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General News of Sunday, 15 February 2015

Source: dailyindependentnig.com

Samuel Eto’o: From fish seller to accomplished soccer idol

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One of the biggest soccer stars to have come out of Cameroon and Africa is Samuel Eto’o who has written the first of nine volumes of an autobiographical comic book that tells the story of his childhood selling fish on the streets of Douala in Cameroon.

His book charts his rise from street footballer in Douala to the best young player in Cameroon. “I had to use my imagination,” explained author and artist, Joelle Esso, who had little to work with because the Eto’o family could not afford a camera and, therefore, had no pictures for reference.

Eto’o was the son of an accountant and while the family was not rich, they lived better than many in a country with widespread poverty.

Only the world’s biggest football stars have the privilege to become “myths” and there are only a few who are able to put this power at the service of solidarity for others to also enjoy. This explains his foundation, which had reached thousands of families across West Africa.

Eto’o’s Private Foundation, established in March 2006, was created as a non-profit organisation operating mainly in West Africa.

The foundation strives to use this factor in a responsible and committed manner to raise awareness about the needs of the African continent.

Eto’o’s charity was set up with the goal of “the protection of children and young people, providing emergency aid and encouraging education, basic health and social inclusion for the disadvantaged in order to help them create opportunities for the future.”

The foundation works to provide support for the three main stages in the development of children. It said, “Given our first-hand experience of the situation on the African continent, we have launched several projects to guarantee minimum health and survival conditions that will permit subsequent development within our fight to eradicate poverty, and offer basic, quality education that children are able of completing and which serves as a tool to achieve social integration.

“Promote the opportunity to develop the individual abilities of each child through training grants and subsidies for cultural activities, as well as supporting sports skills.

“In summary, minimum living conditions, basic education and qualifications or a sports career that not only allow the children to consolidate their position in society, but also to contribute to society’s future.

“We help different groups of so-called “street children” in order to provide them with a minimum degree of organization, infrastructure, food and means of schooling. Thus, we have been able to help with the organisation of a group of more than 70 street children, enabling them to access rooms with beds, blankets, a kitchen and even an area for smaller children where a teacher gives them lessons and looks over them and where they enjoy a greater degree of protection.”

It’s not about the money

Eto’o does not like the question; instead, he points to a picture. It is of a hospital in Cameroon: “I want to give a chance to each child,” he says. When Eto’o, four-time African Footballer of the Year, signed for Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala in August 2011, he became the highest paid player in the world.

Here was a man who had already won the Champions League on three occasions, starred for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Inter Milan and led Cameroon to Africa Cup of Nations glory, twice.

It was a move that raised eyebrows considering Anzhi’s standing on the European stage and gave credence to the argument that Eto’o was more interested in Russian rubles than scoring home goals in one of the continent’s top divisions.

Such accusations rile the 32-year-old, who is adamant that he made the move to an unheralded team in Dagestan for the challenge rather than the financial rewards provided by the club’s oil tycoon chairman Suleiman Kerimov.

“It’s not a question of money because when you look at my career, I’ve won everything except for the World Cup,” Eto’o said.

“It’s also a problem of motivation too. I had the opportunity of this window to go play again at Inter and other teams in Italy.

“At Inter, I was the best paid player in the world. But it’s not a question of money because when I go out onto the pitch, I only have one thing in mind, winning.

“And I don’t think about having money in my bank account or not, I only think about winning, having fun and entertaining the fans, these are the only things I have in my head.

“Of course, it’s normal for people to say, ‘Yeah, this player changed teams because of the money.’

“That could be the case sometimes, but after a certain level of success? No.”

That money has given him a life he may never have dreamed of while growing up as a young boy in Cameroon, but it has also helped hundreds of disadvantaged children in his home country. The “Fundacion Privada Samuel Eto’o,” which was established in 2006, helps provide basic healthcare and works on improving social inclusion.

So while Eto’o is aware of the exorbitant wages he has received, he is equally aware of just how vital that money has been in helping those chasing the dream of becoming Africa’s next superstar football player.

“We’ve done quite a few things with ambulances, operation centers…we’ve built hospitals in the interior of the country,” he points out.

“I have a lot of boys who play in Barcelona’s youth academy, I have another named Unlinga who plays also for Malaga, all of these come from my foundation.

“I have a lad who’s a good forward, he’s doing quite well, named Odongu. I have a kid named Abanya who’s a center back.

“All of them come from my foundation and it’s the joy that I try to share, the opportunity that I want to give to each child.

This one comic, Birth of a Champion, focuses on his formative years in Douala, the largest city in Cameroon.

The summer after his birth, Cameroon became the first country from sub-Saharan Africa to return undefeated from a World Cup when they impressed in Spain.

Eight years later, Roger Milla became an idol across the continent when he starred at Italia 90.

The then 38-year-old striker scored four goals as Cameroon reached the quarterfinals before being knocked out in extra-time by England.

Eto’o’s childhood nickname reflected his hero. “They called me Little Milla,” he says. “He was one of the best in the world, not just in Africa. A lot of us think he did not win the best player in the world award just because he was African.

“It was an honour to have the name, he was an inspiration.”

Milla became a cult hero and scored again for the Indomitable Lions four years later in the United States.

But Eto’o has not only surpassed Milla’s achievements, he can legitimately claim to be the finest African-born player since the great Eusebio, the Portugal legend raised in Mozambique.

Much of Eto’o’s money has gone into his foundation, which funds development works in Africa, as will the proceeds of the book.

“Money is not the most important to me,” he says, “The money I have earned has given me the opportunity to give back to the people who do not have the same opportunities as me.”

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