In a country where spectators guilty of racial abuse are not ejected from grounds by stewards or police, La Liga has a racism problem and Eto'o, the African Footballer of the Year, is its highest profile victim.
His goal celebration last season at Zaragoza, in which he imitated a monkey after suffering monkey chants throughout the match, had not served to alter the behaviour of a minority of Zaragoza supporters on Saturday. Eto'o had moved towards the corner flag in the 76th minute to take Barcelona's first corner when he was insulted and pelted with missiles.
The referee, Victor Esquinas Torres, stopped the game to ask for an announcement to be made over the public address system but the Cameroon international had made his mind up. Pushing his way past Torres, Eto'o headed for the tunnel only to be pacified by players, officials and his manager, Frank Rikjaard, who all pleaded with him to stay on the pitch.
His actions had a precedent in Italy this season when the Messina defender Marc Zoro also tried to walk off after being racially abused during a Serie A match against Internazionale in November. It is a desperate reaction from black players rooted in the inability of some European football federations to deal with a problem that once blighted British stadiums.
That complacency was reflected in the remarks of the Real Zaragoza coach, Victor Munoz, who said afterwards: "It was a minority and although you have to listen to it, minorities should not be paid too much attention. It happens in all stadiums: I have heard it in the Nou Camp before."
Rijkaard praised those who stopped his striker from leaving the pitch. "I was pleased to see the reaction of his team-mates and the referee encouraging him to stay on," he said. "In the end Samuel has risen above the situation."
Eto'o's team-mate Ronaldinho added: "Things can't go on like this. I tried to calm him down and tell him that he was bigger than those who were abusing him."
Zaragoza's black Brazilian striker Ewerthon said: "In the end no African player will want to play in Spain. I played in Germany and this didn't happen but here it happens in all grounds."
Eto'o was booed and whistled throughout the rest of the game as Barça finally opened the scoring. Albert Celades was sent off for handling an Edmilson free-kick and Ronaldinho scored the penalty. Eto'o then set up Henrik Larsson for Barça's second seven minutes from time and at the final whistle gave a victory salute to the crowd.Reuse content