Samuel Eto'o has built his career on producing masterful performances in big matches, and that trend continued in the past campaign where he was a true standout for Inter, scoring five times in three cup finals.
After winning an historic treble under former coach Jose Mourinho in 2009-10, the Italian side failed to live up to expectations as Rafael Benitez and then Leonardo took charge. However, Eto'o was arguably the only player to improve his performance from the previous season, explaining why the 30-year-old jumped forward 15 places in the Goal.com 50.
He got underway on precisely the right foot, as he fired in a brace to decide the Supercoppa Italiana in a 3-1 victory over rivals Roma, helping the club to their first official trophy of the season.
During Benitez's short-lived reign at San Siro, Eto'o often carried the Spaniard to results. A sensational double gave the Nerazzurri a comeback win away to Palermo in Serie A, and he had similar feats in the group stage of the Champions League: hitting a hat-trick versus Werder Bremen in a 4-0 landslide and adding two more in a 4-3 win against Tottenham Hotspur.
The former Barcelona star's decisive strikes earned points against Udinese, Cagliari, Brescia, Sampdoria and Twente during the first half of the campaign. There can be little doubt that the striker was bailing out the club and his team-mates repeatedly; his heroics in leading Inter to results had become a recurring theme. In fact, Benitez's side seems to be completely dependent on him for any attacking production.
|"I think the others would not be offended if I say Eto'o was the real protagonist of our season. He had such a high work rate that it would be like taking Messi away from Barcelona."
- Inter president Massimo Moratti
The calendar year ended on a high note as the club claimed more silverware, with Eto'o scoring in the final of the Club World Cup tournament hosted in the United Arab Emirates, in a 3-0 win over African representatives TP Mazembe.
While things improved after ex-AC Milan boss Leonardo took over, Eto'o was still the undoubted star man on the pitch. A double against Genoa in the Coppa Italia was followed in quick succession by another versus Bologna as well as a single strike against Cesena in Serie A – the marksman had scored five times in a span of seven days as Inter climbed the league standings to challenge their city rivals for the title and make a claim for the domestic cup.
|MOMENT OF THE SEASON
| COPPA ITALIA FINAL:
INTER 3-1 PALERMO
|Eto'o had many highlight-worthy performances in 2010-11, but his two clinical finishes against the Sicilians ensured a bright end to a frustrating season for Inter.
Already trailing 1-0 on aggregate after a first-leg defeat at San Siro to Bayern Munich, Eto'o took just four minutes to level matters at the Allianz Arena. The Bundesliga powerhouse struck back twice, but Eto'o assisted two goals in the second-half, including a last-gasp winner from Goran Pandev that allowed Inter to advance through the tie on away goals. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, his side were humiliatingly knocked out by surprise package Schalke 7-3 on aggregate at the quarter-final stage.
Nonetheless, Inter bounced back to finish second in Serie A, giving up their five-year run of league dominance in the process, and also claimed the Coppa Italia by defeating Palermo in the final. In predictable fashion, Eto'o bagged a superbly taken double, scoring in yet another decisive match, and added further silverware to his ever-growing collection.
Overall, Eto'o set a new personal record with 37 goals in a single club season, beating his previous best that he achieved at Camp Nou in 2008-09 by a single strike. In addition to finding the back of the net with extraordinary regularity, he contributed an impressive 15 assists in all competitions.
|"There can be little doubt that the striker bailed out Inter and his team-mates repeatedly. Eto'o's heroics had become a recurring theme."
His prolific campaign only confirmed what so many already knew – Eto'o is one of the best strikers in world football, blessed with quick feet and the ability to score goals as well as create opportunities. He represents something that few strikers provide - consistency. It is only a question of when he will score, rather than if.