confirmed after the Newport game.

Bayindir might have another chance to convince the United technical crew by keeping a clean sheet, but since Onana's stay in Ivory Coast appeared to be holiday-like, he might be called back to quick action.

It is also left to be seen if Onana would call it quits again with the national team or be included in the squad for the next international window.

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Rotimi Akindele

Rotimi Akindele is a Sports Journalist with almost two decades' experience. He is a TV and radio host, commentator and writer who has covered major sporting events across the globe. Akindele's sports content has been listened to and read by a global audience. He is a well-known figure within Nigeria and the African football scene.