World Football Summit

Eto’o: “Diego Maradona was an idol for a whole generation”

The Cameroon legend gave a Q&A at the World Football Summit and said if Messi leaves Barcelona he should get the fanfare he deserves.

Eto’o: “Diego Maradona was an idol for a whole generation”

Samuel Eto’o - Mallorca, Barcelona, Inter and Cameroon legend - was a guest at this week’s World Football Summit, being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 39-year-old, who was African Player of the year a record four times (2003, 2004, 2005 and 2010) gave a question and answer session with Gol TV commentator Alberto Edjogo-Owono, also a former player, who was capped five times for his country, Equatorial Guinea.

What is Samuel Eto'o's life like now?

Edjogo-Owono started by asking what Eto’o’s life is like right now. “Very tranquil”, replied the Cameroonian, who explained he sees life as a series of phases. “I had a first phase of being able to enjoy football and making people happy”, but that now he is in a “second phase where I’ve taken two years off to study and I’m now working to try and give something back to society.” To that end he has set up a foundation, the Samuel Eto’o Foundation, which has offices in Barcelona and Madrid in Spain and Douala in Cameroon.

The foundation aims to protect and help children and young people, and provides emergency aid and promotes education, basic health and social inclusion. Among other initiatives, the foundation runs a football school where one hundred children receive free coaching each year, along with a preventative healthcare programme and a study abroad initiative.

Eto’o said his goal was to try and give people opportunities, and said the focus of the foundation is on young people because Africa’s biggest resource is “its youth.” He noted: “Africa is a very rich continent, but we have conflict; our young people need to be prepared and to study”.

Regarding his own childhood Eto’ said it had been hard: “I suffered like any kid who is born in Africa. Even our dreams cost us money in Africa.” And although he admitted he had been lucky, being brought to Europe and “leaving his beautiful continent”, even after he made the move things were difficult: “It wasn’t an easy journey. You need to be three or four times better than the rest to make it.”

Regarding being African in Europe, he said that even once you had proved that you were good enough there is still a tendency to group African players together: “Oh, he’s with Drogba, Essien. Who is the best out of them? But we’re the best in Europe!” As to the question of racism in Europe, Eto’o was clear that nothing has changed since he nearly walked off the pitch after suffering racist abuse playing against Zaragoza: “The racism is the same. There are still racist incidents at the stadiums, and the stadiums reflect society. It’s a political issue.” The solution? More education.”People need to know we’re the same, my skin is black but my blood is red. We can educate the children.”

You're surrounded by the best in the world at Barcelona

Asked about his move to Barcelona from Mallorca, Eto’o said that his time at the Catalan club was the “easiest for a player - because you’ve got the very best players around you.” Comparing that to his time at Mallorca - the club he says is “the best in the world” - he said Mallorca was “a family, a good group, but we knew our limits”, but at Barcelona, “you’ve got Rondaldinho, Larsson, Deco… the best… then in comes Messi, Xavi, Iniesta. You’re always surrounded by the best.”

Eto’o admitted that even at a club like Barcelona it’s important to have a slice of luck and to adapt to the team, but that for him the most important thing was proving he could do it at Barcelona, that someone from Africa could show the world they could make the grade. “Now I look back and I say, I did it. What was most important for me was winning the respect of my teammates and they recognised how good I was.”

Turning to Messi’s issues over the summer with the club, when the Argentinean admitted he had tried to leave but been blocked by the board of directors, Eto’o was clearly on the side of the player: “If Messi has to leave, he should leave as he wants to, because of everything he’s done for the club.

Regarding the death of Diego Maradona, Eto’o said he hadn’t believed the news. “I told my friend, that has to be a joke and it’s a terrible joke, because Maradona will always be with us. He was the idol for a whole generation, and for future generations, for what he did in football. He was from another planet. Diego, you’re god, you’ll always be alive in our hearts.

The former striker also took the opportunity to reminisce about the World Cup match between Cameroon and Argentina in 1990, which Cameroon won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Omam-Biyik and in which Diego Maradona featured.

“We watched it with 2,000 people in our neighbourhood in front of one TV. When Diego said hello to our captain and then started juggling the ball on his shoulder, I thought ‘We’re going to lose 10-0’. And when we won that was so important for us, it gave so much hope to the youngsters in our country. Cameroon has beaten Argentina! That gave us hope!