‘How is that fair?’ – Ajax and Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana opens up about drugs ban agony
“Growing up, I didn’t dream of playing at the Camp Nou or the Johan Cruyff Arena … nah, I wanted to play at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaounde,” says Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana ahead of his bid to win the Africa Cup of Nations for Cameroon on home soil. Onana has played just once since returning from a nine-month drugs ban in November.
Andre Onana of Ajax during the UEFA Champions League match between Ajax v Liverpool at the Johan Cruijff Arena on October 21, 2020 in Amsterdam Netherlands
It’s October 2020. Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana’s head is pounding, so he grabs a paracetamol before heading off to training. He’s called in for a routine drugs test after the session. Two days later, the results are in. He’s failed.
It turns out he had not taken paracetamol but a Furosemide-based diuretic, a banned substance prescribed to his wife after giving birth.
Ajax players wear a shirt of Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana during the Toto KNVB Cup quarter-final match between Ajax and PSV Eindhoven
Image credit: Getty Images
“This was definitely not some crazy excuse I just made up. I didn’t invent anything. I wasn’t trying to cheat. All the evidence was there. This was just a stupid mistake.
“After everything, I assumed they would be like, ‘OK, these things happen. It’s a mistake. Be more careful next time.’
“To put it in football terms, I thought they would show me a yellow card. But nah, they went straight for the red.
“Twelve-month ban. No football. Eredivisie? KNVB Cup? Europa League? Champions League? AFCON? Gone. Just like that.
“One year for a footballer? It’s like 10 years. It’s an eternity.”
Onana, once linked with a host of European superpowers before his ban, admits the torment of the ordeal was tough to take.
“The sanction meant I couldn’t go to matches, I couldn’t train with the team, I couldn’t attend the celebration for the title at the end of the season – even though I’d played 60% of the season – every match up until the ban! How is that fair?!” he continued.
“I get it. The law is the law, right? You f*** up, you pay the price. And I paid.
“But sometimes you wonder, are they punishing you to teach you a lesson, or are they doing it just to hurt you?”
Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana during the UEFA Champions League match with Besiktas
Image credit: Getty Images
His one-year suspension was cut to nine months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, leaving him clear to compete for hosts Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations in January.
Although he has played just once for Ajax since his return – against Besiktas in the Champions League in November – it has freed him up to attack his ultimate goal: win the AFCON and become a legend.
“The reduction was a big victory for me because, after everything I’d gone through, it meant that I could play at the Africa Cup of Nations in January … in Cameroon,” he adds.
“That meant everything. You see, my dad still talks about the 2000 AFCON final – when we beat Nigeria – like it was the pinnacle of all football. Nothing will ever top that moment for my family.
"Growing up, I didn’t dream of playing at the Camp Nou or the Johan Cruyff Arena … nah, I wanted to play at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaoundé.
“I used to walk there from home with my big brothers to watch the national team play. Some of my very first memories of football are of the way the stadium would be packed full three or four hours before the game – 42,000 people cheering, dancing and singing. The fans acted like we’d won before we even kicked off!
“We would sit way up high at the top of this stadium. I could barely even make out the players but that didn’t matter because I was just taking it all in.
“Now I’m back playing again, my dreams are the same as when I was a little kid sitting way up high in the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo.
“I want to represent my country. I want to win AFCON and become a legend for eternity.”