Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o says goodbye to Brazil and to a boy
This World Cup has been marked by spectacular displays of attacking football and dramatic flourishes that even FIFA couldn’t be accused of engineering. Americans have sang for their heroes— or more like chanted, but we’re getting closer! —while Uruguay now bays a toothless defense of its manic masticator. It has been a loud tournament, full of color, sound, and fury, signifying so much, for better or worse, to so many.
The game, though, is not always about glory. My favorite moment of this World Cup was a quiet one. The video has begun to make the rounds now, but when I first saw it on a smartphone screen, riding the New York City subway this morning, fewer than 900 people had done the same. Featured are, with respect to Roger Milla, Cameroon’s greatest ever footballer, Samuel Eto’o, and a young boy waiting to see him off at an airport in Brazil.
“Eto’o! Eto’o!” he yells, as the 33-year-old, three-time Champions League winner wobbles down the stairs, straining to carry his own bags. Before the games began, the Cameroonians held out and threatened not to travel until they were guaranteed bonus money to be paid to players on a per-win basis. The cash was eventually secured. Cameroon lost all three of its games.
But here was Eto’o, leaving what is likely his last World Cup, setting down his bags and finding the boy in the familiar green Cameroon shirt. He smiles. He reaches across a barrier. They embrace. Eto’o rubs the boy’s head in that quick, caring way you do to a child who has fallen and scraped a knee — tenderness to placate pain. And then it happens: Eto’o begins to step away, but sees the tears forming…and now, they’re hugging again, only this time something is different. Now it is Eto’o, of Barcelona and Inter Milan and Chelsea, with his head on this boy’s shoulder. Now it is the boy — we never see his face — seeming to prop up the legend, all of Eto’o’s weight, all he carries, hung on this little frame.
For 25 seconds they hold each other, before Eto’o gathers himself and turns for the team bus. He is going back to Cameroon, or maybe London or Milan, but in this moment, in the arms of a stranger, a child, he is home.