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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 November, 2004, 13:27 GMT
Felix who?
Phil Minshull
BBC Sport, Madrid

I am very grateful for what I have got and try to be humble
Felix Ettien

If a vote was taken on the best African player in La Liga, it would be a tight race between Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o and the Ivory Coast's Felix Ettien.

Everybody knows the reigning African Player of the Year, with his transfer to Barcelona in the summer making headlines around the world.

But outside of Spain, you would not be blamed for asking, Felix who?

Ettien has not received a call from Henri Michel, Ivory Coast's manager, to help the Elephants in their quest to qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals.

Nevertheless, experts that have watched the 25-year-old in action for Valencia-based side Levante, are unanimous that his lightening-quick forays down the right wing have made him the top player in his position.

Ettien, who is being rated above Real Madrid's Luis Figo, has been a regular inclusion in the Team-of-the-Week selections produced by major newspapers in the country.

It has been a tough road to the top for Ettien, who has been with Levante ever since he got noticed at the 1997 World Youth Championship.

Ettien's initial experience with Levante serves as a warning to na´ve African youngsters with stars in their eyes.

"After the World Youth Cup in Malaysia, Levante paid me a lump sum of 24,000 Euros and then offered me a wage of 1,500 Euros a month.

"This seemed like a fortune at the time but actually the money was not really important.

"All I wanted to was to play in Europe and be a professional. I was so lucky," Ettien told the Spanish sports newspaper As.

"But little did I know that this was the start of my problems," he said.

Racial bias

"As soon as we arrived here (Ettien joined Levante with fellow Ivory Coast junior international Idrissa Keita), our Italian agent disappeared and left us without any money.

"The then Levante coach thought we were a disaster. Because we didn't speak Spanish, everybody ignored us.

"Whenever I fell ill, people said it was AIDS or malaria or some other serious disease and nobody would come near us," reflected Ettien.

He has proved his early critics wrong and is Levante's most senior player, with eight years under his belt.

That does not mean that the bitter memories of unfair treatment have faded from his memory.

"At first, Keita and I were like two lepers.

"We were obliged to use the same plates and cutlery in the club cafeteria, and use the same shirts, socks, shorts and towels in the dressing room.

I grew up in an orphanage and for this reason I try to help the orphans in my country

"Other players thought we had some kind of contagious disease.

"It was a horrible time and the only reason I overcame it was that I was mentally very tough."

However, Ettien is aware that several people in his politically troubled homeland are going through harder times, which disturbs him greatly.

"I grew up in an orphanage and for this reason I try to help the orphans in my country, kids who have got nothing.

"What's happening in my country is very serious and makes me very sad.

"I am very grateful for what I have got and try to be humble. I'm not interested in luxuries, like playing golf."

Making a success of his club football career is a sufficient challenge.

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