Samuel Eto’o nearly leaves the pitch

9 Jan

Samuel Eto’o, originally from Cameroon is one of the most celebrated strikers in European club football. He has won numerous awards, including African Player of the Year three years in a row (2003-2005), UEFA Champions League Best Forward in 2006, and will certainly be a player to watch in the upcoming World Cup in South Africa. Eto’o was a member of Barcelona FC from 2004-2009 (recently traded to Inter Milan) during which time he contributed to the growth in popularity and prestige that Barcelona currently enjoys around the world. While he certainly proved himself on the field he was unable to win over a certain demographic of Spanish football supporters. Eto’o admitted that he had periodically received racist insults from fans as he played matches in La Liga. A clear indicator of Eto’o’s perception of racism in the stands is that he prefers that his children don’t attend his matches. He was quoted in 2007 saying, “At this moment in time I prefer my children don’t go to football matches. In the stands they have to listen to things that are difficult to explain to a child. It is better they aren’t exposed to it.”

The tipping point occurred at a match against Real Zaragoza in 2006. Zaragoza fans had been harassing Eto’o throughout the match, making monkey noises each time he touched the ball. About thirty minutes into the first half he decided that he had had enough and began to walk off the pitch. The video below shows what happens when he tries to walk off the pitch. He looks quite incensed and pushes the referee and other players away as they try to calm him down. He keeps mouthing the words “No Mas” which means no more in Spanish.

I can’t help but think that the situation is handled makes him look a bit like a child throwing a tantrum in the video. Players and trainers surround him and implore him to be “reasonable” and to put an end to his little tirade. They even pat him on the head as he goes back onto the field to get on with it. I found their way of dealing with the situation somewhat frustrating because I thought that Eto’o’s actions were far from being a childish outburst and took great deal of courage. He was ready to walk off the pitch, unwilling to allow himself to be the target of racist abuse any longer, and ready to take a stand for all players that are forced to play in hostile environments. His decision to stay on the field can be viewed in two different ways. On the one hand it can be seen as an act of submission, a victory for the racist fans. On the other hand it can be interpreted as an act of defiance, he chose to battle on and to help his club on the field (incidentally, one of his passes to Larrson resulted in a goal.)

At the end of this first video Eto’o reveals his confusion about one of the grave contradictions of racism in contemporary football. Alvaro, one of Real Zaragoza’s players is standing next to Eto’o and Eto’o turns to face the crowd and points at Alvaro’s hand. Alvaro clearly has some amount of African in his blood and Eto’o appears to be asking the crowd why they are hurling racist abuse at him because of the color of his skin while players like Alvaro remain unscathed. This is a difficult question to grapple with and may even be larger than the scope of this blog. An overly simplistic explanation is that fans adore black players on their own teams but hate black players on other teams. However, players like Mario Balotelli, Eto’o’s new teammate in Italy disprove this theory because they have received a substantial amount of racist abuse from their own club teams. The question of how some players are able to transcend the color of their skin and become more than a “black player” will be revisited.

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One Response to “Samuel Eto’o nearly leaves the pitch”

  1. Daliso May 23, 2010 at 10:59 am #

    Balotelli is a little shit. Inter fans racist and not racist hate him. He’s a primadonna fuck up, a player who thinks he should be lauded with the same praise as Ronaldo without having achieved a fraction of his work. That said, he’s likely getting more stick then a white Italian player would receive. But even then, he’s arguably more of a whining fuck up than any equally promising white Italian in recent memory (READ: He makes mistakes and falls into tantrums when the displeased crowd boos more often than any other player of his quality). He’s right to show that he’s conscious of Italian racism, and in that sense his stormy reactions to racism can be seen as Malcolm X to Etoo and Seedorf’s Luther King turn the other cheek demeanors. But rarely are victims of racism vindicated through protest alone. Balotelli needs to show his worth to the fans to expect ANYTHING in return. He needs to put his head down and get to work, rather than yelling at the horde in the nose bleeds. Etoo should have told him by now that he’s not going to win that kind of war.

    That said, while he is one of the game’s brightest ambassadors, Etoo surely faltered when he could have made a huge stand for black players all over the world. I think he should have followed his instincts in the Zaragoza game. It was one opportunity in which he could have taken football racism into his own hands. What would Spanish football have done if a player just walked off in the middle of a match? Has the world ever seen such a protest? Not only would Zaragoza have had to tighten up (some tightening up a 2,000 Euro fine can enforce), but fans and clubs everywhere would take note. Zaragoza might have won the incident, but let’s think of the overall effect. Those players who were encouraging Etoo, suggesting HE would be the victor- were they going to join him in fighting racism? Well, we can assume the Zaragoza players hadn’t had much success in the past. Why accept their reassurances? Etoo didn’t need to stand on a soap box, but he should have gone through with what he felt. Overnight, clubs would have drawn up plans for protecting their expensive players and fans would bite their tongues for fear of angering their own players. If Etoo had just a slightly better estimation of his own value, and the value of black players to the game, he might have been able to put a killer dent in the Spanish game. After Marc Zoro’s almost-exit against Inter in 2005, this was twice unlucky for black players on the verge of taking a stand against European racism.

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