Fancy moves and acrobatics aren't really his style. Nor is breaking through defences with sheer brute strength. But there is something African footballer Samuel Eto'o does very well: score goals. So much so that the Cameroon striker has scored his way into the final three for the FIFA World Player of the Year 2005. Only one African has ever managed to lift the trophy: the one and only George Weah. Come 19 December, will Eto'o's name be added to this most prestigious list of winners? Only time will tell.
Roger Milla became a Cameroon legend with his exploits back at Italia 90. But the 'Old Lion' may well now find himself displaced in African hearts. Eto'o, already named African player of the year in 2003 and 2004 and odds-on favourite to grab an unprecedented hat-trick of African awards in 2005, could also be about to scoop the 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year.
His 24 goals last season for Barcelona have thrust him to the forefront of the Catalan club's domestic revival. His ability to turn games and never-say-die attitude has lifted the striker to idolatry status in the eyes of the fanatical Barcelona support.
Taming the Nou Camp
Things were a lot different when he arrived at the club from Real Mallorca back in the summer of 2004. At the time Eto'o was expected to struggle in a team packed with star quality. Thirty seven matches and 24 goals later he had tamed the Nou Camp. The Barca faithful now love him for his effective, spectacular style of play and mazy runs. Eto'o was desperately unlucky to fall one goal short of sharing the ESM Golden Shoe last term - agonisingly, the strike that he managed to deflect in against Mallorca and was accredited to his team mate Deco would have brought him level with Villarreal's Diego Forlán and Arsenal's Thierry Henry as Europe's top scorer.
Born March 1980 in Nkon, Douala, Samuel Eto'o was only 15 years old when he was spotted in his homeland by Madrid scouts. Yet his arrival in the capital must have been a shock to the system for the young African. However, he set off to find the Bernabeu Stadium speaking not a word of Spanish. This was his first real episode with the club.
He remained a Real Madrid player from 1997 until 2004, though the Indomitable Lion found it hard to secure a regular place with the first team. He spent only a season and a half at Real, between 1998 and 2000, and had loan spells at lower league outfit CD Leganés in 1997-1998 and then Real Mallorca in 1990-2000. He eventually signed for the islanders later that year before moving to Barca in 2004. It was under the Balearic sun that Eto'o rediscovered his thirst for the game and his scoring touch as he forged an almost telepathic partnership with Albert Luque in attack.
Since then he has consistently been among top scorers in the Primera Liga, won the Spanish Cup in 2003 and picked up his two African Player of the Year awards in 2003 and 2004. But the marksman's greatest exploits - through a stroke of fate or shear motivation - have been against his old club Madrid. In May 2003 Eto'o ran riot during Mallorca's 5-1 thrashing of Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. The following year saw him split the Madrid defence with a 40-metre run to help Mallorca to yet another victory (3-2).
Last season, during his first clasico in the claret and blue at the Nou Camp Stadium, he yet again emerged to haunt his former employers, stroking home the first goal in the 3-0 victory. "This goal was one of the greatest moments of my life." he admitted the next day.
Be the best
He hit the ground running again in season 2005-2006. Supporters and opponents alike were left stunned by an amazing 12 goals in 13 matches, and some of his goals, the one against Racing Santander in particular, were displays of pure brilliance.
Being the best is not simply a dream for the Cameroon star. It's a mission. "Being the African Player of Year is great, but I want to be best in the world. I want to know what it feels like to be better than Zidane, Ronaldo, Henry, better than the very best. I want to be the world's greatest player and Barca is the perfect platform to do it" proclaimed Eto'o as he put pen to paper for the club.
The only dampener in 2005 has been the fortunes of his national team. 8 October saw Eto'o in tears following his country's failure to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ in an epic final game with Egypt. "I've never cried at the end of a football match. We were distraught. It's one of those moments I'll never forget for the rest of my life" confessed the Barcelona striker.
The youngest player to have ever played at a FIFA World Cup aged 17 years and three months in France 1998, Samuel Eto'o will have to wait another five years to take his mercurial talents back to football's greatest stage in South Africa.
But as the year draws to a close his smile has returned. Barcelona, in form in La Liga and already qualified for the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, are setting European football alight and Eto'o is at the forefront. Come 19 December in Zurich his smile could be ear-to-ear with the coveted World Player trophy in his grasp.