Samuel Eto’o shared his thoughts on why no African player has won the Ballon D'or in over two decades. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
Next year will mark 25 years since an African footballer won the famous Ballon d’Or gong and Fifa World Footballer of the Year Award - this in spite of numerous stars from the continent setting the world stage alight. 

Soccer writer Minenhle Mkhize spoke to retired Barcelona and Cameroon superstar Samuel Eto’o about why European and South American players have dominated the World Footballer of the Year title and no African stars have achieved this milestone that was last clinched by Liberian George Weah in 1995.

MM: You won the African Footballer of the Year four times and played for the best teams in Europe; what happens to Africans when it comes to the Ballon d’Or?

SE: We, as Africans, are letting ourselves down. We need to unite if we are serious about ending the dominance of the Europeans and the South Americans in the race to be crowned the best players in the world.

MM: Do you want to say more about Africans letting themselves down?

SE: There’s no difference between us and other continents. The only difference is that Africans don’t believe in African. That is the big problem. The problem is black. The journalists, coaches and captains of various national teams in various continents have the power to vote. They don’t vote for African players.

MM: Would you say the same thing happened to you when you were nominated alongside Frank Lampard and Ronaldinho in 2005 in the Fifa World Footballer of the Year award?

SE: Like I said, the whole thing is about the number of votes the players get in the end.

MM: What do you have to say about the current African top players who lost to Lionel Messi? They finished fourth and fifth respectively in the Ballon d’Or.

SE: If Sadio Mane won it and was on the podium, no one was going to complain because he deserves it and has been doing well and he had the best season. Messi (Lionel) won because all the South Americans voted for him. I think the Europeans also voted for Virgil Van Dijk hence he was the runner-up. Africans didn’t vote for Mane. That’s the big problem. African people have problems with other African people.

MM: Are you suggesting that race may be a factor?

SE: The first thing is not about racism. It is black and blacks. If you want to look at it racially then we can say it’s black on black - xenophobia. That is the big problem. Everyone speaks about racism coming from the whites but nobody speaks about black on black racism. That is crazy. That’s the reality. The problem is that we hate each other as blacks. It is a big problem (Eto’o, who won three Uefa Champions League crowns during his glittering career, explained).

MM: You seem to be saying football supporters should look at the race when voting for the best footballer?

SE: Not at all. I am calling for people to recognise greatness and not be driven by historical and existing prejudices. It is a fact that black people don’t support their own - not only in football. I don’t know why that is the case. Westerners support each other. When it is time to be together, they always support one another. But in Africa we don’t support one another. This is not right.

MM: (Sadio) Mane is the firm favourite to be crowned the African Footballer of the Year. Your views on that?

SE: We have a lot of big players in Africa now. Mohammed Salah is doing well. Sadio is also on top of his game. Then you have Perrick Aubameyang, Riyaad Mahrez and Idriss Onana. It is very difficult for me to choose one. The guy that will win is going to be the best.

MM: You’ve recently retired from football following a stellar career. After 22 years of entertainment in the field of play, do you not want to take a break from football?

SE: For now, I just want to enjoy my life. For the next twelve months I want to enjoy my life by just travelling and resting. After that you never know what will happen (suggesting he may consider involvement in the game as a coach).

MM: You won three La Liga titles with Barcelona, three Champions League, two Afcons with Cameroon, Olympic Games, Serie A and Fifa Club World Cup. You are now 38 years old. Do you have any regrets?

SE: I don’t have any regrets. Whatever negatives I came across along the way were there to teach me something in life. For now, I just want to rest. That’s my immediate mission.

MM: Did the arrival of Pep Guardiola lead to you leaving Nou Camp?

SE: In my time, I didn’t have a relationship with that guy (Pep Guardiola). I didn’t see him. We didn’t talk.

MM: Why was that the case as you were one of the key players in the Barcelona side?

SE: I don’t know. I don’t know about the relationship of Yaya Toure and Pep because I wasn’t there. But the facts are there (suggesting Guardiola may have a dislike for African footballers).

MM: But you enjoyed a good relationship with José Mourinho and you still rate him highly.

SE: He is going to do well at Spurs. He has already made an impact in four or five games. He is the Special One (chuckling).

MM: You played alongside (the current Kaizer Chiefs midfielder) Lebogang Manyama at Konyaspor. How was he as a player?

SE: He is one of the best players. He was a good teammate but the problem was that the coach didn’t give him the opportunity (to showcase his talent). When he came to the training grounds, I asked myself why is this guy not playing? He was one of the best teammates I had.

MM: Do you honestly believe that African football is headed in the right direction?

SE: Development is step by step. African football is on the rise. That will make our continent richer.

MM: Do you have any advice for our national team, Bafana Bafana?

SE: I am surprised that Bafana Bafana have underperformed in the last couple of years. The South African league is well organised. It is one of the best leagues in Africa. I don’t understand why the national team is not that good. The selectors have to sit down and discuss what their plans are to push this national team to another level and make it the best national team in Africa or in the world. That is possible because of the league.

MM: Cameroon will host the next Afcon in 2021. Are you optimistic about their chances of going all the way in the tournament?

SE: The Cameroon team is very young but they are not far from being champions. The last Afcon was very tight and we lost to Nigeria and they were deservedly winners. Cameroon played well and the next Afcon at home is going to be good for these young players. If they can push hard, they can win it.

@minenhlecr7


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