In a CNN special airing Samuel Eto’o, who is often regarded as one of the greatest African footballers of all time, invited the global network on a rare trip to his hometown of Douala, Cameroon.
CNN’s African Voices Changemakers accompanied Eto’o through the district of New Bell, where he spent formative years in Douala.
Eto’o explained how much his neighbours helped shape his career before he left for Real Madrid at the age of 16.
In the programme, the residents of New Bell formed a human chain around Eto’o as he discussed how he avoided the local prison to instead follow his dream of a career in professional football.
Following his retirement last year, the Cameroonian legend reflected on his many achievements in the game, which included spells at FC Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea. Eto’o also outlined his plans for life after football, including his role in mentoring the next generation of footballers in Cameroon.
Click here to watch the full programme:
Now adapting to his new role off the pitch, Eto’o explained how he is using his fame to help the lives of Douala’s residents. CNN joined Eto’o for a tour of Douala’s largest public hospital, where he has funded a new children’s ward.
Here is excerpts of CNN discussion with Eto’o
Eto’o on returning to his neighbourhood of New Bell in Douala:
“I grew up in the hands of people you saw yesterday. Some are my paternal uncles and others are elders are in the neighbourhood who took care of me in my teens; who would advise me because they felt I had something, and I could get out. It is from here that I left directly to Real Madrid. Directly from here, this is where my life changed. If we go a little further, we will see that the Central Prison is nearby. It seemed more likely that I would end up in that prison.”
Eto’o on retiring from football after more than two decades in the game:
“I felt accomplished. You know I had a very good time, I could still play two seasons, why even three because I was still in shape. But I had already done full circle [sic]; my passion whenever I went to train or went to a match was still intact. But at some point, I asked myself: ‘If I cannot serve football differently, that I can be able to take care of myself and spend more time with my family?’”
Eto’o on what he considers to be the highlight of his career:
“The African who went from nowhere to the top… That is my greatest pride because the success rate for an African in this world is 0.0001%. And from where I started, to get to the point where you are considered one of the biggest in your domain, I tell myself, I am proud, I can walk head held high because I came a long way to get here and I made it.”
Eto’o on seeing his neighbours in Douala for the first time in years:
“The fact that those young children, those grandparents, those parents came out to tell me ‘My son, thank you for dropping by,’ warmed my heart and for me it was also a way to tell them that ‘Even if you do not see me very often, I am here. You are a great part of my life; my body and I’ll always be there for you.’… It is not easy to always have people cheering you. The good fortune that I have is that everywhere I go people have the feeling that I belong to them.”
Eto’o on life after football and the children’s ward he has built at Douala’s Laquintinie Hospital:
“I think that is the purpose of my life. To contribute to the development of our society by helping the state and Cameroonians to have a building where people can come and say: ‘Here we can go home in good health’. I say there is no better goal than that.”
Eto’o on nurturing the next generation of Cameroonian players:
“What I can be today is a mentor. The journey they are about to do – with a lot of luck – we did. So, what we can do today is to give advice and to be beside them, because at this age there are a lot of doubts. At certain periods of their career, there would be doubts, questions and this is where they can rely on us for quick responses to get them out of these doubts.”