Goal.com's countdown to the greatest player of 2008 continues with the enigmatic Barcelona and Cameroon striker, Samuel Eto'o. It's been a mixed year for Eto'o to say the very least, yet one of the jewels of Africa has done enough to merit a respectable place on our list...
49 - Javier Zanetti - Internazionale, Serie A - Score: 1104
48 - Daniel Guiza - Fenerbahçe, Super Lig - Score: 1089
47 - Juninho Pernambucano - Olympique Lyonnais, Ligue 1 - Score: 1083
46 - Juan Román Riquelme - Boca Juniors, Argentine Apertura - Score: 1077
45 - Luca Toni - FC Bayern, Bundesliga - Score: 1064
44 - David Silva - Valencia, Primera Division - Score: 1060
42 (T) - Thierry Henry - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040
42 (T) - Daniel Alves - Sevilla, Primera Division / Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040
41 - Antonio Cassano - Sampdoria, Serie A - Score: 1028
40 - Klaas-Jan Huntelaar - Ajax Amsterdam, Eredivisie / Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 1027
39 - Ricardo Carvalho - Chelsea, Premier Division - Score: 1025
38 - Samuel Eto'o - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1017
The Best Of All Summer Signings
Aficionados of film-maker Kevin Smith will remember Dante Hicks' immortal line in the movie "Clerks." The exasperated store worker would conclude most unfortunate incidents with the refrain, "I'm not even supposed to be here today!"
Well, that's the story of Samuel Eto'o's year - but it's one that's ended up with the statement being one of joy and not despair.
For the Cameroonian international, having weathered injury, personal problems and even a transfer listing this summer, has well and truly re-cemented his place both in the Barcelona side and in the pantheon of top global strikers.
Still, Eto'o seemed already to be there at the start of 2008. The ex-Mallorca man journeyed to Ghana for the Africa Cup of Nations 2008, where he was to enjoy a fine tournament.
It was a welcome return to his home continent for more than one reason. Although he brought with him a fearsome reputation, Eto'o had spent much of 2008 stricken either by injury or clashes with his coach and team-mates at FC Barcelona.
Indeed, such were Barca's woes that when Samuel headed back to Africa in mid-January his Blaugrana side sat fully seven points off the pace in the Liga, with even a Champions League place far from assured due to the strength of the chasing pack.
Furthermore his injury troubles had restricted him to just six league appearances before he journeyed to Ghana, although given that he'd managed five goals in that time - including a memorable brace in an incredible 15-minute spell against Valencia - there were enough glimpses of his form to suggest that he would go from strength to strength.
This Samuel did: although his Indomitable Lions were to lose out in the final to Egypt, Eto'o finished as the tournament's top scorer with five goals. Granted all of these came during the three-game group stage, but given that he missed the semi-final it was still a more than respectable total.
So, back Eto'o came to the Camp Nou with a renewed sense of confidence. But with the Blaugrana utterly at sea, coach Frank Rijkaard on the way out and the end of an era well and truly upon the side, it was never going to be Samuel's time to move mountains. Still, even having to play out wide and in a side bereft of confidence he showed enough goalscoring prowess to impress, netting a further eleven goals to finish the season with a useful 16, and - more impressively - the best goals per minute ratio of all Liga hotshots.
In Europe, though, it was a different story: Eto'o netted just once, and was a mere shadow of his true self as the misfiring Blaugrana crashed out at the semi-final stage of the Champions League against Manchester United. Overall he managed just one goal in the whole competition: this, coupled with Barcelona's total failure to secure even second place domestically, saw Eto'o effectively named as one of the personae non gratae to be ousted in summer along with Ronaldinho and Deco. Ronaldinho, Deco, and makeweights like Santiago Ezquerro - sure. But a hotshot forward with plenty of years of service left in him? Some were left scratching their heads at the decision but it seemed that Samuel was on his way.
Yet summer came and went while Eto'o did not. Sure, there was no shortage of rumour, and he even travelled all the way to Uzbekistan, where he almost signed for hyper-rich Kuruvchi - now known as Bunyodkor. It was thought, too, that there were offers from Italy, but none were taken. As new coach Pep Guardiola came to the fore, the talk of Eto'o's leaving grew quieter; eventually it was denied altogether. And thus he stayed.
On The Up
So, why did Eto'o stick around? Did he not fancy a winter in Uzbekistan? Did he have a heart-to-heart with coach Guardiola? Did he decide that his style of play was suited to his new comrades? Nobody can tell for sure, but certainly Samuel was first among equals as he lined up on opening day against Numancia. Although Barcelona were to suffer an infamous defeat Eto'o was well and truly back, and he started the season with, in his words, something to prove.
That he did. After opening his goal account in September against Sporting, the goals kept coming. First they came in bursts - three against Almeria, four against Valladolid - but later followed strikes against the big guns, not least hated rivals Real Madrid, against whom his history stretches far back beyond this year.
Thus Eto'o finds himself firmly at the top of the Liga scoring charts heading into the New Year. With fifteen Primera strikes in just fourteen starts, he is about as close to the top of his game as he has been in the last two seasons.
With the Champions League knock-out stage and the thrilling race to the Liga finish yet to come in 2009, what are the chances of his keeping such form going for a whole calendar year? If they're high enough then 38th place in the Goal.com Top 50 will surely be considered a low total in December 2009.
For 2008, though, it's a fair reward for a striker who is banishing his demons in time to end the year on a very, very high note.
Ewan Macdonald, Goal.com