Samuel Eto'o: Cometh the hour, cometh the man
Vincent Lombardi once said, “Real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory”. If Lombardi was right, Samuel Eto’o is a winner in every sense of the word. For a footballer hailing from a unknown town in Africa to come and dominate Europe despite consistent efforts to knock him down in the form of racism, controversies and people doubting his commitment, Eto’o’s life story is one of extreme inspiration; one that immediately impresses us with the thought that the man is a born winner with fire constantly burning in his belly. And if this needs any explanation, one look at his trophy cabinet which is overflowing with medals will seal the debate: 2 consecutive treble medals with different clubs, 4 African Player of the year awards and an Olympic Gold Medal; all arising from close to 250 goals in a glorious club career spanning eleven years where he has conquered two continents.
Scouted by Real Madrid but not given an opportunity in their star studded team, Samuel Eto’o made his name at Real Mallorca as he began to set La Liga on fire and made history by becoming the club’s all time leading goal scorer, thus making the fans fall in love with him. Now a sensation, Eto’o’s real rise to stardom began when Barcelona came calling. Signed during the re-building phase under Joan Laporta when the Catalan giants were being over-run by Madrid in the league, Eto’o’s signing proved crucial in knocking Real Madrid, the club that wouldn’t wait to see their unearthed gem realise its full potential, off their perch in the league. In combination with Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o formed Europe’s deadliest attack that went all the way on a glorious night in Paris in 2006 to be crowned European Champions, with Eto’o having a huge say in the big final by scoring the equalising goal that tipped the balance in Barca’s favour, thus earning the tag of ‘big game player’. The divine Ronaldinho then departed and a lull would follow for the club but Barca would rise again. Cometh the hour, cometh man and Eto’o would lead from the front with 36 goals in the treble winning 2008-09 season and scoring the all important opener in the Rome final, proving yet again that the he is the man for the finals. The came one of the lousiest transfer ideas in history. Having played such a pivotal contribution in Barcelona’s success, one wonders even today what on earth was the logic behind the transfer when Barca decided to swap their star striker for Zlatan Ibrahimovic plus €48 million.
A player who believes in making his performances do the talking, Eto’o became fully involved in the Jose Mourinho project at European under-achievers Inter Milan. Renowned for his bust-ups with Ronaldinho and egotistic outbursts during his Catalan days, the Cameroonian was moulded into a total team player who would work his socks off and defend for the team cause, which was not exactly his forte. After playing in his favoured position as centre forward in a slick passing team like Barcelona, Eto’o quickly adapted to the footballing philosophy of Mourinho which preached close man marking and plenty of donkey work. The transformation was most notable when he often played on the wings, did not score dozens of goals but also did not hesitate to tuck in at full back positions when there was a numerical disadvantage, most notably against Barcelona at the Camp Nou where he had the last laugh against the club that off-loaded him for the over-hyped Ibrahimovic. As Inter went on to complete the treble by winning the Champions League final in Madrid with Eto’o stamping his mark on it with an assist to Diego Milito, one couldn’t help but wonder “It was meant to be!”.
This season, things have not been rosy for Inter Milan. Mourinho’s departure, Rafael Benitez’s sacking and an injury crisis have affected the club’s campaign to defend their crowns, but if the Nerazzurris are still in contention it’s because of the red hot form of their number nine who has exploded into life after being given the permission to express himself on the pitch with 30 goals in all competitions. As the Champions League holders travel to Munich to overcome the away goal deficit against Bayern Munich and go through, manager Leonardo’s instructions will be clear: to go and attack all out. The second leg of the knockout round, a re-match of last season’s Madrid final, is no Champions League final but it’s importance is immense in the Inter quarters. And who better to turn to than the man for the big occasions: Samuel Eto’o. His physical presence up front to win headers, dribble effortlessly and leave defenders for dead, shoot from distance and create something out of nothing will be essential against the suspect Bavarian defence. Inter Milan will be hoping that big man will turn up on the big occasion and put them through.