by Ayo Tunde
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A few months ago on these pages, we talked about the process of Transitioning. In it, we talked about our need to master the art of transitioning, to be able to order our mindset in such a way that we can make the transition from a lower level to an upper one….in advancing ourselves in our chosen field. We also talked about the times when we need to have the right mindset to do a sideways transition – which is when we are probably planning to make a change from one career to another in order to find the best of us.

The mindset is very important in this process – knowing what we want, how we want it, and when to go for what we want.

We likened it to that great winning football team that does everything so well. A team that has a good defence, a good midfield, and a good attack. A ten that knows when to defend and when to make good use of the midfield to make a great transition upfield into an attack, and knowing when they need to do it.

Transitioning is key in our world and in every facet of our endeavour, and it will be great to look out for the tell-tale signs that can help us in making that move, taking that step, making the shift, how and when!

Many football players get to their mid-to-late thirties and you start to see them drop off in quality. Not everyone is Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Thiago Silva who seem able to go on forever! With many, it is a short shelf life, and one day they are there, the next you find that they are not anymore. Age is no respecter of anyone, and the body will tell stories about you that even you did not know, or were not prepared to admit and accept.

But when the time is up for playing, it is really up, and footballers need to make the decision on what they do next.

My word today – Transitioning – is a tribute to one who did what needed doing, and….well, knowing him for who he really is, we hope his composure and maturity will help him in this transitioning process.

Many ex-players have gone on to become coaches and managers. Many have taken to the television screens and made a name for themselves in punditry. That has been great to see…..especially in Africa where a good handful of them actually made the transition and do the analyses very well, creditably, and with honour and dignity.

But in our dear continent of Africa, not many have managed to blaze the trail and penetrate the heavily politicised politics of the game and emerge at the top. There have only been a few.

in most places, the players have been restricted to playing, and coaching, if they are lucky; while the federations/associations have been restricted to the career politicians who never would allow the ex-players to get to the top. You wonder why when you see that as players, are they not the best ones who would know where the shoe pinched the most when they get a chance to get there, and know how to handle matters better? But the career politicians made it tough.

It was great for some time to see the likes of Michel Platini (top French player in his time) emerge at the forefront of the administrative game, as head of UEFA for some years. It offered hope to other ex-players that they can retire from football, and become a force in administration and decision-making. Platini did not cover himself in much glory though, so the less said about it, the better.

More refreshingly, we saw Davor Suker (ex-West Ham, ex-Real Madrid striker) emerge as President of the Croatian Football Federation for NINE years – overseeing Croatian football at the top when the nation got to the final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. A square peg in a square hole, you would say.

Tanzania blazed the trail, with the highly incorruptible Leodegar Tenga, captain of the national team in the 1970s/80s, emerging as President of the Tanzanian Football Federation for almost 10 years. Tenga was a very good example of how football players can be transformed, through great transition, into great administrators. A man of exemplary character, he rose to become a member of the CAF Executive Committee for 8 years.

And we cast our minds to the legendary King Kalu – Kalusha Bwalya, the miraculous survivor from the ill-fated squad that perished in the Zambian air disaster in 1993, one time African Footballer of the Year. He assisted in picking the team, and the country up from the depths of tragedy, and captained his Chipolopolo team to the finals of the 1994 AFCON. Retired, and became the head coach of the national team, and, still transitioning, ended up becoming President of the Football Association of Zambia – a position he held for 8 years.

We will never forget the great George Weah, who did not stop at football – our lone African World’s Best (1995) left football and strode on to become the President of his country (no, not his country’s Football Association, but the whole country). These are people who have made us proud, have made football proud, and deserve a place in the African Football Hall of Fame.

In the very late 1990s, a really young lad burst onto the scene as a player. Young striker, fearless, effective and was a real tormentor of defences even from his young age. He featured for Cameroon in the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations as an 18-year-old based in Spain. He was damn good.


Two years later, in the AFCON co-hosted by Ghana/Nigeria, he came of age. Scored a few choice goals, aided and abetted by his countryman who showed a lot more maturity and was the perfect chaperone anyone could hope for (Patrick Mboma). By now, Samuel Eto’o Fils was becoming a household name in African football – as a player. By now, he was a Real Madrid player, on loan at first in Mallorca, then Madrid made the mistake of releasing him on a permanent deal to Mallorca.

There was no looking back for this young man – Barcelona snapped him up. He went on to win two UEFA Champions League titles, two AFCON titles, an Olympic gold medal and holds the record as the highest number of goals scored by an individual in AFCON history. Samu was named four times as African Footballer of the Year and was runner up a few times in the World Player of the Year stakes. A fully blossomed football career, you would say.

Then transitioning came to light. This sure bet for a place in the African Football Hall of Fame has decided to ditch the dream of becoming a pundit or a coach, and has gone into the political waters of Cameroonian football – emerging as President of the Cameroon Football Federation! This is no mean feat and we have to celebrate this legend of our game.

He is a trailblazer amongst former players of the game, offering them hope that they can reach the top. His plans are to reform Cameroonian football and use his wider influences in the international comity to bring real development to football in that country. They have been to seven FIFA World Cups, and to date, infrastructure-wise, have nothing to show for it. Here’s hoping the tables will turn now, and Samu will deliver where many have failed.

Really and truly, I wish him luck.

I end with a recollection of my first meeting with him – early 2000s – I went into the Cameroon team camp as a journalist and wanted interviews with some of their big players. Samu was one of those I wanted to talk to. Quite the smiley (always smiling, such a pleasant chap, believe me) one, he bounced into the room and was actually ready to do the interview. He was smiling as I wired him up (with a microphone and all), then he smiled and asked that we proceed. Only then did I realise that he did not speak a word of English, and my French was….to say the least, not impressive (at the time). Quagmire!!! What to do….I had the subject; the man of the moment, yet I couldn’t get to talk to him because….we could not communicate.

But guess what, he was nice, he was patient, and I went to call on another player (Joseph Desire-Job) who obliged and came to translate for me! The experiences of a young journo!

Samu was a great guy. It was no surprise he wound up in my beloved club – Chelsea – all great men pass through the Bridge (as did Weah, Shevchenko, and now Samu). Wait for news from Ivory Coast in a few weeks too….and you’ll see what I’m saying. It is all part of the Transition process.

Hats off to Samuel Eto’o, a worthy legend of the game as he has made the transition to another sector of his football career. I am sure we will see, and hear more of him in time.


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