Cast off by Real Madrid to Real Mallorca, Eto’o made his name in the Balearics and quickly came to the attention of Barcelona. Los Merengues attempted to hijack Barcelona’s €24m deal for Eto’o in 2004, but the player was on his way to the Camp Nou.
Eto’o scored 24 goals in his first season with the club as they won the title for the first time in six years. During the team’s official civic celebration in the Camp Nou, Eto’o took the microphone and led the chant of, “Madrid, cabron, saluda al campeón” – ‘Madrid, you bastards, salute the champions’.
It was an act that saw him criticised, unsurprisingly, by los Blancos, but also by some sections of his own fan-base that believed he had overstepped the mark.
While his personality grated with some of his coaches and team-mates, there is no questioning his ability when he takes to the field. Eto’o won the Pichichi in 2005/06 with 26 goals, but while he suffered injuries that hampered his progress over the next two years, he still managed 16 goals in 18 games in 2007/08.
A celebrating Eto'o was a common sight in La Liga
He was back to his deadly best with 30 league goals in 2008/09, only missing out on a second Pichichi due to Diego Forlan’s heroics at Atletico Madrid. While the Uruguayan scored goals from every distance, Eto’o showed his qualities through a more predatory approach.
The 28-year-old was superb as he fired in goals with both feet and even, occasionally, with his head. He could blast the ball with deadly accuracy, like he did against Athletic Bilbao or Real Betis, while showing the lightest of touches when he lifted the ball over the Real Valladolid ’keeper after exchanging a one-two with Xavi. He was calmness personified with one-on-one opportunities against Deportivo La Coruna and Atletico Madrid, while his instinct of being in the right place at the right time was on show in the home tie against Real Madrid.
Eto’o also scored the first goal in the Champions League final against Manchester United, driving in from the right wing to skip past Nemanja Vidic and poke the ball past Edwin van der Sar at his near post. It was only his fourth Champions League goal of the season, but he had provided it at a crucial moment, after some early pressure from the English champions.
However, his personality was always a problem at the Blaugrana. Eto’o refused to come on as a substitute against Racing Santander in 2007, showed cringing cowardice to earn himself a suspension for el Clasico in May 2008 – for which Barcelona had to give Real Madrid a guard of honour in the Bernabeu – and didn’t want to pose with a club shirt at the end of an interview with French publication Sportweek.
His personality was often an issue
Pep Guardiola had had enough with Eto’o, and believed that Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who also has something of an ego problem – would be a more than suitable replacement. It cost him €45m and a troublesome, yet brilliant, striker in the summer, but could the Cameroonian cost Barcelona still more several months on?
The European champions are in a delicate situation in the Champions League. With two games to go in Group F, they sit third on goal difference behind Rubin Kazan, their unlikely nemesis this season, and a point behind leaders Inter. The Nerazzurri travel to the Camp Nou on Tuesday evening, and will eliminate Barcelona if they win and Rubin also pick up maximum points against Dynamo Kiev.
Lionel Messi looks a serious doubt for the clash, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic may also be missing through injury. Pep Guardiola now has the headache of whether to risk them against Inter or let them recover in time for the derby with Real Madrid this weekend.
With Yaya Toure and Eric Abidal also out with the H1N1 virus, the Blaugrana’s squad is depleted. Their lack of incision up front showed against Athletic Bilbao, although the unsettled Dmytro Chygrynskiy will be replaced by Carles Puyol in defence.
While Barcelona have been struggling in recent weeks – three draws in their last five games constitutes an under-par period by their own extraordinary standards – Inter have been imperious. They have only been held to two draws – by Dynamo Kiev and Roma – since the end of September as they hold a five point lead in Serie A and top their Champions League group.
Eto'o has taken like a duck to water
Diego Milito has scored eight times in the league, but Samuel Eto’o has also contributed six goals of his own. The Cameroonian has shown the hapless Klaas-Jan Huntelaar how to settle immediately into Serie A, a defensively superior league to the Primera Division. Concerningly for Guardiola, Eto’o was held in reserve at the weekend. Jose Mourinho did choose to bring him on at half time against Bologna for the enigmatic Mario Balotelli, but the real concern of both player and coach will be the Champions League fixture.
Both sides will know what they need to do at the Camp Nou, due to the early kick off in Russia. If Rubin win, the pressure really will be on the Blaugrana. Athletic Bilbao’s physical and direct approach proved to be effective at the weekend – an approach that Inter are sure to adopt as well. There are also few better at turning half-chances into goals and finishing off attacking moves than Samuel Eto’o, and the home fans know this only too well.
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Anthony Wright, Goal.com