Cameroon’s Andre Onana says ‘Black keepers have to work harder’
Ajax Amsterdam and Cameroon’s Andre Onana says black goalkeepers have to work harder than white stoppers to make it to the top of European football.
The 23-year-old believes there is a misconception that black keepers make too many mistakes.
“I don’t see the difference between white and black goalkeepers,” he said.
“They’re the same – they make mistakes. I make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes. Black keepers need to prepare well because it’s not easy for us.”
Onana’s Ajax can reach the Champions League final on Wednesday, as they protect a 1-0 lead at home against Tottenham Hotspur, whereupon he could become the first black goalkeeper to contest the final since Brazil’s Dida, who played for Milan in 2007.
The Cameroon international has played every minute of Ajax’s Champions League campaign, which began in the second qualifying round in July 2018.
“We don’t have a lot of black goalkeepers at the top and people already have in their mind that black goalkeepers are not confident or they make too many mistakes,” Onana told BBC Sport.
“It’s something we have to change. It’s not easy for us to arrive at that level especially when you are black but for me it really doesn’t matter – black or white, in the end I am a goalkeeper.”
Onana has been first choice at Ajax since 2016 after joining them from Barcelona a year earlier.
He learnt his his trade at the Spanish giants after a move from the academy in Douala founded by Cameroon legend Samuel Eto’o.
He feels his growth in recent seasons is because he can accept criticism.
Former Ajax, Juventus and Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, who is now the CEO of the Dutch club, is also helping his development.
“We talk more when I make mistakes because when you win, even if you make mistakes, no one is going to talk about that mistake,” he explained.
“Nobody wants to lose but sometimes you have to lose to learn. When you are playing at a high level, I think the key is to be calm.
“It doesn’t matter what happens because if you are calm you are going to absorb the pressure. Don’t think too much about the game. Relax. Take your time.
“When you have the ball, you are the boss. You decide what you are going to do.”
Last Tuesday, Onana took another step towards winning the Champions League with Ajax as they beat Premier League side Tottenham 1-0 in the first leg of the semi-final.
Now Ajax are just 90 minutes from reaching their first Champions League final since 1996.
“We didn’t expect to arrive in the semi-final and now we are here, we are going to fight to go to the final and win,” he continued.
“We played against great opponents. Bayern Munich was not easy, we played against Benfica, Real Madrid and Juventus.
“It would be great for this young team but it’s something very, very difficult but I hope we are going to make it.”
While there are not many black goalkeepers playing in top leagues in Europe, his country has a rich history of producing top goalkeeping talent.
The roll call of Cameroon goalkeepers who have graced the Europe football scene is impressive.
Joseph Antoine Belle played for France’s biggest clubs, including Marseilles, Bordeaux and St Etienne.
Jacques Songo’o played for Deportivo La Coruna while Thomas Nkono and Idriss Carlos Kameni both starred for Spanish club Espanyol among others.
The legacy is continuing not only with Onana but his cousin Fabrice Ondoa too, who plays for Belgian club KV Oostende.
Onana’s performances like many of his clubmates has seen him linked with a move away from the Netherlands and he still dreams of a return to Spain and the club that gave him his first taste of European football as a 13-year-old in 2010.
“Barcelona is my home. When I go there all the doors are open. It’s normal because I was there since I was young,” he said.
“Everyone would love to go to Barcelona but for me it’s important to play. I am happy when I play so I will try to play somewhere.”