Thomas N’Kono – The Black Spider Still Has His Gloves
Thomas N’Kono, former goalkeeper of the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and Spanish club Espanyol, now works as the goalkeeping coach of both teams.
On a synthetic mini-pitch, a 17-year-old from Gabon is working his socks off running from one post to another to parry shots from a large gentleman with a cap jammed tight on his head. The instructor working at this summer school for young goalkeepers at a training centre in Barcelona is none other than Thomas N’Kono. The former Cameroon international, who kept goal for the Indomitable Lions during their unforgettable World Cup campaigns of 1982 in Spain and 1990 in Italy is devoted to the development of his successors. As the first African goalkeeper to play top-level football in Europe, he is well-placed to train youngsters: “Reading the game correctly, technique and tactics are very important if you want to succeed as a goalkeeper. If these three fundamental elements are not respected, you won’t be able to play at the highest level because there will be a lot of weaknesses in your game,” he explains to the rapt audience of trainees, who have not just come from Catalonia but from all over Spain.
N’Kono works full-time as goalkeeping coach at Espanyol, the Spanish first-division club based in Barcelona where he also spent nine years as first-team keeper. On top of that, he fulfils the same duties for Cameroon on a part-time basis during national team get-togethers. His position in his country’s national set¬up was confirmed on 26 October 2007 following the appointment of German Otto Pfister as head coach of the four-time African champions. “Football is my world. When you retire at 35 and you have the luck, like I did, to stay in the game after your playing career is over and earn a good living from it, it wouldn’t be logical to look elsewhere,” he says. In N’Kono’s case then, it would be no exaggeration to say that he has spent his whole life with his gloves on.