EXCLUSIVE: Samuel Eto’o happy to share his African dreams with the people of Lwandle
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CAPE TOWN - Hlonela Sitenge is a 13-year-old boy living in Lwandle, which appropriately in Zulu means “ocean”, on the outskirts of the Strand in the Western Cape.
But unlike most boys his age Sitenge doesn’t spend his summer time at one of Cape Town’s most idyllic coastlines that is a mere stone's throw away from his home. Instead, Sitenge and the rest of the boys from an area that is forced to clean up its own streets to avoid the residents contracting diarrhoea and tuberculosis from the unhygienic environment find their joy in kicking around a football.
It was primarily in those same streets or at a grassless park nearby previously. But fortunately since joining Young Bafana Soccer Academy, Sitenge’s life has been transformed.
He has already been privileged enough to attend the FIFA 2018 World Cup in Russia and now through a partnership between African football icon Samuel Eto’o, South African Breweries and Futbol Fives, Sitenge and his friends will be able to work towards their dreams of playing for Bafana Bafana at two brand new artificial turfs close to home.
“I am very happy to be here in your country,” Eto’o exclusively told IOL Sport this week at the unveiling of the Eto’o Fives pitches. “The most beautiful thing is to share your dreams and today after five years of work, we have two (pitches). We hope to come back and have two more. It is something beautiful and the dream was a big one. I think it's something exceptional.”
Eto is the continent’s most decorated footballer. His roll of honour reads like none other. The coveted UEFA Champions League trophy has been raised on four occasions, with Eto’o notably scoring in two finals. To put it into perspective Benni McCarthy remains the only South African to have won the title once with FC Porto.
He is a double African Cup of Nations champion and won an Olympic Gold medal with his native Cameroon in Sydney 2000.
It is career that has seen Eto’o spend the majority of his adult life in Europe, having joined Spanish giants Real Madrid as a 16-year-old, although its at the Los Merengues’ arch-rivals Barcelona in Catalonia where he earned his fame and fortune – valued at approximately $95 million - before moving on to Inter Milan, Chelsea and Everton among others.
The rhythms of Africa, though, still beat fervently in his heart with the 40-year-old’s philanthropy stretching far beyond just building artificial football pitches in Cape Town. His “Yellow Whistle Ball Blower” initiative plays an influential role in assisting victims of Boko Haram and other humanitarian crises on the continent.
But it’s not just away from the pitch that Eto’o wants to see change. His passion for African footballers and coaches has no limit.
“Rigobert Song, George Weah, Roger Milla, Abedi Pele and Doctor Khumalo,” he answers without hesitation when asked who would be his ultimate five-a-side team.
It is quite a list, especially considering that Eto’o has shared dressing rooms with superstars such as Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, Wesley Sneijder and Javier Zanetti.https://rumble.com/embed/vhv5mh/?pub=uqnnu
Having closed off his glorious career as a player-coach at Turkish side Antalyaspor, he furthermore wants to see the road smoothed for African coaches to have the opportunity to impart their knowledge in the great cathedrals of European football.
The current injustice of it all does not sit well with Eto’o, especially having recently been a spectator at the CAF Champions League final in Morocco where South Africa’s Pitso Mosimane became the most successful African coach of all time when he led Al Ahly to successive titles – the Egyptian giants’ tenth overall. Mosimane had previously guided his native Mamelodi Sundowns to their lone star in 2016.
“First of all congratulations because he (Mosimane) has a brilliant record and he once again showed it in the final. It is something incredible, but we find ourselves with a big problem that Africans cannot coach in Europe,” Eto’o said.
“The European coaches come easily to Africa. I think it is time that we put this problem on the table so that our leaders can find solutions.”
Eto'o has shown what can be achieved when a dream is complimented with hard work. It is now for everyone else to follow his lead.