In Levante UD we have a Granota who, after making his professional name known in Orriols with the blue and red stripes of our classic jersey, ended up playing seven seasons in the ranks of the all-powerful English Arsenal. And there, at the London club, he won two Premier League titles, the most important national competition in the world. He also played in the Champions League and was runner-up in Europe’s premier football tournament.

Lauren in the photo of the 1997/98 Levante UD squad. From left to right, Pirri, technical secretary Ricardo Chover (key in the signing of the Cameroonian), Villanueva and Lauren.

The story of the footballer Laureano Bisan-Etame Mayer (Lauren) is closely linked to Spain… Although I played for the Cameroonian national team, I feel Spanish, it’s not a contrast. My culture and my education is in Seville… These are the African’s words to journalist Toni Cruz in an interview in November 2018. He was the eleventh child in a family of twelve siblings. His parents, originally from Equatorial Guinea, had to leave their country (a former Spanish colony) after the coup d’état against President Macías and take refuge in Cameroon. And there, almost by accident, in the town of Kribi, Lauren was born in early 1977. She was four years old when her family was able to emigrate to Spain to settle in the Montequinto neighbourhood of the municipality of Dos Hermanas, near the capital of Seville, where her father found a job as a civil servant in the Government Delegation.

For almost half a year (from August to December 1996) Lauren played for CD San Fernando on loan from Sevilla FC. In the centre of the picture during a training session with the Blue and Whites.

His football skills did not go unnoticed by local scouts and Sevilla FC quickly acquired his services at the age of eleven. There, he played at all levels until he reached the Sevilla reserve team. But after brief loan spells at minor clubs close to the Andalusian capital, he never got a chance in the first team at Nervión. His last great season at Sevilla Atlético catapulted him to Levante UD. The Andalusians offered to renew him with an amateur contract but the great interest of the Granotes, who gave him a completely professional treatment, made him bet without hesitation for the club from Orriols.

Lauren’s report in April 1997 by Ricardo Chover, technical secretary of Levante UD, left no doubt about the suitability of his signing: “In one-on-one play he is great… Quick on the counter-attacks and with intelligence… He is a dangerous striker… I see an excellent future for him”.

1997/98 pre-season match. Lauren is second from left between Villanueva and Lima.

Levante UD’s 1997/98 campaign in the Second Division was a concatenation of inanities that led to the bronze category. Up to five coaches (Emilio Cruz, José Enrique Díaz, Roberto Álvarez, Aranguren and Pepe Balaguer) tried to steer the club back to safety. But the chronicle of a death foretold (to paraphrase the celebrated novel by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez) became mathematical with two games to go, following a goalless draw at the Ciutat de València between Levante and Hércules.

However, Lauren’s performance had nothing to do with the team’s sporting debacle. The Cameroonian was one of the few outstanding players in the Orriols eleven and with six goals (his highest tally in a season in his entire career) he was Levante UD’s second top scorer after Fede Marín, who managed one more. He also had two magical performances in the 3-2 defeat of Villarreal and the 4-4 draw at Leganés. In both matches he scored excellent goals in braces. One of the goals in the Madrid locality was a fantastic strike. Little by little, those goals and great individual performances attracted the attention of several teams in the Spanish Primera División and, finally, RCD Mallorca acquired his services. Pedro Villarroel’s Levante UD could not refuse the Balearic club’s offer, and even more so after the relegation to Segunda B, which was to entail severe financial cuts.

This was the end of the African’s brief but intense spell with the club. Lauren has repeatedly expressed the eternal gratitude he will always have for Levante UD. For betting on him and making him a professional footballer and because his time at Orriols was the perfect showcase that catapulted him to a legendary career. And a nice anecdote. Lauren was the second active Granota (after the Chilean Caszely) to play in a World Cup. The Cameroonian played in France 98 while he was still a Granota, as the last shirt he wore before that achievement was that of Levante UD.

On the last day of the first round, Levante lost 3-2 in Villarreal. Lauren was the scorer of both goals. In the picture celebrating the 0-1 with which the Cameroonian headed the opening goal in the second minute of the match.

At Mallorca, coach Héctor Cúper made him an undisputed starter. There, in his first season, he won the Super Cup, beating Barça in the final, and in the following season, after a fabulous tournament, he reached the Cup Winners’ Cup final, losing to Italian side Lazio. But the big clubs of the old continent had already set their sights on him and coach Arsène Wenger took him to Arsenal (Real Madrid also showed interest but he finally ended up in the City of London).

Lauren has always said that the French coach has been the most important person in his sporting career. Because in addition to getting the best out of him, he converted him from his position as a playmaker to that of an attacking right-back, taking advantage of the great quality he always had as a midfielder. He also made him play in the best Arsenal of all time alongside geniuses such as the French striker Henry, and he was also runner-up in the Champions League in 2005/06.

Lauren reached his peak as a footballer in the seven seasons he played for Arsenal. In 2001/02 he won his first Premier League title (left with the league trophy) and in 2003/04 his second, as part of “The Invincibles”, as they called the team that won the championship without losing a single game. On the right holding their last Premiership Cup during the London celebrations.

On 19 March 2003, two former Granotes met at the Mestalla stadium in the group stage of the Champions League. On the left Vicentín unable to stop Lauren’s advance with the ball.

The African’s footballing epilogue came with a couple of seasons at English club Portsmouth and a final campaign back in Spain, in the ranks of Cordoba, who played in the second division. The same category where the Granotes were also in the 2009/10 season, and which the Orriols side ended in an extraordinary way, with promotion to the First Division in the year of their centenary. And what are the coincidences of life: Lauren played the last game of his professional career as a footballer against Levante UD. It was on matchday 34, when Córdoba faced and beat the Valencian side 2-1.

Lauren won the gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, beating Spain in the final.

Lauren’s record with her national team, defending the indomitable lions of Cameroon, is also extraordinary. Her greatest success came at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, where she won the gold medal in the final against Spain. After the match ended in a 2-2 draw, Lauren scored one of the goals in the decisive penalty shoot-out. For the Kribi native, however, the victory had a bittersweet aftertaste because of the strong sentimental attachment he has had to Spain since he was a child. In fact, he has always declared that he would have loved to have been capped by La Roja, but it was the African national team (through an old La Liga acquaintance, the great Tommy N’Kono) who showed his interest much more vehemently and that made him decide. In addition to this great triumph at international level, Lauren also has two African Cups to his name.

On 15 September 2016 (in the season that ended with Levante UD’s last promotion to Primera División) Lauren visited her home (the Ciutat de València) and stopped by the Tenda Granota located in the stadium. Below in an iconic photo wearing the Granota kit.

After working for several years as an ambassador for Arsenal at numerous international events, Lauren now holds a position at FIFA (the governing body of the world’s football federations) as a technical expert for the development of football talent in Africa.