Samuel Eto’o is one of the most accomplished and celebrated strikers of the modern age. His pace, power and deadly finishing earned him the respect and admiration of fans and experts alike, and his legacy will remain legendary for plenty of years to come.
During his time at Barcelona from 2004–2009, he became the undisputed no.9 at the club, racking up trophies and goals aplenty; in his stay at the club, he would make 199 appearances, score 103 goals and win three La Ligas, one Copa Del Rey, two Spanish Super Cups and two memorable Champions Leagues.
A four-time African player of the year during his career, it became clear however that Barcelona’s manager at the time, a certain Pep Guardiola, had his reluctancies about the Cameroonian playing in his side and his playing time dramatically decreased, despite the fact his goalscoring record remained solid throughout.
In the summer of 2009, Samuel Eto’o transferred to Inter Milan in a player-plus-cash swap deal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic going the other way. Under Jose Mourinho, Eto’o would well and truly make people see the quality of striker he still was. Guardiola assembled some absolutely unbelievable teams during his time at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, but Eto’o’s subsequent treble under Jose Mourinho remains one of the Spaniard’s greatest ever errors.
After a stint playing in Russia, Eto’o made the shocking decision to move to Chelsea in the summer of 2013. At the age of 32 and signing just a one year deal, it was clear that Eto’o’s best days were well behind him; nevertheless, fans were still salivating at the thought of having such a well-renowned and experienced individual in their ranks. What’s more, it was Jose Mourinho, in his second stint at the West London side, that triggered the move which only added to the expectations.
In the 2013/14 Premier League season, Chelsea were desperately short of attacking options. Fernando Torres had provided inspirational moments in both the Champions and Europa League, but on the whole still looked jaded and lacking in confidence, whereas Demba Ba was increasingly being written off as not good enough for a genuine title contender.
For a 32 year old Samuel Eto’o, it must have seemed like the weight of expectation was being piled on with every passing day.
Like Torres, Eto’o never really got going at Chelsea. There were still plenty of hints of his undoubted talent however; goals against Cardiff, Tottenham, Schalke and a hattrick against a hapless Manchester United side showcased the cute awareness and eye for goal only the best possessed, but it simply was not consistent enough.
Sadly for Chelsea, and the rest of the footballing world, Eto’o was simply a couple years off his prime and unable to maintain the fitness levels required for a long, competitive season.
The prime example of Eto’o’s time in West London came against Arsenal on the 22nd of March 2014. Arriving in good form, he curled home a brilliant effort with his very first shot of the game, however just five minutes later, he was being subbed off for an injury.
Eto’o himself was made aware of his age by his manager plenty of times, even picking up an infamous new ‘walking stick’ celebration to fit in with his ‘old man’ tag.
For Eto’o and Chelsea, it has to be a case of ‘if only’. It’s not fair to mark Eto’o down as a flop in the way you would a Andy Carroll or Angel Di Maria for example. He showed plenty of skills that would point to a decently successful player during his time in England, it was sadly however a case of a player on the decline joining a club that could only ask too much of him.
Eto’o’s time in London shouldn’t, and thankfully hasn’t, done his reputation any damage. He remains one of the most talented players to emerge from Africa, and his skills on the pitch were more than driven home over his career. For Chelsea fans, they can look back on the signing of Samuel Eto’o and still smile at those good few moments he supplied during his single year in London.