Here we are ! This Saturday, Manchester City and Inter Milan play the most important game of their season in the Champions League final in Istanbul, Turkey. On this occasion, Joseph-Antoine Bell, former goalkeeper of the Indomitable Lions (50 caps) and double African champion (1984 and 1988), spoke exclusively to Afrik-Foot.com. The former Saint-Étienne and OM goalkeeper delivered his meticulous pre-match analysis and lingered at length on André Onana, the goalkeeper of Inter Milan, withdrawn from the Cameroon selection ( 27 years old, 34 caps).
Where do you place André Onana today in the hierarchy of the best goalkeepers in the world?
He is in the [tout] best.
Did you expect Onana to take power in his first season at Inter?
I had no worries for Onana, insofar as I considered that he has the weapons to play everywhere. Onana has proven since the beginning of his career that he has a certain strength of character.
The talent that we lend you, we do not often associate non-technical elements. But people don’t realize that all technique is expressed from non-quantifiable elements such as strength of character, resilience or even the ability to resist pressure. However, Onana – we may have forgotten this – when he arrived at Ajax, there was Tim Krul. And this one was not just anyone, he had experience. Onana had arrived as Tim Krul’s understudy. It’s not just because he was young; it’s good because Tim Krul was a good goalkeeper and Onana knew how to have respect for the one who was in front of him. But he knew that a footballer’s career is not written in a day, but perhaps over a season. So he went there saying to himself ‘we’ll see on the spot, it’s an opportunity, I want to go to this club.’ But when Tim Krul was injured and he had to play, Onana was able to exploit this situation. He played, and when Krul came back, unfortunately for him, Onana had played such good matches; he had had time to show what he was capable of, whether in training or during matches that, when Krul was healed from his injury, there was now an advantage on Onana. Advantage that he knew how to keep.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) June 8, 2023
“We are all occasionally Interists”
And then so bis repetita at Inter?
When he is gone to Inter
(in July 2022, editor’s note), it was the same thing. When 37-year-old Samir Handanovič was on the decline, he was unquestionably a good goalkeeper, but Inter had more ideas. Inter knew very well, by bringing Onana, that it was to take over from Handanovič. No one could say when this would take place. André Onana knew that the succession would depend on him. And now the hour has come. I had no worries and I’m sure André Onana didn’t either. For me, it was not a surprise at all. He behaved as he should, that is to say by training hard. Football, that’s it, there is no cheating. And there, the problem is not to judge people on their career, but to look at what they bring right away, and the players who don’t know that the only link they have with their clubs is their performance is wrong.
If you had to remember one quality in André’s game, what would it be? Lately, his kicking game has been much praised…
His kicking game is part of his panoply. But Ederson (the Manchester City goalkeeper to whom Onana is often compared, editor’s note), it’s the same. So, on that level, you don’t win a match on one pass more or less. I do not fit into these comparisons. But André Onana has been good on foot since his debut and he has continued to improve. There are two, three more technical and strategic things, but it’s not said on TV or on the radio: it’s totally personal, but I don’t think there’s really much to say. There is no coach today who would spit on the playing qualities at the foot of André Onana.
Haaland vs Onana: in whose favor do you think the duel will turn?
[Sourire] Haaland, it’s been a few matches that he hasn’t scored (4 matches in all competitions including 3 as a starter, editor’s note). I would be in the Inter camp. It’s true, I would remember that any series always has an end. But I would say to myself that if he was able to go two or three games without scoring, he could well do a fourth. Interists think like that and all of us are Interists occasionally.
Now the logic of the game is that City should be favourites. This absolutely does not guarantee him victory. Because precisely, Inter will be content with a nice outsider position to defend, to put in place an effective defensive system and not a self-destructive defensive system. It’s going to be a defensive system to be able to score and they know how to score. So they can be confident and that’s the danger for City. Because the Skyblues are going to have to deal with a team that has total confidence in their ability to resist to concede few goals or not to concede at all, and who also have faith in their attacking ability to score on few occasions .
“The one who risks having unlimited patience is Inter Milan”
So yes, it’s going to be a tactical opposition, that’s clear. Now, to whose advantage, I would say that we really risk having this opposition at the top. Will it give a good match? That I can’t say because City have already proven they know how to be patient. And it happens to be a final, that is, a single match. So, a match that, while asking for patience, reminds you that it has limits. However, in this configuration, the one who risks having unlimited patience is Inter Milan. While the more the minutes of the match go by without City taking the advantage, the more the questions, it will not be the Interists who will ask them, but the Cityzens. And so, if one of the two teams should doubt, it would be more City than Inter Milan.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) June 7, 2023
And so what role for André in this final?
I’m already excited to be at the game already to watch this. And for André Onana, it’s the perfect match to be in his element. Because he has a team that knows how to defend. The goalkeeper, the others depend on him for sure, but he knows more than all the others what teamwork is. So, when he’s in a team where everyone feels concerned about defending well and he has this quality of passing, that is to say he is concerned about the recovery and therefore of the counter-attack, you understand that it is a team which is perfect for him.
People will tell me that City opposite, it’s the same thing, because his goalkeeper knows how to do everything: he has a good footwork, he gives a lot of good short balls but also good long balls, until be a decisive passer. But I repeat that history knows that for this match, City will try to take the pressure off. However, not many people will fall for it, because City are the logical favorites in this match. Favorite against an absolutely formidable team that is well-honed in its style! And in a match that suits him. If Inter played against a supposedly less strong team, Inter could have problems because in that case, they would have to lead the game. While there, not leading the game will never be blamed on them. So Inter will be in tactical comfort.
Fantasy football: Andre Onana or Ederson?#UCLfinal
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) June 5, 2023
“Pioneers are not necessarily recognized until they are declared as such”
Edouard Mendy two years ago, Yassine Bounou and André now: do you think African goalkeepers are finally recognized at their fair value?
Yes, sometimes even maybe overpriced [rires]. That’s the advantage of not being a pioneer. Pioneers are not necessarily recognized until they are declared as such. And then, the way is clear until errors of appreciation. All in good time ! It is very encouraging for young Africans to know that no door is now closed to them. All doors are open. All possibilities are on the table for them.