Location: Yaoundé, Cameroon
Lions’ defeat re-ignites Eto’o-Milla debate.
The Eto’o-Milla squabble that was a hot topic of debate in Cameroon before the World Cup has resurfaced yet again and divided Cameroonians. There are fears that the debate may go on for a long time if Cameroon is finally kicked out of the World Cup. But, what was the source of the Milla-Eto’o squabble?
The defeat of the Indomitable Lions by the Japanese side, 1-0, as Cameroon made its entry into World Cup, has re-ignited the Milla-Eto’o clash that hit Cameroon on the eve of the World Cup. Disappointment leads to disillusionment and then to the release of tension. For Cameroonian football lovers, the Milla- Eto’o disagreement provided an outlet for their anger.
The immediate reaction after the match was, “Let Eto come here and answer Milla”. A Cameroonian journalist, Pierre Bertrand Amougou, lashed out a few minutes after the press conference during which the Lions’ captain, Samuel Eto’o, was conspicuously absent.
He merely voiced the thoughts of thousands of disappointed Cameroonians. Hongba Nadege fumed, “Eto’o did not play anything, he was like a passenger in the field taking throws, and this confirms what Milla said”.
But what did the 1990 star say that ignited the heated debate that divided the country into the Milla-Eto’o camps? During one of his media outings, Milla declared in Agence France Presse that, his son, brother, and colleague, Samuel Eto’o, “Has not contributed much to the national team compared to his club contributions in Barcelona and Inter Milan”.
The debate circulated like wild fire in a country passionate about football. Vendors, drivers, women, young and old said what they thought was right, depending on which side they belonged to. In one of the eating houses in Melen in Yaoundé where the local dish, ‘Kati-kati ‘(locally prepared chicken with palm oil) is popular, Benedict Mbarga, an Eto’o fan, argues ardently between mouthfuls.
“Milla played football with magic, juju. Go to Camp Yabassi in Douala, ask for Pere Francois, he made Milla.” He insinuated that the kind of football Milla played was not natural.
Another customer, Engono Christine, retorted, “Eto’o’s Juju is weaker than Milla’s”. The scene at this local restaurant was a replica of what goes on in drinking spots in Yaoundé, given that beer and football are familiar bed-fellows for Cameroonians.
Talking for the other camp, Clovis Atatah, a sports lover, says Eto’o has won an Olympic Gold Medal, and was three times CAF Man-of-the-Year for the national team. When he won the Champion’s League with FC Barcelona and International Milan, he draped himself with the national flag and that was enough proof for Clovis of Eto’o’s contribution to Cameroon.
However, many a Cameroonian like Koussiga Michael agreed that Milla’s utterances were pertinent given that whenever Eto’o plays with the national team he does not perform as well as he does when playing for his club. The problem, many argued, was the timing of such declarations – days before the start of the World Cup. However, Cameroon is known to be a country of polemics, where every issue is big.
Affirming such declarations, Sports Analysts, Franklin Sone Bayen says, “This is not the first time the FIFA ambassador is making such statements”.
Meanwhile, Eto’o decided to reply to Milla in an open letter to Cameroonians. Eto’o narrated his childhood dreams of how he wanted to be like his idol, Roger Milla, regretting that such dreams faded long ago. Milla, on the other hand, declared that he meant to encourage Eto’o to work hard. Strong fears that such conflict was going to destabilize the team at the eve of the World Cup were voiced.
Team Press Officer, Linus Pascal Fouda dismissed such a debate as cheap talk that had no effect on the team. “There is no problem in the Lions’ den and the issue of Milla-Eto’o is forgotten, it is a non-event,” he said.
In the midst of all this, Sports Minister, Michel Zoah, issued a press release to reiterate support for the coach and captain. So did the President of the Football Federation, Iya Mohammed. While the government and the federation were trying to use every means possible to kill the debate, it has reared its ugly head again after the defeat by Japan. There are fears that if Cameroon is finally kicked out of the competition, the squabble may take a long time to disappear from the media, beer parlours and street corners in Cameroon.