At 25, Lauren has won the Copa del Rey with Real Mallorca and the English Double with Arsenal. For Cameroon he starred as The Indomitable Lions triumphed in the 2002 African Nations Cup in Mali and picked up a gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Not bad for a player who was in amateur football in 1995 with Spanish fourth division Utrera. The following season the then 18-year-old secured a transfer to Levante, Valencia’s third-division relations.
Struggling against adversity brought out Lauren’s best. « I’m now reaping the fruit from my time battling in Spanish football’s lower divisions. I wouldn’t have believed it if they told me back then that I was going to win so many trophies, » he told onefootball.com.
Cameroon and Metz goalkeeper Jacques Songo’o, at the time playing for Deportivo La Coruna, provided the big break.
« I was playing with Levante when Songo’o read about me and told Cameroon’s French coach Claude Le Roy that I was worth taking a look at. I met up the twice with the squad and I’ve played every match since. »
His selection for France ’98 put him in the shop window and Hector Cuper’s Real Mallorca snapped him up after the tournament.
« Things changed with my own efforts and Mallorca arriving on the scene, » he explained. « The switch to Arsenal and the two years I’ve been in London have proved that in football you can never throw in the towel.
« Consistency and working hard every day is fundamental if you want to be a winner. Even during the darkest times I never thought about giving up football. »
Now Lauren – who sealed a £10 million move to Arsenal in 2000 – is looking forward to his second World Cup.
« Our group isn’t easy but I think we’ll reach the quarter-finals. Germany, the Republic of Ireland and Saudi Arabia will all be tough rivals. Then we could face Spain but you just have to take it a match at a time. »
The versatile defender or midfielder, however, is on a roll, having been instrumental in the third Double in Arsenal’s history in a season in which the Gunners remarkably scored in every game.
He courageously stepped up to the spot to strike the decisive penalty that defeated Tottenham Hotspur at a vital stage in the championship run-in. « I’m having the best year of my life and I hope to consolidate it at the World Cup, » he said.
Lauren has certainly improved immensely under the tutelage of coach Arsene Wenger.
« Through necessity I played in lots of different positions at Arsenal and I think I’ve delivered in all of them. That’s one of the best things about last season, as well the confidence Arsene has given me. He’s a great coach because he constantly comes alongside the players. »
Lauren says his Arsenal team-mates will make an important contribution to England’s World Cup campaign. « England depends a lot on the physical condition of David Beckham. With him, Michael Owen and my Arsenal team-mates they could go a long way. »
If England enjoy half as much success as Lauren, they will have done well.
By Paco Acedo