Samuel Eto´o

Douala, Cameroon – There’s a small soccer field in the New Bell district that doesn’t look like much at first glance. The pitch, approximately 100 meters long, is uneven, unkempt, full of puddles, and bounded by small wooden posts lined with torn green netting.

The course is not only symbolic of the impoverished nature of New Bell, but also reveals the community’s deep attachment to the beautiful game. After all, it is the place where soccer legend Samuel Eto’o first learned to play.

At a very young age, his family moved here from the political capital of Cameroon, Yaoundé, where he was born. Friends and community members viewed Eto’o growing from a kid kicking a ball in the streets to one of the world’s deadliest strikers.

Dominique Essindi, a childhood friend, also grew up here and lives a stone’s throw from the countryside, a constant memory of her childhood. At 48 years old, he still clearly remembers the games he played with his competitive friend Eto’o before they were teenagers.

“Samuel never liked losing,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that back then, neighborhoods played each other in what is locally called quarterfinal football.

“I remember we had a game at the Ecole Publique de New Bell Bassa, and it came late when we were two goals down. He wanted to enter the pitch, but the coach kept him on the bench. Eto’o he was furious. But when he came on, he played exceptionally well and even scored a goal. The match ultimately ended in a draw.”

Samuel, former player of Inter Milan and Barcelona Eto’o speaks during The Best FIFA Football Awards 2017 [Eddie Keogh/Reuters]

Initially, essindi revealed, the community thought at the time that Eto’oFriends of were more likely to break through. Not many imagined that she would become a world star.

“People thought that his friends, Ghislain Chameni, Jean Ondoa and even his younger brother David Eto’o they would grow up to be better players,” he said.

But through solid training, hard work and determination, Essindi admitted, Eto’oThe success of was assured. “He had a New Bell mentality: never give up, despite the tough times,” Essindi added.

“Eto’o was not afraid of suffering. That has been his driving force to this day. She has the mentality of a winner who knows where she’s from.”

Essindi, who prides himself on being one of New Bell’s best defenders in its early days, is one of those who recognized Eto’o’s footballing potential. Eto’oHis ability to control the ball, dribble and score amazing goals was evident before he later played for FC Barcelona or Inter Milan. He first displayed these skills in his home country as a striker for teams like the Union Camerounaise de Brasseries (UCB) in 1996.

“We believed Samuel Eto’o he would become a great player in this country, when he played in the quarterfinals against the great Tonnerre Kalara Club from Yaoundé in the Cameroon Cup”, recalled Essindi. “Eto’o, very young and skinny at the time, single-handedly helped UCB defeat Tonnerre in the two-legged encounter. It was then that we knew that this boy had great potential.”

Eto’o He told CNN during an interview in 2020 that he grew up hand in hand with the people of this neighborhood and that the elders took care of him and advised him because they felt that he had something and that he could become successful.

New Bell is a notorious place for crime. His enduring legacy, Douala New Bell Prison, is a facility built in 1902 for a capacity of 800 inmates, but now has more than that.

“If we go a little further, we will see that the Central Prison is close. It seemed more likely that he would end up in that prison.” Eto’o he told CNN in 2020.

But the player did not end there. Instead, he left Cameroon at age 16 for Europe, where he launched his illustrious career.

Samuel Eto'O'S Childhood Family Home
samuel Eto’oNew Bell’s childhood family home [Paul Njie/Al Jazeera]

Eto’oThe family of He lived in a modest house. The building, secured by a gray gate, has a tiled fence halfway up. It stands between a church and other small houses. As Eto’o and his family left the neighborhood, the apartment has been rented.

In this neighborhood in New Bell, it’s no surprise to see laundry lines tied against pillars, with clothes strewn in front of people’s homes. Some who live in buildings spread their laundry on railings. A few meters from the previous Eto’o The family home is the residence of the leader of New Bell Block 10, Chief Emmanuel Tonye, ​​who saw Eto’o play soccer as a child.

Sitting outside a local bar right next to his residence, the ruler recalled Eto’oThe passion for the game.

Eto’o … is a footballer created by God. He is a born footballer. That’s because even though his mother was just a shopkeeper, he still dreamed of becoming a soccer player,” Tonye told Al Jazeera. “Like other mothers [in New Bell], Eto’oHis mother beat him and sent him home when she saw him play soccer.”

At the time, he said, most parents at New Bell considered the sport a waste of time.

But now things have changed.

Thanks to Samuel Eto’o‘s, some parents are now motivating their children to play soccer,” Raymond Mbeleck, who lives in New Bell, told Al Jazeera. “Today everyone wants to be a footballer because they all dream of being Eto’o someday. There are so many talented kids here playing this game.

Chief Emmanuel Tonye, ​​The Traditional Ruler Of New Bell Block 10
Chief Emmanuel Tonye, ​​the traditional leader of New Bell Block 10, watched Samuel Eto’o play football here when i was a kid [Paul Njie/Al Jazeera]

your icon, Eto’o, who retired from football in 2019, also achieved another football management milestone: becoming president of the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot). His December 2021 win marked a new dawn for the sport in Cameroon, according to many New Bell residents.

“When the Fecafoot election results were released, the entire New Bell community was in a festive mood. There was joy everywhere; it was huge and fantastic…People here in New Bell screamed from every corner of their homes,” Essindi said.

“We have always wanted Eto’o under the command of Fecafoot,” added Mbeleck. “That’s because we knew it would change a lot of things. I recently learned that some of our compatriots who played football abroad have returned to the country to play in the Cameroonian championship. This shows that Samuel Eto’oThe presence of Fecafoot played an important role”.

At one point, Mbeleck added, Cameroonian football was going down the drain: “But in Eto’oWith his almost year-long stay at Fecafoot, we now see a bright future for soccer in this country.”

This is just one of the reasons the football legend is held in such high regard by the people of New Bell.

“He is a giver. He helps people in need and solves people’s problems here. We have a lot of rich people in New Bell, but Eto’o he is the only rich man who gives. He helps everyone without discrimination, we are always proud of Eto’oTonye said.

As he says these words, the people sitting around him nod in agreement. He speaks volumes about how much the community values ​​the man they call “The New Bell Kid.”