Cameroon banned reigning African Footballer of the Year Samuel Eto’o for 15 matches on Friday after a players’ strike forced a friendly fixture in Algeria last month to be canceled.
The surprisingly harsh punishment was meted out by the Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) disciplinary committee and reported on the Web site of the governing body.
National team striker and captain Eto’o has been voted African Footballer of the Year a record four times and has represented Cameroon’s national team, the “Indomitable Lions,” for more than a decade.
However, the Russia-based striker has frequently disagreed with officials — especially on money issues — and took the brunt of the blame when a strike prevented the Algeria match from going ahead.
Cameroon had beaten Sudan and drawn with hosts Morocco in a four-nation Marrakech tournament and were due to wrap up a hectic friendlies schedule against Algeria.
Eto’o and his teammates said they were not paid money due to them by FECAFOOT and the fixture had to be canned with Algeria claiming US$1 million in compensation for lost revenue.
The star has two weeks to appeal the ban, which would rule him out of a Africa Cup of Nations tie in Guinea Bissau on Feb. 29 and two 2014 World Cup qualifiers in June.
Vice captain Eyong Enoh, who plays for Dutch club Ajax Amsterdam, was given a two-match ban for his role in a strike, which caused huge embarrassment for Cameroon soccer.
Tottenham Hotspur defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto, another soccer player involved in endless disputes with the Cameroonian authorities, received a US2,000 fine for not honoring a call-up to the Marrakech tournament.
Eto’o, who played for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Inter Milan before joining Anzhi Makhachkala in August last year for a reported world-record salary, and Enoh attended a FECAFOOT disciplinary hearing on Monday.
Rumors spread soon after that Eto’o faced a seven-match suspension from a national team struggling to maintain its status as one of the best on the continent.
More than doubling the ban to 15 matches is sure to trigger outrage among supporters, with Eto’o seen as the team catalyst despite proving an unsuccessful skipper since replacing Rigobert Song two years ago.