This is the story of the boy from Yaoundé who is now at Fulham and continues to make his home country proud.
Djibrilla Alain still remembers seeing his former protege, André Frank Zambo-Anguissa, for the first time like it was yesterday.
They were in the G8 talent camp in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
‘What struck me first about him was his technical ease with the ball,’ he tells First Time Finish exclusively.
‘He arrived[At Coton Sport] with little experience of this level of competition.’
It is Anguissa’s technical ease and down-to-earth attitude that has helped him to greater success in life and in football. From Yaoundé to Garoua, then to France with Reims and Marseille, to his present life in the south-west of London.
From earning the trust of Rudi Garcia and Marcelo Bielsa to becoming Scott Parker’s trusted midfield general – it has been a long and arduous road for the lion from Yaoundé.
First Time Finish exclusively spoke to his first coach in Cameroon at Coton Sport, Djibrilla “Coach Weah” Alain to discover his beginnings in football.
Rooted in Yaoundé
Yaoundé is the capital city of Cameroon and has been home to several important athletes over the years. Now the city has another son making a name for himself in Anguissa.
‘Football is prevalent in the life of the people of Yaoundé. There are many clubs in the capital from the country. Teams from youth sides to professional clubs and amateurs as well,’ says Djibrilla.
Djibrilla, who himself has spent over 19 years at Coton Sport, first spotted Anguissa as a 17-year-old during the G8 talent camp held in 2013.
‘The G8 talent is a competition for young players which brings together the best players from training centers across Cameroon. It is organized by Mr Maxime Nana, a FIFA player agent. The managers of the training centers of several European clubs are present during the competition. It is the most important camp in the country,’ he explains.
Though, before he became a lion, he had to overcome a difficult moment early on in his career.
‘I remember that once he back from the national youth team selection, European recruiters came to Garoua to supervise him. Unfortunately for him, the coach did not sign him on the day,’ recalls Djibrilla.
For a young man who had only just taken his first steps towards professional football this was a harsh reality to face.
Thankfully though, Anguissa had the support of Djibrilla to carry him through.
‘He was really downhearted and in tears by the end of the match,’ said Djibrilla.
‘I had to comfort him at length to calm him down and make him realize that he had the whole future ahead of him.’
The future ahead took him to Coton Sport, where he had first taste of pro football.
Moulded at Coton Sport
As a youngster, it is very important to have the right sort of environment around you to enable growth. Anguissa’s parents valued his education and ensured that he remained focussed in terms of his academics as well.
‘For his family, studies were the priority’, recalls Djibrilla.
While initially they had some doubts , once Frank signed for Coton Sport it didn’t take long for his parents to embrace their son’s talent for the sport and to support his career.
‘As Frank was disciplined and his talent began to be recognized, they allowed him to pursue his dream.’ explains Djibrilla.
With Les Cottoniers in Garoua, Anguissa was in the right place for his development. However, it was a test of patience and endurance for the young Cameroonian at first.
Growing into his own
At 25 and entering his prime years at Fulham, Anguissa is very much a midfielder who has grown in most facets since his time at Coton Sport.
The Cameroonian has come a long way. At the very beginning, things were not always easy.
‘He had to really fight to win at Coton sport,’ recalls Djibrilla.
Anguissa needed needed to grow physically and practise patience in order to get his chances. But he never shied away from competition.
Djibrilla still remembers Frank’s fighting spirit and determination to make it.
‘The memory I remember first is his hard work and his will to succeed.’
That exact mentality is now paying dividends at the highest level of the game as he excels in the Premier League with Fulham.
Torchbearer in midfield
‘Indeed it is his technical ease that struck us at first sight. There is also his skill when he had the ball. His overall quality of play, his passing and generosity in his efforts to help his team-mates. It was all very impressive,’ recalls Djibrilla.
Djibrilla wasn’t the only one who was impressed by Anguissa’s ability with and without the ball. A certain Argentine manager was also awed by his ability. .
He had to work extra hard to prepare himself for Bielsa’s methods by working closely with one of the managers’ assistants, as this piece by Peter Rutzler from the Athletic reveals his subsequent efforts paid off.
‘In fact when I arrived at OM, Marcelo Bielsa was still the coach for two weeks. El Loco saw me as a 10 or 8. I’m more of a dribbler, but the coach asks me to play simple not to carry the ball. I try to play as simple as possible to gain confidence’, recalled Anguissa, in an interview with le10sport.
Having been a late comer to the professional game, Anguissa’s skills were mostly self-taught. His ability to adapt is thus mightily impressive.
‘He always liked to play in the middle. In defence or as the torchbearer,’ recalls Djibrilla.
‘He admired the very technical midfielders who can bring out the ball cleanly. Here in Garoua, he mostly played as the no.6.’
Flash forward to the present Anguissa is now a box-to-box midfielder capable of offering useful qualities in attack as well as protection at the back. At Fulham, he does this either alongside Mario Lemina or Harrison Reed.
At Marseille, he revealed his personal admiration for Yaya Toure and hoped to model his playing style after him.
‘He[Yaya Toure] inspires me. He collects balls, is ‘box to box’ and scores goals. He’s the ideal model.’
There are some similarities between Anguissa and Toure quite visible in his performances at Fulham. Much like Toure’s displays at Manchester City included powerful carries from the midfield into dangerous areas, Anguissa similarly uses his abilities to help Parker’s side progress the ball.
Although he hasn’t been able to replicate the robust Ivorian’s goalscoring instincts, Anguissa’s numbers suggest that there is a great deal of similarity between him and his role model.
Numbers at Fulham backing it up
Fast forward to the year 2021, and Anguissa is producing some incredible numbers in a Fulham side battling in the relegation zone.
Scott Parker’s system allows Anguissa the freedom he needs to progress the ball vertically with his powerful carries. He also tracks back when his team needs him to. Both these aspects are very much reflected in his numbers.
According to the numbers from Football Reference, Anguissa ranks 3rd for tackles won and interceptions made in the Premier League, only behind Manchester United’s Fred and Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante. Averaging 3.86 tackles and interceptions per match in the league.
It is, of course, a figure skewed by the amount of defensive work Fulham are required to do, given that they don’t enjoy the greater amount of possession in most games. Nonetheless, it is a healthy indicator of his defensive work ethic.
In terms of ball progression and dribbling, Anguissa performs quite nicely. In terms of progressive carries, he is in the top 15 in the league with 5.86 progressive carries achieved in the league per match.
Technical ease shining through
Not only that, the progressive distance he covers with those carries is substantial as well. His progressive distance covered via carries of almost 138 yards per match is only bettered by 8 players in the league.
There’s been a lot of praise for Tanguy Ndombele and his displays for Tottenham Hotspur this season and rightly so. But, Fulham’s own midfield catalyst isn’t too far behind him in terms of dribbling prowess.
If we look at players dribbled past per match, Anguissa ranks second in the league, beating 3.26 players on average with his dribbling, just behind N’dombele who is on 3.65.
Anguissa has also shown the ability to pick out good passes this season. Even though he may not be particularly renowned for it.
‘I still have in my mind that superb assist he made against Manchester United’, says Djibrilla.
It was quite a good one too. Anguissa received the ball near the half way line and spotted Ademola Lookman’s run beyond Manchester United’s defence. Upon receiving the ball with his left, he lofted a beautiful lob pass to play Lookman through on goal for Fulham to score the first in a 2-1 defeat.
Another occasion where he showed his strength was in the 4-3 defeat against Leeds United early in the season.
Receiving the ball to feet from his defenders, Anguissa anticipated the press from Kalvin Phillips instantly and then shrugged him off with his sheer power and a clever side-step. He then set up Bobby de Cordova Reid with a nicely executed through pass into space to nick a goal back for the visitors.
It was another example of his strengths as whole. Ability to dribble past his marker, ride the physical challenge and execute the final pass.
Room for improvement at Fulham and beyond
Djibrilla has kept a close eye on Anguissa’s career since leaving Cameroon.
‘Since his departure from Garoua he has continued to improve. I think he’s having a great season this year with Fulham. He is consistent in his performance. His defensive contribution is good and he contributes offensively too.’
At 25, Anguissa has shown an incredible amount of consistency in his displays at Marseille, Villareal and now Fulham. It’s a sign he can progress even further and establish himself at an even higher level.
While he does have room for improvement, Djibrilla has faith that Anguissa’s grounded and humble character will stand him in good stead in the future.
‘Given his age I think he still has a lot of room for improvement. The Premier League is a very tough championship, even the best, yet every season he keeps improving his game. I think his passion for football and his education will help him to move on to integrate into some of the best clubs in the world.’
Even today, Anguissa remains in close contact with Djibrilla and has not forgotten his roots.
“He is a very grateful youngster who is always connected with whom he has encountered during his career. Despite the distance we always stayed in touch even now exchanging from time to time to get the news.”– Djibrilla Alain on Anguissa
With plenty of time and support on his side from people around him, it is certainly an exciting prospect to see where Anguissa’s career takes him next. For now though, he will certainly be focused on his team-mates at Craven Cottage cement their status in the Premier League for another season.
The Lion from Yaoundé continues to dominate on the pitch and win hearts, long may he continue to do so.