Cameroonian midfielder Franck Songo’o, still just 24 years old, has collected a great deal of footballing experience during a peripatetic 7-year career in Europe. A path that has taken him from Spain to the southern coast of England, to Lancashire on the island’s northwest side, down to the fog of London, back to Spain, and now sees him in the City of Roses as a trialist with the Timbers.
A former member of Barcelona’s legendary youth system who played alongside such vaunted names as Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas — Songo’o (pronounced SONG-oh) is currently with the Timbers during preseason training. The challenge to make the Portland squad is something he’s taking in stride.
“The hard part of it is that you want to show everything that you’ve got, but you can’t actually try to do too much,” Songo’o said following training on Tuesday. “You’ve got to find a way to set out between the ‘good enough’ and the ‘really good.’ You’ve got to do a lot of stuff that you can do, but don’t try to do too much.”
A former member of England’s Portsmouth and Spain’s Real Zaragoza, Real Sociedad and, most recently, Albacete, Songo’o cautioned that it is important to impress, but still display good judgment and team work.
“Sometimes when you try to do too much it just doesn’t work,” he said. “Don’t try to shoot every time, don’t try to go 1-on-1 every time, you’ve got to make the right decisions. If you only get two balls and you have to pass those two balls, pass them, don’t try to shoot them or stuff like that.”
Spotted as a youth at Deportivo La Coruña by giants Barcelona, Songo’o enlisted at La Masia, Barça’s youth development facility, and spent a couple of years training and playing with several players who would eventually become superstars.
“I really enjoyed my time over there because of the mentality. I grew up in Spain playing in Barcelona. Spain is all about technical quality, it was really fun over there,” Songo’o said. “The way Barcelona works as a youth team is the same way the first team is playing. Every day there you work very hard because you’re working against the best and you’ve just got to play nice football, that’s it.”
Songo’o, who comes from a family of footballers with a father and younger brother who play, was signed by Portsmouth in 2005 and then loaned out to AFC Bournemouth (2006), Preston North End (2007), Crystal Palace (2007) and Sheffield Wednesday (2008). Still a teenager when he originally signed at Pompey, Songo’o said he wasn’t discouraged by all the loans.
“At that time I was really young, I was 18, and I only wanted to play,” Songo’o said. “I just wanted to get out and play so all the teams gave me that chance to play. I enjoyed those loans and I really learned because it was about getting games.”
After four more years in Spain, Songo’o landed in Portland for the start of preseason camp adapting to the style and trying to display enough quality to impress the Timbers staff.
“You’ve got to get used to the strength here. The guys are really, really strong,” Songo’o said. “They have a strong mentality and go hard on the ball and they play great football. You’ve got to get used to that really quickly and adapt to the way they play and bring your own stuff to the game and if it’s good, hopefully it will work out.”
Songo’o said he doesn’t know exactly how the Timbers spotted him, but he’s hopeful for a chance to keep playing.
“(The Timbers) must’ve watched some games of mine, but I don’t know the whole story. (My agent) told me there’s a chance to be in the MLS,” Songo’o said. “Sometimes for players in Europe it’s not easy to come over here. I think it’s a nice opportunity for myself, really. To be fair, I’m really enjoying being here with the staff, with the coach, the mentality they have, the football they play. I like what (John) Spencer says about the team and what the coaches say about the football they want from me and the team. I’m really enjoying my time on the pitch.”
One aspect that’s been easy for Songo’o during his time as a trialist is fitting in with the side.
“They’re all really nice guys so it’s really easy to get on with them,” Songo’o said. “They understand where you come from and what you need, so it’s really easy to get on with them.”
As the team heads to southern California to continue preseason training, Songo’o certainly hopes to be part of the trip, but life as a trialist is full of uncertainty.
“The team is traveling to LA on Saturday, if I’m part of that I’ll be really happy and I’ll do my best, as always,” he said.