Samuel Eto’o Fils would pass for an ordinary passenger at any airport.
The only thing that would probably give him away are the clicks and flashes of media cameras and hangers-on in tow.
This is exactly what happened at dawn on Tuesday when the Cameroonian football superstar landed discreetly at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on a Kenya Airways flight from Accra, Ghana.
Eto’o is in Kenya for the Laikipia Unity Cup, a tournament sponsored by the Zeitz Foundation to promote peace and environmental conservation, and whose finals will be played on Wednesday at the Nanyuki Municipal Stadium.
The striker’s deceptive demeanour belies his enormous wealth and fortune generated from the sport, as he is currently the world’s highest paid footballer, in salary terms.
During his last visit to Kenya in 2010, as patron of the Laikipia Unity Cup, Eto’o was still an Inter Milan player where he made “only” eight million euros (Sh864 million) in his final year for the Italian giants, having guided the “Nerazzuri” to a treble of the Italian Serie ‘A’ league, Italian Cup and Uefa Champions League titles in the 2010-11 season.
But last year, the Cameroon star put pen to paper for a new three-year contract with ambitious Russian club, Anzhi Makhachkala, guaranteeing him an annual, mind-boggling salary of $30 million (Sh2.5 billion) after Inter sold him for $52 million (Sh4.4 billion) to the club owned by Suleiman Kerimov, a powerful Russian oil and metals magnate.
The move made him easily the world’s highest salaried player, surpassing even his former FC Barcelona club mate and three-time world footballer of the year Lionel Messi, Real Madrid’s Ronaldo and the ubiquitous David Beckham of the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The trio are currently the world’s highest paid footballers, when you throw in off-pitch endorsements and other commercial contracts, with Eto’o at number four overall.
Eto’o’s Russian move was very much a leap into the unknown, from the flashy lifestyle he was used to in the glitzy Barcelona and Milan to the freezing Russian temperatures of Makhachkala.
Makhachkala is the capital of the Dagestan Republic, one of Russia’s most dangerous regions that lies on the east of war-torn Chechnya.
Other marquee signings at Anzhi – where Eto’o is captain – included Brazilian World Cup winner Roberto Carlos and Russian international winger Yuri Zhirkov.
Because of Makhachkala’s insecurity, the club’s players live and train in Moscow and fly in for home matches at the 50-year-old, 20,000-seater Dinamo Stadium.
“It may be cold in Russia, but it’s also cold in Milan, Paris and London,” he reacted yesterday when asked why he settled for the colourless Russian league.
“I love football because it has given me everything and it has given me a lot of money … I love to play football anywhere, in Europe, in Africa, in Asia … anywhere.”
On his Kenya tour, Eto’o is a guest of Jochen Zeitz, founder of the Zeitz Foundation, who served as CEO of Puma where he now sits on the board, as chairman, of the giant German sports and leisure wear manufacturer.
Zeitz has several business interests in Kenya, including the expansive Segera Ranch in Laikipia where he has built a “global ecosphere retreat”, a unique balancing act between tourism, conservation and close ties with the local community.