Andre Onana returned to action in Ajax‘s Champions League match against Besiktas after his one-year long suspension for violating doping rules came to an end on November 4.
The Cameroonian goalkeeper was handed the aforementioned ban by UEFA after testing positive for the forbidden substance Furosemide back in October 2020.
In an exclusive interview for MARCA, Onana discussed his suspension, Ajax‘s Champions League form this season, his expiring contract and his dream of returning to Barcelona.
You have returned to action for Ajax for the first time in 297 days. How are you?
Very well. Happy to feel like a footballer again and very excited. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Let’s go back to October 2020. What happened?
We came from playing against Atalanta. We drew [2-2] in a very intense match. We arrived at dawn and I woke up with a headache. I went to take a medicine that had been prescribed for me (Litacol), but my wife, who had just given birth, had a similar pill (Lasimac), which is used for fluid retention, and I took it unintentionally. That day I was the first to do the drug control and go home. A month later, when I was with the Cameroon squad, they told me I was positive [for this drug] and I said to the doctor: ‘You must have made a mistake. I’ve done more than 23 tests in my career.’ When he told me that I had tested positive for furosemide, I replied: ‘What is that?’ It was my wife who told me: ‘Andre, these are the pills that the doctor prescribed for me.’
What did you think then?
I thought: ‘Damn, you’ve been in involved in a big mess for a stupid mistake.’ UEFA acknowledged that it was an inadvertent mistake, that this pill does not help you improve performance. Football and life are not easy. Those mistakes are penalised and I had to pay for it. You learn from everything. I’m happy to be back and I do want to warn elite athletes to be careful, that mistakes are not accepted in our line of work. You are responsible for everything that enters your body. If you drink contaminated water, it is your fault. It is difficult, but it is the law and I had to serve the ban.
How do you fight such a blow from a psychological point of view?
It is incredible how a 40-milligram pill can destroy your life, your career; it stains your image. Psychologically, it is very hard. I thought: ‘How do I tell my parents that I have tested positive for doping when I have not smoked or drunk in my life?’ There is talk of doping, but what I took, I insist, is a fluid retention pill. I made a human mistake, but you have to hear everything what people say… It was so hard that I even doubted myself at times. I saw everything that was in the press and thought: ‘Am I a drug addict?’ That makes you aware and makes you stronger. You realise that in football there is no humanity. For some we are robots and we have no right to fail.
Ajax have qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League after winning all of their group games, scoring 20 goals and conceding five. I don’t know if it sounds very pretentious, but can you dream of winning the trophy?
In football, nothing is certain. You can always do anything. At the time we already demonstrated that we are an ambitious team. We have hungry, young players. We dream of reaching the top and then we’ll see what happens. You have to believe in this team. We train with the idea of winning it. If it can’t happen, we will have tried. In 2019 we reached the semi-finals and we were eliminated in the 96th minute.
Former Netherlands international Youri Mulder says that this Ajax, collectively, are better than the one with Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Hakim Ziyech, Donny van de Beek… What do you think?
I don’t know [laughs]. I am enjoying it as I enjoyed the previous one. We have been with a very good group for four to five years. Comparisons will be made when the season is over. Now, it’s very early. There’s still a lot to play for. In 2019 we made history and this year we can do it again.
You contract ends in June. You have not renewed with Ajax yet and there is a lot of talk about interest from Inter. Where will your future lead you?
They talk about many things. They have placed me at Barcelona, Inter, Arsenal, Lyon, Nice, Monaco… while I was at home suspended [laughs]. I do not know. It is true that we have not reached an agreement with Ajax and I am grateful to the club for the opportunity that they gave me. Now, after almost seven years, I think it is time to take a step forward, walk away and make room for others. Ajax always give opportunities to young players and there are many goalkeepers in the academy waiting for this opportunity. I must step away. To where, I don’t know, but I need something new to measure myself against the top goalkeepers.
You have always talked about returning to Barcelona. Even if it is not in June, do you still have that goal in mind?
Barcelona is my home. Whenever I have a day off, I go back to Barcelona and I feel very happy there [smiles].
How do you see your former teammate Frenkie de Jong?
He is a great player and he has shown it. Barcelona are going through a hard time, but they are going to improve. Frenkie is still young and with Xavi [Hernandez as a coach], who was a great midfielder, he will learn a lot. I am sure he will become a legend.