Thomas N'Kono

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Thomas N'Kono
N'Kono training with Espanyol (GK coach)
Personal information
Date of birth (1956-07-20) 20 July 1956 (age 61)
Place of birth Dizangue, Cameroon
Height 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)
Playing position Goalkeeper
Youth career
Éclair Douala
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1974–1975 Canon Yaoundé 3 (0)
1975–1976 Tonnerre Yaoundé 17 (0)
1976–1982 Canon Yaoundé 102 (0)
1982–1991 Español 241 (0)
1991–1993 Sabadell 70 (0)
1994 Hospitalet 0 (0)
1994–1997 Club Bolívar 92 (0)
Total 525 (0)
National team
1976–1994 Cameroon 112 (0)
Teams managed
2009 Cameroon
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

Thomas 'Tommy' N'Kono (born 20 July 1956) is a Cameroonian retired footballer.

Arguably the greatest goalkeeper Africa has ever produced, he is mainly associated to Espanyol, whom he represented for almost a decade appearing in more than 300 official games.[1]

N'Kono appeared for the Cameroon national team in three World Cups, and four Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.

Club career[edit]

N'Kono was born in Dizangue. After playing in his country with Canon Yaoundé and Tonnerre Yaoundé he moved to Spain with RCD Español in 1982, after solid performances in the FIFA World Cup played in that country. He received the France Football African Footballer of the Year award in that year, and also in 1979.

With the Catalans N'Kono hardly ever missed a game, going on to amass more than 300 official appearances. In the 1988–89 season, however, he was not able to help prevent the club's La Liga relegation and, by the time it returned to the top division, he was already second-choice to younger Vicente Biurrun.

N'Kono would play three more years in Spain, incidentally also in Catalonia, with CE Sabadell FC (second level) and CE L'Hospitalet.[2] He retired already in his 40's with Club Bolívar from Bolivia, and subsequently returned to his main club as a goalkeeping coach, helping develop young talent and countryman Carlos Kameni.[3][4]

N'Kono placed second in IFFHS' "African Goalkeeper of the Century" Elections, behind Joseph-Antoine Bell.[5]

International career[edit]

A Cameroonian international for almost two decades, N'Kono played in three World Cups: 1982, 1990 and 1994. In the first two he was the undisputed starter, as the nation went out in the group stage without losing a match and valliantly exited in the quarter-final against England, respectively; in the very last minute of the 1994 edition's preparations, the 39-year-old was called as backup to Bell, and did not play.

N'Kono, who was the national side's goalkeepers coach, also worked briefly as interim manager after German Otto Pfister resigned in protest.[6] The following month, as Paul Le Guen took the reins of the team, he was reset in his old post.[7]


In 2002, N'Kono was arrested by riot police for allegedly using "black magic", prior to the African Cup of Nations semi-final against Mali (3–0 win). He was dragged onto the running track after stepping onto the pitch at the 26 March Stadium, alongside coach Winfried Schäfer,[8] and eventually received a one-year ban,[9] which was then lifted, although he was not allowed to sit on the bench for the final.[10] There was speculation that an object found in his pocket was a black-magic charm aimed at helping Cameroon's cause.

Style of play[edit]

N'Kono was a tall, strong, dynamic and athletic goalkeeper, who was known in particular for his speed, agility, reactions and ability to produce spectacular and acrobatic saves. One of his most notable characteristics was his ability to come out and punch the ball with power when crosses were delivered into the area; his unique, instinctive and aggressive style inspired Gianluigi Buffon as a youngster.

A commanding presence in goal, N'Kono also stood out for his composure, confidence and leadership throughout his career. In addition to his goalkeeping abilities, he was also known for wearing long trackpants instead of shorts.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21]


Buffon declared he decided to play in the goalkeeping position after seeing N'Kono's performances at the 1990 World Cup. In addition, he named his first son Louis Thomas in the Cameroonian's honour.[11][22]



Canon Yaoundé





  1. ^ Espanyol archives; Hall of Fame Perico, 21 May 2009 (in Spanish)
  2. ^ "N'Kono: "Estoy preparado para jugar el Mundial"" [N’Kono: "I am ready to play the World Cup"]. Mundo Deportivo (in Spanish). 30 January 1994. Retrieved 11 July 2015. 
  3. ^ Kameni keeps Espanyol clean; BBC Sport, 27 December 2004
  4. ^ "De la Peña anuncia el final de su carrera profesional" [De la Peña announces end of professional career]. El Mundo (in Spanish). 19 May 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2011. 
  5. ^ Karel Stokkermans (30 January 2000). "IFFHS' Century Elections". RSSSF. Retrieved 25 December 2009. 
  6. ^ Nkono is Cameroon caretaker; BBC Sport, 2 June 2009
  7. ^ Cameroun: Paul Le Guen garde Thomas Nkono comme entraîneur des gardiens (Cameroon: Paul Le Guen keeps Thomas Nkono as goalkeepers coach) (in French)
  8. ^ Nkono in 'black magic' claim; BBC Sport, 7 February 2002
  9. ^ Nkono gets one-year ban; BBC Sport, 9 February 2002
  10. ^ Nkono ban lifted; BBC Sport, 16 April 2002
  11. ^ a b "Buffon: A big save is as important as a goal". 6 May 2013. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  12. ^ Pietro Cabras (23 April 2012). "Vi ricordate N'Kono? Noi vi diciamo come vive" [Do you remember N'Kono? We'll tell you how he lives]. Corriere dello Sport (in Italian). Retrieved 19 October 2016. 
  13. ^ "Buffon: "Contro i portieri regole disumane"" [Buffon: "Inhumane regulations against goalkeepers"]. Corriere dello Sport (in Italian). 27 December 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2016. 
  14. ^ "Mondiali, -1: da Yashin a Buffon, i portieri nella storia" [World Cup, one day left: from Yashin to Buffon, the goalkeepers who made history] (in Italian). Sky Sport. 11 June 2014. Retrieved 19 October 2016. 
  15. ^ Valerio Clari (3 June 2009). "N'Kono c.t. del Camerun – Il mito che ispirò Buffon" [N'Kono Cameroon h.c. – The legend who inspired Buffon]. La Gazzetta dello Sport (in Italian). Retrieved 19 October 2016. 
  16. ^ "Nkono: I'm honoured to be Buffon's inspiration". 21 March 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016. 
  17. ^ "Nkono, the acrobatic pioneer". 5 August 2008. Retrieved 19 October 2016. 
  18. ^ "Qui sont les idoles de vos idoles?" [Who are the idols of your idols?] (in French). 19 February 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016. 
  19. ^ "Italia-Camerun e l'accusa di combine" [Italy-Cameroon and the match-fixing accusations] (in Italian). Mediaset. 2 March 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2016. 
  20. ^ James Horncastle (15 May 2014). "Best XI of the World Cup's greatest goalkeepers". ESPN FC. Retrieved 19 October 2016. 
  21. ^ de León, Mauricio Velázquez (2010). 20 Soccer Legends (First ed.). New York: Rosen Publishing. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-4358-9136-4. 
  22. ^ «Difficile de garder notre titre» («Hard to defend our title»); Le Figaro, 14 June 2010 (in French)
  23. ^ "Cameroon – List of Champions". RSSSF. Retrieved 24 June 2016. 
  24. ^ "African Club Competitions 1978". RSSSF. Retrieved 24 June 2016. 
  25. ^ "African Club Competitions 1980". RSSSF. Retrieved 24 June 2016. 
  26. ^ "Leverkusen 3–0 Espanyol". 18 May 1988. Retrieved 24 June 2016. 
  27. ^ "N'Kono y sus vivencias en Bolivia, donde es un héroe con récord" [N’Kono and his experiences in Bolivia, where he is a heroe with a record]. Diario AS (in Spanish). 21 May 2016. Retrieved 24 June 2016. 
  28. ^ "African Nations Cup 1984". RSSSF. Retrieved 24 June 2016. 
  29. ^ "African Nations Cup 1986". RSSSF. Retrieved 24 June 2016. 
  30. ^ "African Player of the Year". RSSSF. Retrieved 24 June 2016. 

External links[edit]