Ambroise Oyongo's first Africa Cup of Nations didn't go too well. In 2015, Oyongo was selected to Cameroon's AFCON squad as part of then-coach Volker Finke's effort to rebuild an Indomitable Lions roster that had been embarrassed at the 2014 World Cup (three group stage losses; one goal scored, nine conceded; ranked 32nd of 32 teams at the tournament). After humiliation in Brazil, Finke turned to younger players or those who had previously been on the fringes of the national team. A few older and better-known players didn't make it into the AFCON squad, though it did include several carry-overs from the World Cup team, including Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Henri Bedimo, Vincent Aboubakar, and Stephane Mbia.
But the 2015 AFCON tournament was no better for Cameroon than the 2014 World Cup: the team went winless in the group stage and was bounced out before the knockout rounds. Worse, for Ambroise Oyongo in particular, his AFCON was interrupted by upsetting news from his club side: on January 27, 2015, he was traded by the New York Red Bulls to Montreal Impact.
Three days earlier had perhaps been the high point of Oyongo's career to that point: he had scored the equalizer against Mali that kept Cameroon's hope of advancing to the AFCON knockout rounds alive.
Not a bad time or way to score your first goal for your national team. Oyongo seemed set to be one of the breakout players of the tournament. But the news RBNY's decision to trade him had reportedly left Oyongo in the wrong frame of mind for a must-win AFCON game: he was was left out of the lineup for Cameroon's group stage decider against Ivory Coast.
And then it got worse. Oyongo stayed away from his new club team while rumors and reports sought to explain his absence. It was May before the situation we eventually resolved, with Oyongo arriving in Montreal keen to put the episode behind him. He told LionIndomptable.com that he had never had any issue with MLS or L'Impact, he just had some contract issues that needed to be settled. As it happens, his reported salary in September 2014, when he was still with RBNY, was $36,500. In July 2015, after he had moved to Montreal, it was $100,000.
Oyongo has been the subject of transfer rumors since he landed in MLS. Indeed, when he arrived at RBNY, he had been reportedly a target for Lille. More recently he has been rumored to have got close to a move to Turkey, and there is still transfer gossip flowing freely around him:
Source: Montreal is open to listening to any offers coming in for Oyongo. Ligue 2 club Troyes planning a bid in next 24-48 hours— MLS Transfers (@MLSTransfers) February 4, 2017
Metro reported Feb.1 that IMFC fullback Ambroise Oyongo nearly signed with a team in Turkey earlier this week, that team continue to pursue.— Renato Sosua (@RenatoSosua) February 3, 2017
But TVA Sports' Nicolas Martineau has reported that Oyongo is expected to stay in Montreal and see out the final year of his contract with MLS.
L'Impact's resolve may be tested over the next few weeks and months. Since accepting the hand RBNY dealt him, Oyongo has been a regular starter in Montreal and a regular in the Cameroon national team. He had perhaps the modest satisfaction of being part of the IMFC team that beat RBNY home and away in the 2016 playoffs; and he may yet have the surprising experience of outlasting at least one member of the Red Bulls leadership team that wrecked his AFCON 2015 by trading him away so suddenly. Red Bulls Sporting Director Ali Curtis is widely rumored to be on the cusp of leaving the club.
Not that Oyongo seems remotely vengeful. He has said Ibrahim Sekagya - the legendary Uganda international and NYRB II assistant coach - is like a father to him, and that relationship was formed during Oyongo's time with RBNY. Time heals all wounds. He needed a few months to
clear his head settle his contract and then he got back to work.
And in two short years he is at another AFCON with Cameroon. Except this time he isn't a young player seeking to prove himself. He is a 25-year-old who should win his 30th cap for his national team at the 2017 AFCON final. He is an influential member of a team that was hit by a rash of withdrawals before the tournament.
Several of the players assumed to be among Cameroon's best declined their country's call to AFCON. But head coach Hugo Broos - the man who replaced Volker Finke to rebuild the team that had been rebuilt after the 2014 World Cup - told FIFA.com that the squad's spirit has carried it through the tournament:
What they've done is exceptional. I've been coaching for 29 years and I've never had a squad like this before. I keep telling them every day that they have something they need to cherish – and that's friendship. They're genuine friends, and you don't often get that in a football team.
One of the men responsible for nurturing that spirit: Ambroise Oyongo. Per Cameroon-Info.net's Joel Mba, Oyongo is the squad's animator-in-chief, the man who helps set the mood in the camp. In his own words:
In a team, always a person who brings the atmosphere and that makes you forget some difficult times. This atmosphere also makes us forget the pressure that there is a competition.
Oyongo quite literally brings the music to the team:
Two years ago, an inconveniently timed trade wrecked Oyongo's AFCON and almost sabotaged his year, even threatened his career (he could have faced severe sanctions if his dispute with MLS had reached a FIFA hearing and the decision had gone against him). But he's emerged from that experience to see his Lions reach the final of AFCON 2017. And he'll play the most important game of his career to date - that final against Egypt - as one of the key members of the Cameroon squad. A team of Indomitable Lions that includes the indomitable Ambroise Oyongo.