To say that Samuel Eto'o is merely one of the world's finest players would be doing the 25-year-old an injustice, for the lethal front man does not limit his extraordinary talents to the field of play. The Cameroon international is also renowned for his humanity off the park and fervent defence of those causes he holds dear, particularly the fight against racism.
On the sidelines since September 2006 due to a serious knee injury, the Barcelona livewire is scheduled to return to full fitness within a matter of weeks. Despite that early season setback, Eto'o's infectious enthusiasm for the game remains undiminished, and he has clearly not lost any of the fighting spirit that characterises his play. Read on as FIFA.com brings you an exclusive interview with the Azulgrana superstar.
FIFA.com: Samuel, how has the recovery process gone so far?
Samuel Eto'o: The doctors who treated me are fantastic and I've put all my trust in them. I'm not going to try and force things and I'll only declare myself fit once they've given me the all clear. That said, of course I'd love to be back playing again as soon as possible.
While it cannot be easy trying to stay positive after an injury, has this experience taught you anything?
It's tough getting through a situation like this, but I've been able to stay focused on getting better, staying mentally strong enough to come through this difficult period and working my way back to full fitness once the time is right. That is what really counts.
It must have been desperately disappointing for you when Cameroon failed to qualify for Germany 2006. How would you compare that situation with your current fitness problems?
They're very different things. Clearly, failing to qualify with Cameroon was very hard to take. The entire country expected us to qualify for the World Cup and we missed out, although we did everything in our power to try and make it happen. What's happened to me recently is frustrating but in a different way, because it has meant that I've not been able to help out my team-mates and have had to watch our games from the stands. They are very different situations but are both very tough.
You are well known for your strong stance against racism in the game. Have you taken up this cause as a personal challenge?
It is an ongoing struggle , and we must keep fighting it (racism) every single day. Like I always say, they can attack us but they will never defeat us. This issue means a great deal to me and we must be prepared to use whatever means necessary. Racism is vile and we must strive to see it disappear from football.
At the age of just 25 you are already a role model throughout Africa. Is that something you are aware of?
Yes, there's no doubt about it, and I want to keep doing things right so that even more people will take notice of what I'm doing in Europe. Having millions of people watch you play and be influenced by what you do is a huge responsibility. I consider it to be a great honour.
You must be very pleased that it is now Africa's turn to host the FIFA World Cup™ ?
Of course I am. South Africa 2010 will give our continent an unbeatable opportunity to prove that we can rise to the biggest challenges and achieve wonderful things. I can hardly wait.
Do you expect Cameroon to be involved?
Of course! After the difficult times that we went through on the qualifying trail for Germany, it's time that we got back on the World Cup stage. Besides which, I'd love the Trophy to stay in Africa. Clearly it would be amazing if we ourselves could win it, but our continent has other great teams like , Ghana and Nigeria, who can feasibly set their sights on winning the tournament.
Your club side Barcelona have had a tough time recently . How do you feel the team is doing at the moment?
Our team is packed with extraordinary players, with bags of talent. The guys who have filled in for me have done a marvellous job, and I'm convinced that when it comes to the crunch, we'll be in excellent form. When there are trophies at stake, that's when you really prove just how good you are.
By that time, Samuel Eto'o should be firing on all cylinders once more.
I'm dying to be out there on the pitch with my team-mates again, as having to watch the games from the outside has been tough. That said, the doctors have outlined how long I'll need to reach full fitness and so far every stage of my recovery has gone according to plan. There are still a lot of trophies to aim for and I want to be there when they are won and lost. I'm feeling really good and I'm desperate to start playing again.