Wanted: A friend like Eto’o

In prosperity our friends know us; in adversity we know our friends – John Churton Collins.

The very first time I came across this thought-provoking quotation, I left everything I was doing and ruminated over it for a very long time. Another popular saying that has even become worn-out is “A friend in need is a friend indeed”. But Collins’ quotation descended into the depth of my thought.

Indeed, there are friends and there are friends. Fair-weather friends take off when your side of the bread is no longer well buttered. I have seen some people who were almost driven to suicide because when adversity knocked at their door, their friends flew out through the window!

One instance will suffice here. I had a friend in Jos who is an accountant by training. When the going was good for him, his apartment was like a transit camp for most of his friends visiting Jos or passing through. When my friend suffered a reversal of fortunes, his friends engaged the reverse gear and deserted him as though he had contracted leprosy.

He told me that one afternoon, he saw one of the fair-weather friends somewhere around the popular Terminus Market. He was approaching him from the opposite direction. As soon as he sighted my friend from afar, he made a u-turn and melted into the maddening crowd. At first, my friend became worried, thinking he had seen a ghost. He quickly put a call to one of his relations to enquire about him. As it turned out, my friend did not see a ghost. The ghost he thought he saw was still alive and kicking. He also learnt that the ‘ghost’ was actually in Jos on an official assignment as they were talking.

It is a general belief among some Nigerians that a man or woman who had kicked the bucket before their time could relocate to a place where they are not known until they complete the number of years assigned to them by their Creator.

My friend, who had become carless, was so shocked about his friend’s ‘disappearing act’ that he was transfixed to a spot for a very long time. He struggled to maintain his balance as fellow Legcedes Benz owners kept bumping into him, causing him to almost lose his balance a couple of times. He eventually rescued his feet from the ground and walked away, occasionally shaking his head. When he told me the story, I felt for him. Nothing can be more painful.

Talking about knowing your friends when adversity pitches tent with you brings us to the topic for today’s piece. Recently, one of the most entertaining and smartest footballers to come out of Brazil in recent times, Ronald de Assis Moreira, popularly known as Ronaldinho, was in the news for the wrong reason. He was accused of entering Paraguay along with his elder sibling with counterfeit travel documents. The authorities had to launch an investigation into the crime with a view to ascertaining whether he was involved in money laundering activities. Considered a flight risk, he was immediately hauled into detention where he spent his 40th birthday on March 21, 2020.

The Brazilian soccer legend battled to extricate himself from the jaws of detention, offering to post an $800,000 bail bond by putting up a local businessman’s property as collateral in exchange for being moved from maximum security jail to house arrest. However, the court turned down the offer. The presiding judge based his decision on missing legal documents on the property.

There is no doubting the fact that Ronaldinho’s saga caught global attention. I began to follow his soccer trajectory after he starred for the Brazilian U-20 squad at the FIFA World Cup tournament staged in Nigeria in 1999. He made five appearances and scored three goals. One of the goals was a penalty he converted in a spectacular fashion. It was the first and last time I ever sighted such smartness and sublime skills in my entire career as a sportswriter. The toothy playmaker held the ball in his hands, shook it vigorously before planting it on the spot. Beaming with what later became his trademark smiles on and off the pitch, the lanky teenager backpedalled rather lazily, covering three or so metres. He stood akimbo for a few seconds. Then, he approached the ball like a vulture would descend on a carcass and drove the ball to the goalkeeper’s right while he dived to his left. The ball rolled lazily into the net. It was like a slow motion and soccer fans must have moved to the edge of their seats, expecting the keeper to recoil but his reflexes failed him at that moment!

The football wizard graduated to the senior team and was honoured or saddled with the burden that came with jersey No. 10 made famous by Edson Arantes do Nascimento, a.k.a Pele, considered worldwide as the greatest footballer of all time. Ronaldinho accepted the challenge and took the soccer world by storm. He had football under his feet and he could do unimaginable things with it. His majestic exploits at the national level soon manifested at the club level; the beneficiaries were such great outfits like the FC Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan. In all, he featured for eight clubs, making 441 appearances and scoring 167 goals. For the national teams at all levels, he wore 97 caps and raked in 33 goals.

Held down in the calaboose for several weeks, the soccer icon was left at the mercy of the ruthless Paraguayans who were not moved by the fame of the suspect. At a point in his career, the soccer legend’s net worth was put at between $100m and $125m. However, his wealth became increasingly unclear as he contended with serious financial and legal issues in his native Brazil.

Ronaldinho’s career was at an apogee in 2005 when he won the Ballon d’Or. In his trying times, he was abandoned by his mates and compatriots. No one can fault them. But a most unlikely rescuer became his team mate at FC Barcelona, Samuel Eto’o, a black man from the so-called Dark Continent! The Cameroonian legend who occupied the third place in the race for the 2005 diadem did not grudge the world soccer king of that moment. He did not say, “It serves him right”. Neither did he judge him! The former five-time African Footballer of the Year simply dipped his hand into his deep pocket and shelled out about 1.3m Euros to rescue his friend and former team mate in dire need of help, rather than questioning what he did with his own fortunes.

When I read about Eto’o’s gesture, I was deeply touched. The prayer that found its way to my lips was: “May God give us a friend like him when tormented by adversity.”

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