Breel Embolo was born in Cameroon, but made it to the World Cup by playing for another team: Switzerland, which “adopted” him at the age of 6. What’s more, in the very first group match at the finals in Qatar, the 25-year-old striker faced his country of birth. Embolo scored the winning goal for the Swiss, but had the decency not to rejoice. He even seemed to apologise for his “audacity”.
“There will be special emotions for me in this match. I am Cameroon’s biggest fan. But I still want the three points. A good start to the tournament is very important,” Embolo said ahead of the match against Rigobert Song’s team.
The story of the Monaco striker, who has also played for Basel, Schalke and Borussia Monchegladbach, is an interesting one to say the least. Born in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, on Valentine’s Day, 14 February 1997, Breel had to go through a divorce from his parents at an early age. Germaine Embolo, his mother, and Moise Kegni, his father, divorced in the early 2000s and his mother decided to rebuild her life in Europe. That’s how Germaine Embolo and her two sons ended up in France.
In Europe, Breel Embolo’s mother met the striker’s future stepfather. He was Swiss, from Basel, so the new family moved from France to Switzerland just a year after Germaine met her new husband.
As a child, Breel had already let his mother know he wanted to be a footballer, although she tried to persuade him to consider a backup option if his plan failed. Germaine Embolo advised her children to stick to school and do well in their studies.
“I tried to get good grades in school, but it was hard to juggle the two activities,” Embolo recounted over the years. Little Breel continued to play football, and soon he was invited to try out for the children’s and youth teams in Nordstern, a team that played in the Swiss eighth division.
Because he was very shy, Embolo initially started playing in goal, thinking that this was a more isolated position where he didn’t have to socialise much with other kids. Fortunately for him and his future career, however, the coaches saw his true potential and sent him forward, where he would remain to this day.
His childhood idol was Samuel Eto’o and, by extension, since the Cameroonian star played for Barcelona, Breel also decorated his room with posters of other Blaugrana players, including Ronaldinho.
After four years at Nordstern, Breel Embolo moved to another Basel club, Old Boys. From there, the next logical step was a move to FC Basel, which he would make in 2010, aged 13. After just three years in Basel’s academy, he went on to train and play with the first team and was considered, at the time, one of the most promising young footballers in the world.
In his first season, he played only seven games, scoring one goal. The next two were better, scoring 10 goals in each, helping his team win three titles in a row. In 2015, he was also called up to the Swiss national team for the first time, aged just 18, for fear of losing him to Cameroon. Then Schalke noticed him and paid €25 million for him in 2016 at the age of 19.
His start in German football was not a successful one, partly because he suffered a fracture shortly after the move, which made it difficult for him to adapt and play after his recovery. However, in 2016, he was called up by Switzerland for the Europeans, becoming the youngest player in the “Song Country” squad for that final tournament.
The 2018 World Cup followed and a move to Gladbach, where he finally got to show what he could really do. Then came Euro 2020 with Switzerland, where, alongside Sommer, he was among Switzerland’s two best players as they knocked out France and then stopped in the ‘quarter-finals’, where they were only eliminated on penalties by Spain.
Last summer, Embolo joined Monaco, where he already has 7 goals scored in Ligue 1 in 15 games played. He has also scored once in the Europa League.