LISBON – ''I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody.'' For their sake, here's hoping that Samuel Eto'o and Asamoah Gyan don't soon find themselves repeating the words immortalized by Marlon Brando.
Africa's top two footballers of 2010 have signed for teams so obscure that you should award yourself five points if you can name them and another five if you can say where they play.
But there are no prizes for guessing why.
That, at least, is the accepted wisdom. But it's not the whole story.
In winning almost everything there is to win in football except for the World Cup, Eto'o has already become a very wealthy man. How wealthy? Well, Usain Bolt says that when he met Eto'o and took an instant liking to his ?35,000 ($48,000) diamond-studded luxury watch, the four-time African footballer of the year simply took it off and handed it over to the stunned sprint star with the words, ''You can have it.''
Maybe Eto'o has pulled that expensive party trick so often that he really does need the ?10 million ($13 million) a year that Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala says it will pay him. Given that Anzhi's home is in Dagestan, the republic in Russia's North Caucasus wracked by near-daily violence involving Islamic insurgents and criminal gangs, at least some of that sum should be considered danger money, even if Eto'o will live and train for most of the time in Moscow.
Besides, who in football wouldn't be tempted by such a big paycheck? Show me a player who claims that he wouldn't have given Anzhi's offer a second thought and I'll show you a liar.
And perhaps, as he suggests, Eto'o could no longer be sure that Inter Milan, his previous club with which he won the Champions League in 2010, would be strong enough to compete again with Europe's best this season. If so, Eto'o must have a crystal ball. The Italian club lost 1-0 Wednesday to Trabzonspor, a Turkish side making its Champions League debut. It also fell 2-1 to AC Milan in the Italian Super Cup last month and 4-3 at Palermo in its Serie A opener last Sunday. On that evidence, Eto'o made a timely getaway.
And, unlike Brando's character in ''On the Waterfront,'' Eto'o already is ''somebody.'' During five glorious years at Barcelona and then at Inter, he proved that he has class in spades. No mere contender, he is a proven champion. Being secure in that knowledge - as well as the money - is maybe another reason why Eto'o is prepared to slip off football's radar for a while at Anzhi. He can afford the obscurity because he knows that when he retires, he won't be forgotten.
Which isn't to say that the 30-year-old's remaining years are bound to go to waste. Anzhi's new owner, billionaire mining magnate Suleiman Kerimov, has big ambitions for the plaything he acquired last winter. Anzhi's goal in the three years Eto'o signed for is to qualify for the Champions League and, with an estimated net worth of $7.8 billion, Kerimov can help it get there.
Eto'o says he could have moved elsewhere but was attracted by Anzhi's ''crazy dream'' and the prospect of new experiences. Those, of course, are the sort of things that money-grabbing footballers often say rather than just admit the truth. But, again, since Eto'o was hardly poor and has already achieved so much in football, perhaps there is more to his move than just money.
''We want to aim very high and we have a president with the means, perhaps, to back up his thinking,'' Eto'o says in a video on his Web site. ''I want to follow this project from A to Z.''
Like Eto'o, Gyan also spoke about the need for ''a change in environment'' to explain his baffling move from England's Premier League to the United Arab Emirates. Again, money seems to have been a major factor. The word around his former club, Sunderland, is that he roughly quadrupled his weekly wage by signing on a season-long loan to Al Ain.
But unlike Eto'o, Gyan still isn't a big somebody in football and never will be if he stays in the UAE too long. He was a star of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. His left-footed extra-time goal against the United States that put Ghana into the quarterfinals is worth re-watching on YouTube.
Sunderland paid a club-record 13 million pounds ($20 million; ?15 million) for Gyan after the World Cup. Now, it is playing the role of victim in his departure. Manager Steve Bruce said agents - ''parasites,'' he called them - poured poison in the striker's ear by talking to him of possible moves away and filled him ''full of nonsense.'' The club described Gyan as unhappy at training.
Sunderland, of course, could simply have told Gyan to stop being childish, that he could not leave and should get on with his job of scoring goals. Instead, it pocketed the reported 6 million pounds ($9.5 million; ?7 million) Al Ain offered to borrow him.
At 25, Gyan is the same age as Wayne Rooney - too young to be joining the ranks of older footballers who move to Gulf teams for easy money in the twilight of their careers. The UAE's Pro-League says Al Ain's home games drew 54,452 spectators in total over the whole of last season - 20,000 fewer people than Gyan entertained when Sunderland lost 2-0 at Manchester United last December.
Money and class. In football, not everyone can have both.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at twitter.com/johnleicester