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Clarence Seedorf now placed to steer Cameroon's destiny - Bell

Cameroon's Indomitable Lions are no strangers to controversy, but ahead of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations -- a tournament the country was originally due to host -- and amid a swathe of high-profile absentees, the defending champions find themselves under more pressure than usual.

Legendary former Cameroon goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell believes new coach Clarence Seedorf has a responsibility to impress in Egypt, even if Dutchman's tenure to date hasn't been entirely convincing.

Cameroon was originally awarded the 32nd edition of the biennial showpiece, in September 2014, but the Confederation of African Football (CAF) stripped the nation of hosting rights in November 2018 amid concerns about the preparedness of stadiums and security issues within the country.

Egypt was elected as replacement host nation in early January 2019, ahead of South Africa, forcing the holders to qualify from Group B, which they did with victory over the Comoros on matchday six.

The Indomitable Lions' participation was still in doubt a little more than two weeks before the tournament, however, after the Comoros Football Federation had petitioned that Cameroon should be excluded because CAF had failed to implement its own regulations concerning the action to be taken.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected the petition, and Cameroon finally were conformed participants in Egypt.

For Bell, the time has come for Seedorf to prove that he's the right man for the job following a troubled start to life as Lions head coach.

"As defending champions, Cameroon have an obligation to show a beautiful face [to Africa]," Bell told ESPN. "The competition should have taken place in Cameroon, so they must be ready even if the stadiums weren't.

"Everyone was disappointed [at CAF's decision], because when you're preparing for something, any changes would obviously disappoint you.

"The disappointment for the country was clear -- everyone was affected -- but as far as I'm concerned, I understand CAF's decision. Cameroon wasn't ready, so in the end, the decision was logical."

Seedorf was appointed as head coach in August, replacing interim boss Alexandre Belinga and following in the footsteps of Belgian Hugo Broos, who took an unfancied team to the Afcon title in Gabon in 2017.

The urbane Dutchman was an unexpected choice for the role; much as his playing career -- notably with Ajax, Real Madrid and AC Milan -- is almost unrivalled, he had no previous experience of the African game.

Similarly, his previous managerial roles -- with Milan, Shenzhen and Deportivo La Coruna -- had been brief and underwhelming.

"Any choice like this is always open to debate," Bell said. "I think we can always find better and we can always find worse.

"There's no point in judging if he was a good choice or not, but after watching him, you can see if it's going well.

"Personally, I find it normal that his first period [in charge] is considered as a period of adaptation, but now we'll see exactly what he's capable of doing. I guess he didn't know either the players or the environment, but now he's got used to the players, he's learned about his environment, so we can start judging him for now."

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To date, Seedorf has won two matches, drawn two and lost two with the national side.

His tenure began with a disappointing 1-1 draw with the Comoros before picking up his first victory -- against Malawi. His side then went on a three-game winless streak, being held by the Flames before back-to-back defeats by Morocco and Brazil.

The Indomitable Lions then came good -- and booked their Afcon berth -- with March's 3-0 victory over the Comoros in Yaounde.

"I don't make predictions so far ahead of the tournament, because you have to wait and see how the teams arrive, how they behave," Bell said.

"For the Lions, it's the same as the rest; I have no predetermined opinions. They had difficulties in qualifying, but they still qualified, which is the most important thing. Now they must prepare for the competition."

Beyond Cameroon's unconvincing on-field results, Seedorf has also generated controversy off it, notably with his decision to overlook 2017 Nations Cup-winning captain Benjamin Moukandjo from his first squad.

Seedorf explained the former Jiangsu Suning wideman's omission by stating his belief that "good young players don't compete in China or in Asia", although he promptly reneged on this by naming Henan Jianye attacker -- and 2017 Afcon MVP -- Christian Bassogog in his next squad.

The change of tack came too late for Moukandjo, who announced his international retirement at the age of just 29 years in September.

"Of course [it was a disappointment]," Bell said of Moukandjo's decision.

"But, from a rational point of view, Seedorf isn't wrong.

"To play at a high level, you mustn't find yourself in an exotic league, because you won't have the rhythm, although this didn't prevent [Seedorf] from calling Bassogog afterwards.

"The problem, first of all, is a general principle, saying 'I don't want to call a player from a [lesser] league]', but then he can make exceptions if a player really convinces him.

"After all, it's not the league that counts for the national side; it's the quality of the player. I believe that Seedorf is largely logical."

Moukandjo's absence has denied Cameroon one of their most experienced players ahead of the continental showpiece, but Bell doesn't believe the former Lorient forward is as big a loss as he would have been in previous years.

"Moukandjo in 2017 wasn't in China," the 1984 and 1988 Afcon winner continued.

"I didn't watch him in China -- I assume Seedorf has -- but in 2019 it won't be the same as in 2017.

"He's played for two years in China, so it's obvious that his level will drop one day. It's regrettable that he went there; I think it was too early, he should have waited a bit longer."

While the decision to drop Moukandjo, and the winger's subsequent decision to retire, has threatened to undermine morale within the camp, Seedorf deserves credit for negotiating the transition from former first-choice goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa to his cousin Andre Onana.

Having started just two international matches before Broos's exit, the Ajax No. 1 has started seven of the next eight, relegating Afcon-winning Ondoa to the substitutes' bench.

"[Seedorf]'s managed the situation well," says Bell, who enjoyed a longstanding rivalry with fellow goalkeeper Thomas N'Kono during his Cameroon career.

"We have two strong goalkeepers, like we see at all of the big clubs, and we still give the back-up the chance to play, in cup games or something, and don't keep him solely as a substitute without letting him play.

"I think his choice is largely rational, and it's good. [Onana]'s playing regularly, and is playing at a top level team, so it's logical to give him the nod.

"I always found it extraordinary that even though Ondoa was a substitute in the Spanish Segunda, he always came to the national team and could deliver the kinds of performances he did. Congratulations to him."

Onana has been successfully reintroduced to the team after refusing a call for the 2017 Nations Cup, although the same cannot be said for Joel Matip, who won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool less than a month after he was omitted from Cameroon's preliminary Afcon squad.

Matip, like Torino defender Nicolas Nkoulou, is currently on a self-imposed international exile, with Seedorf revealing in March that he'd attempted to contact both players, and that the door was open for either man to return if they showed willing.

This isn't the first time that high-profile Cameroon players have stayed away from international duty, with the likes of Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, Allan Nyom and Andre Zambo Anguissa rejecting call-ups for the 2017 tournament.

While Matip's decision to stay away -- he hasn't featured for Cameroon since a victory against Gambia in 2015 -- has proved divisive, Bell believes the Liverpool centre-back's absence ought to prompt a serious inquisition as to the failings of the Cameroon Football Association.

"[He's absent] because the national team and our federation are not always managed in ways which are sufficiently clear and professional," Bell said.

"[His decision] should lead people to ask questions of the management.

"If you have so many players who don't want to come and join the national side, even though players across the whole world enjoy playing for their national sides, then it means there's a problem.

"Players like [Matip] are raising genuine problems, so in order to get them back in the team, you need to recognise the problems they're raising and then resolve them.

"When the players don't take you to be professional enough, it means that you're not organised well enough, so you just need to do this in order to ensure the players feel at least.

"There isn't anything else missing, the players were made to play, so you need to give them the possibility to be happy in the team."

Despite the clouds hanging over Cameroon's Afcon hopes, and the early teething problems of Seedorf's tenure, Bell believes the manager now has the opportunity to unify the squad and ensure the Lions thrive in Egypt.

The former goalkeeper is quietly confident that the Dutchman can counter any potential negative impacts to morale caused by the stay-away players and the omission of Moukandjo.

"It depends on the management, because it's a bit like when you have injured players," Bell said. "This can affect the team, but it can sometimes motivate them as well.

"It depends on [Seedorf], how he manages the team, what he says, and whether he can maintain a stable team spirit."

Over to you, Clarence...

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