Cameroonian Soccer Star Finds Promise In World Cup
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, can a group of high school students from one of Philly's toughest neighborhoods compete with some of the world's top automotive engineers to build a state of the art hybrid car? We'll see - in a few minutes.
But, first, we'll admit it, we've got World Cup fever. The opening game of that worldwide tournament is this weekend. Now, you've heard about Kobe, Shaq, A-Rod, Eli Manning and other highly compensated players in basketball and football. But did you know that the world's highest paid soccer player is Sam Eto? He is originally from Cameroon.
He says at one soccer match in Barcelona the crowd spent the entire game making monkey noises at him. Now the joke is on them. He's not only the world's highest paid soccer player, he's also one of the most popular. John Carlin recently wrote a profile of him in Time magazine and he's with us now to tell us more from Johannesburg. Welcome, thank you for joining us.
Mr. JOHN CARLIN (Time Magazine): My pleasure.
MARTIN: So what's the atmosphere there right now?
Mr. CARLIN: Say it again?
MARTIN: What's the atmosphere in Johannesburg? Is it fun? Is it festive?
Mr. CARLIN: (Unintelligible) sorry, I didn't get your question because the atmosphere was just far too noisy and excitable around here.
MARTIN: Oh, is that right?
Mr. CARLIN: We're still about, I don't know, 48 hours away from the World Cup starting. But the streets here in Johannesburg are an absolute riot of color and noise. (Unintelligible) the much overused phrase, the excitement is palpable (unintelligible) utterly appropriate.
MARTIN: Is absolutely true. Okay, well, we're glad to hear it. Well, thank you for taking a break from the festivities for us. Now, tell me about Sam Eto. Tell me and not to be crude about it - but how much money does he make?
Mr. CARLIN: Well, he's actually not the top, top paid. There's two guys who are above him: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi of Argentina, the best world's players (unintelligible). And he makes his base salary after tax is about (unintelligible) million dollars. But of course he makes a lot more money on top of that from sponsorships and what have you.
MARTIN: Tell us a little bit about him. I understand he truly is a rags to riches story.
Mr. CARLIN: Oh, absolutely, yes. But there's actually quite a few of them in Africa, players (unintelligible) been born in conditions of extreme poverty, not to say squalor, and who have succeeded in the European big leagues.
Samuel Eto, he was born and raised in a town on the coast of Cameroon. And his father was an accountant, which sounds a lot better than it actually was but lost his job early, early on in Eto's childhood. And then his mother had to take charge and become the breadwinner. There were six children. And the mother would get up at 3:00 every morning, go to the port to buy fish and then resell it and in some cases cook it and resell it.
And they lived in a house where there were several children sleeping in the same bed. And Samuel Eto said there were a lot of people in his neighborhood who (unintelligible) of where he lived, as he himself told me when (unintelligible) was that the rain didn't come through the ceiling. And that set him out among his neighbors as a distinctly privileged individual.
MARTIN: Now, you write that he was passed around a lot between teams before finding himself in Inter Milan, in the Italian league. And he - and I just wanted to - I'm not going to go through all the teams that he was in - but why is that? Is that normal in soccer or is there something about him? Or why is that?
Mr. CARLIN: People are very people jump around from team to team. Actually, where he really made his name was at (Unintelligible) club, where, which is now is the most admired soccer team in the world. He was sensationally successful there, winning every single thing that a team could possibly win and him scoring lots of goals, and he was a huge hero in Barcelona.
And even now, I mean, I live in Barcelona myself and even now he is mightily missed and these people regret a year ago he moved into Milan because indeed he was as successful going to Inter Milan and Inter Milan defeated Barcelona in the semi-finals of the biggest competition of them all, which is the Champion League of Europe.
MARTIN: Okay. And tell me a little bit about him as a player. What is his why is he so renowned?
Mr. CARLIN: Well, first of all, he has a golden, priceless quality. He scores an awful lot of goals. He was the highest scorer in the Spanish League in his first season there, and the Spanish League is, along with the English one, are the two strongest ones in the world.
He's very (unintelligible) he's explosive. And he's also a player he's a real team player. He sacrifices himself for the team if the coach says this time we don't want you to score so many goals (unintelligible) score goals, but want to play a more defensive type role, he will do that. And he'll cover vast areas of the field and run his heart out. He's a player of enormous heart as well as talent.
MARTIN: Well, thank you so much for keeping us posted. And try not to have too much fun without us, okay?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CARLIN: It's going to be great. It's going to be totally great.
MARTIN: John Carlin joined us from Johannesburg, South Africa - which is, of course, hosting World Cup. He's a journalist and author of two books, "Invictus: Playing the Enemy" and "White Angels." He covers sports and politics and recently wrote an article in Time magazine on Sam Eto and the World Cup entitled "The Global Game."
John, thank you.
Mr. CARLIN: Thank you very much. Bye-bye.
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