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Samuel Eto’o: Cameroon’s Underrated Genius Unplayable in his Prime

Samuel Eto'o ex-Barcelona striker
Credit: Getty Images

You remember Gareth Bale’s display for Tottenham Hotspur against Inter Milan at the San Siro in the UEFA Champions League in October 2010, right? He scored a hat-trick, as Harry Redknapp’s side lost 4-3.

But you do not remember Samuel Eto’o’s performance that night, do you? The Welshman’s treble came after the home side had gone 4-0 ahead, owing to the brilliance of the Cameroonian.

He was enjoying his first season in Italy after signing from Barcelona; he set up Javier Zanetti for the game’s opening goal inside two minutes. Eto’o then converted a penalty to double Jose Mourinho’s side’s advantage, after goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes had been sent off for upending Jonathan Biabiany.

Inside a quarter of an hour, Inter led 3-0. Their third was scored by Dejan Stankovic, who had been set up by Eto’o deft flick-on. Before half-time, he scored his second goal of the game, by nudging Philippe Coutinho’s pass under the substitute goalkeeper, Carlo Cudicini.

Eto’o had a reputation for being a man for the big occasion. It is confusing, then, as to why he is rarely heralded as one of the greatest forwards of recent memory. Perhaps, it is because of his unfashionable introduction to first-team football. He signed on youth terms for Real Madrid in 1996 from Kadji Sports Academy, who are based in his city of birth and Cameroon’s capital, Douala.

He was only allowed to train with Real Madrid B because he was aged under 18 at the time. They were relegated to Spain’s third tier, the Segunda Division B, where non-European players are not allowed.

The Cameroonian joined Leganes for the 1997-98 season and made 30 appearances. He only scored four goals, though, and did not earn a permanent move to Butarque. He instead moved to Espanyol during the following campaign, but he failed to make a first-team appearance.

In 1999, he moved to Mallorca on loan; he scored six goals in 13 appearances during 1999-2000. He signed permanently at the Estadi de Son Moix, for a club-record fee of £4.4 million, ahead of 2000-01.

Nobody could have predicted Los Bermellones’ success. They finished third in the 2000-01 edition of La Liga, only nine points behind the champions and Eto’o’s former club, Real Madrid. Playing in the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history hampered their league form, but they won the 2002-03 Copa del Rey, beating Recreativo de Huelva 3-0 in the final; Eto’o scored a late brace to seal the game.

70 goals later, he moved to Barcelona in 2004, scoring 130 goals at the Camp Nou, and won three La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues, a solitary Copa del Rey and two Super Cups. He was also named in the FIFPRO World XI and the UEFA Team of the Year twice each.

He finished his spell in Catalonia with the first of his side’s two goals in the 2008-09 Champions League final, in which they beat Manchester United 2-0. Club president Joan Laporta announced in the summer of 2009 that an agreement had been met between Barcelona and Inter for a deal which would see Zlatan Ibrahimovic move to Spain in exchange for Eto’o and €46 million.

His first goal for the club – a thundering volley against Lazio in the 2009 Italian Super Cup final against Lazio – set the tone for a wonderful spell under Mourinho in Italy. He ended his first season at the San Siro with his second Champions League winner’s medal in as many years, and successes in Serie A and the Coppa Italia.

He stayed in Italy until 2011, having also won the FIFA Club World Cup in 2010, before joining Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, who had already signed Roberto Carlos. There, he scored 25 goals across two seasons, but he was forced to leave in 2013 after billionaire owner Suleyman Kerimov dramatically cut the club’s budget after selling most of the high-profile names he had purchased.

He moved to Chelsea, who were managed by Mourinho in his second spell at the club, along with Willian. He enjoyed a solitary season at Stamford Bridge, which was headlined by a hat-trick against Manchester United. The following season, he was deemed surplus to requirements due to the arrivals of Diego Costa and Didier Drogba, Everton pounced and snapped him up on a free.

Eto’o briefly returned to Italy with Sampdoria in 2015, before joining Turkey’s Antalyaspor. There, he rediscovered his goal-scoring form, scoring 44 goals in 77 matches across three seasons. After a short spell as player-manager, he joined fellow Super Lig side Konyaspor.

Rapidly approaching 800 senior matches in all competitions, he now turns out for Qatar SC in the Qatar Stars League.

Considering his tangible success in six countries, as well as two African Cup of Nations successes and an Olympic Gold Medal with Cameroon, it is amazing that Eto’o is often not considered as one of the best forwards of his generation.

He moved clubs regularly, which, perhaps, does not help his cause, but he was, undoubtedly, at home in the penalty area.

About the author

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Ryan Plant

FWA-accredited student reporter at Wolves, part of the SPA's Top Student Writers group and previously featured in the Guardian. Chris Iwelumo once called me a unit.

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