Cameroon launch Africa’s World Cup later today after a couple of weeks that can only be described as “rocky”.
First, amid a bonus dispute, star striker and captain (swoooon!) Samuel Eto’o refused to receive the national flag from Monsieur le Premier Ministre after a warm-up match with Moldova, leaving the German-born coach in the bizarre position of receiving the symbolically loaded gift.
That right there drew charges of treason, which is always great for pre-tournament morale.
“What they did on Saturday,” said the head of the Cameroonian FA, “it is a shame to the nation, a total contempt for the government and people who came to watch them and say goodbye. If they do not respect the emblem of this country, can we still support them?”
Next, amid rumours that the notoriously corrupt Federation Camerounaise de Football had “forgotten” to book hotel and training facilities in Brazil, the team refused to board their plane in a last minute bid for yet more bonus money. This sent their FA scrambling for a private loan to persuade the players to board their luxury charter flight to Natal. Classy!
The local papers back in Yaoundé didn’t hold back:
Between a legitimate claim and fraudulent behaviour, there is a threshold that must not be crossed, but the Lions have happily crossed it shamelessly. Eto’o haggled premiums for the players until the last drop of his saliva to satisfy the pecuniary greed of our professional football players.
Later on, Eto’o – or, more likely, his lavishly funded PR handlers – did then go into damage control via social media. Frankly, the only apology likely to be accepted at this point is a thorough thrashing of Mexico and Croatia on the way to the Round of 16.
You almost feel bad for their FA until you remember, “wait, couldn’t they have set aside just part of the $24 million in stadium renovation funds they stole a few years back to cover this kind of contingency?”
I think it’s fascinating, because this Eto’o-Fecafoot fight is just this little keyhole allowing you to peer into the world of intra-elite haggling for rents in Cameroon. It’s just not normal for this sort of thing to be done so far out in public.
But here it is, in glorious, full technicolor display: the 1% of the Cameroonian 1% fighting it out for millions of dollars to chase a ball around a bit of grass in a place where 15 out of 100 children never make it to age five.
Personally, I’m supporting Mexico.