Friday Mar 20, 2020. 09:00
With top-level football ground to a halt thanks to the coronavirus epidemic, we look back at a legend of yesteryear. This week’s spotlight falls on Cameroonian legend Samuel Eto’o.
What his origin story?
Born in Douala, Cameroon on 10 March 1981, Samuel Eto’o Fils showed prodigious football talent as a youngster and honed his skills at the Kadji Sports Academy before signing with Spanish giants Real Madrid as a teenager.
Eto’o went on to make just three appearances for Los Blancos, who overlooked him at a time when they were very much beginning to move into ‘Galacticos’ mode. Real’s loss was Mallorca’s gain, with the Cameroonian moving to the island club in 2000, first on loan and then permanently. He was a huge hit with Los Bermellones, scoring a club-record 70 goals across all competitions in four and a half seasons.
This drew the attention of Barcelona, who signed Eto’o for €24million in the European summer of 2004. While many were initially sceptical of his ability to adapt to life at a big club, the Cameroonian went on to establish himself as a Barca legend, scoring 130 goals in 199 appearances over five seasons as the Catalans racked up three La Liga and two UEFA Champions League titles in his time there.
Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola effectively swapped Eto’o for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2009, with the African heading to Internazionale and a first taste of Italian football. It proved another fruitful move for the player, who thrived under Jose Mourinho (even if he was often deployed in a more defensive and/or wide role) and helped the Nerazzurri win a treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League. For Eto’o, it was an unprecedented second successive treble, as Barcelona had done the same in his final season in Spain.
Eto’o was even more prolific in his second season with Inter, scoring an impressive 37 goals from 53 appearances in 2010/11, before he agreed a shock move to Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala which made him the highest paid player in the world at the time. This signalled the start of the decline of his club career, though he did appear in the Premier League for Chelsea and Everton from 2013 to 2015, before spells at Sampdoria, Antalyaspor, Konyaspor and Qatar SC. He hung up his boots in September 2019.
If his club achievements weren’t already enough to be regarded as an African football legend, then Eto’o’s international career adds even more weight to the argument that he is one of this continent’s greatest ever players.
In 118 caps for Cameroon – starting from his debut the day before he turned 16 in 1997 – he scored 56 goals (a national team record) and helped the Indomitable Lions win the Africa Cup of Nations in 2000 and 2002. In addition, he is the AFCON’s all-time leading scorer, with 18 goals from six tournament appearances; was a key member of Cameroon’s Gold-medal winning team at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000; and played at four different World Cups: 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2014.
“Football is beautiful. Football is beautiful because whether you win, draw, or lose, you can go and shake your opponent’s hand, whether they’re white or black or red or blue.”
What’s he doing now?
Enjoying his retirement, he only stopped playing a few months ago! In all seriousness, Eto’o has hinted at moving into coaching/management, but for now he seems content working in charitable and ambassadorial roles befitting a legend of the sport.
Anything else to add?
In 2015 he was apparently crowned honorary paramount chief in Kaffu Bullom, a chiefdom in Sierra Leone, while visiting as part of FIFA’s “11 for Health and 11 against Ebola” programme. In addition, his two younger brothers – David and Etienne – are both also professional footballers.
Check out these compilations of his best goals for both Barcelona and Internazionale