Switzerland

A Monaco player since last summer, Breel Embolo will be at the heart of Switzerland’s entry into the running at the World Cup in Qatar this Thursday. A native of Cameroon, where he has kept strong ties, the Swiss striker finds his country of origin on his way, which he could have chosen to represent. With the certainty of experiencing “special emotions”.

The sentence dates from a little over eight years ago, in October 2014. On the website toutlemondesenfoot.fr, in a series entitled The Swiss of tomorrow, the author begins to dream: “I can see Breel Donald Embolo scoring the decisive goal for Switzerland in the final of the 2022 World Cup… against Cameroon!” If it would take a huge set of circumstances to see that, starting with taking out the Brazilian favorite in the first round, the thing could well happen in the first round. And that would necessarily have a very particular taste for the person concerned.

AS Monaco striker since last summer, Breel Embolo will experience a special moment this Thursday during the Switzerland-Cameroon match, entry into the running of the two teams in group G of the World Cup in Qatar. “I’m going to experience special emotions, that’s for sure, he confirms at a press conference. I will have to manage them.” Reason? The Swiss player could have played in the opposite camp. A native of Cameroon, the capital Yaoundé to be precise, this nephew of a very popular local bikutsi singer (gold record) stage name Zealous the Bomberwho helped his family out of poverty and thus enabled Breel and his family to settle in Europe, arrived in his adopted country when he was six years old and grew up in the Basel region.

After his first steps at Nordstern BS, where he played for two years, Embolo joined the more upscale BSC Old Boys for two seasons before joining the training center of the prestigious FC Basel. Where his talent is quickly talked about. The center-forward signed his first professional contract a few months after his sixteenth birthday, in the summer of 2013, the year he was voted the club’s “best youngster”. A few months later, in March 2014, he made his first-team debut – just one minute into the game – in a Europa League Round of 16 first leg against RB Salzburg. The machine is launched.

Three days later, launched in the 85th minute for his first match in the Swiss Super League, Embolo scored a big miss before shaking the net four minutes after coming on. The man who many then compared to a certain Mario Balotelli did not score. no other goal that season but will experience his first tenure on the last day of the championship. The departure of coach Murat Yakin, who believed in him a lot, will not change anything.

His replacement, Paulo Sousa, also put him in his little papers and quickly offered him tenure in the Champions League (the first against Liverpool, just that, before a first European goal against Ludogorets) as in the Super League, where he buckled the year with 10 goals and 7 assists. Already essential in one of the biggest Swiss clubs even before his majority, Embolo must at this time face an ultra important choice for the future and known by many dual nationals. Switzerland or Cameroon? Nati or Indomitable Lions?

In autumn 2014, the one who has already played in the Swiss national youth teams does not yet benefit from the nationality of his adopted country. What arouse the curiosity of the Cameroonian coach, Volker Finke, who begins to court him. In December 2014, while FC Basel qualified for the eighth of the C1 after a draw on the lawn of the Reds, he finally received his Swiss passport. While he has just extended in his club until 2017 despite the interest of several big names in Europe, this bilingual French-German takes time to think about his selection.

The Monegasque Breel Embolo against Nantes
Monegasque Breel Embolo against Nantes © AFP

“I was 17 and it was complicated, he remembers in an interview with the site Get French Football News. I postponed my decision for a few months. I was offered the opportunity to join the Cameroon team and it was not an easy choice but my family respected it, which was the most important thing.” Vladimir Petkivic, the Swiss coach, who comes from manage a similar situation with François Moubandje (native of Douala but who chooses to evolve with the Nati), speaks with him to convince him definitively. “When I chose to play for Switzerland, there was always a part of me who wanted to represent my native country, he explains. But you can’t do like a club and play for two countries. I am very happy with my choice and I remain Cameroon’s biggest fan. I have many friends in this team. We see each other sometimes on vacation or at home.”

Embolo made his debut in the Swiss A team at the end of March 2015 in a friendly match against the United States… but not in the Euro 2016 qualifying match played four days earlier against Estonia, for which he was not not even on the bench. As if there was still a doubt in his head about his choice. It will be swept away in June 2015 with its first participation in an official match, in Lithuania, still as part of the qualifiers for the Euro. Very good news for Swiss fans, fans of his joie de vivre but above all of the fiery legs of this attacker with an imposing physique (1.87m, 88kg) who can occupy all offensive positions even if he is more ease in the axis. The rest will make him a pillar of the Nati, for which he now has 59 caps (and 11 goals).

He participated in Euro 2016 in France, where he remained goalless and / or assistless in four matches, before playing his first World Cup in 2018 in Russia with a goal against Costa Rica in the group stage for his sole start in the tournament. Meanwhile, and after 31 goals and 22 assists in 91 appearances for Basel, Embolo joined Germany, where he spent three seasons at Schalke 04 (12 goals and 9 assists in 61 matches) after a transfer at 26 million euros before spending three more years at Borussia Mönchengladbach, where his effectiveness is felt (25 goals and 20 assists in 106 appearances). A club career continued since last summer in Monaco, where he continues to flourish with 8 goals, including 7 in Ligue 1, and 4 assists in 23 matches after arriving against a check for 12.5 million euros.

After a Euro 2020 (played in 2021) where he shook the nets in the first match against the Welsh before remaining silent, injuring himself during the quarter against Spain after coming out at the end of the match against the Blues in the eighth, the a native of Yaoundé is preparing to play in Qatar his fourth major international tournament and his second World Cup. With the icing on the cake this very special match against Cameroon, where he keeps strong ties. “I’m still very close to the country, he details on the Get French Football News site. Most of my family lives there. I try to go back once or twice a year to keep this bond. It’s important for me not to forget where I come from.”

A poster that prompted some Lions supporters to come back to criticize his choice of selection on social networks. “It’s normal, says Embolo. Things have always been clear. It was a choice for Switzerland, not against Cameroon.” Before this reunion, the Monegasque striker try not to worry too much about it without hiding: “At the time of the draw, I did not jump for joy but I was happy. (…) The emotions will be there. A World Cup match is not nothing, especially against the country where I was born. But I take it as a game like the others. I will prepare normally. I feel pressure, yes, but it’s positive pressure. (…) My parents should be there. For my family, that of Cameroon and that of Switzerland, this match is also something special.” At 25, Embolo intends to weigh much more than during his first World Cup. “I have another, more axial role. And above all, I have gained experience.”

The man who could have been accompanied to Qatar by the Lorientais Yvon Mvogo, another Swiss international born in Yaoundé unfortunately absent due to injury, will have to show it from this first outing against a nation so important to him. A prediction, perhaps? “Pretending that Switzerland is superior to Cameroon is not fair, he says as a reminder to his teammates. These are two teams with different characteristics but who both want to win. (…) The first match is always the most important. He can start a dynamic. It’s very important to take the three points and that’s what we want to do. . Who will probably not celebrate a goal against Cameroon too much. Unless it happens again in the final, of course…

Switzerland-Cameroon: Embolo, the man who could have been in the opposite camp