Samuel Eto’o has been a talisman for each of the clubs that have dominated his career. After winning a league, cup and UEFA Champions League treble with Barcelona in 2009, the Cameroonian striker decamped to F.C. Internazionale Milano and won the same treble in his first season in Italy.
Eto’o missed out on the Catalan outfit’s subsequent triumph at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009, but now has the chance to make up for that gap on his CV with I Nerrazzuri, who step out in this year’s competition against Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma F.C. on Wednesday. Clearly excited at the prospect, the irrepressible Eto’o shared his exclusive views on the tournament with FIFA.com and also discussed his objectives for the remainder of his career and his memories of an eventful year.
FIFA.com: Samuel, how much are you looking forward to making your entrance at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010?
Samuel Eto’o: We’ve been thinking about the tournament ever since we won the UEFA Champions League final in Madrid. The pressure is there but that’s a positive thing because it’s always great to take part in elite competitions. The thing is you have to know how to handle it. Everything’s going well for us here right now. We’re training well, we’ve settled in nicely and all we’re waiting for now is to get out on the pitch.
After South Africa 2010, this will be your second World Cup competition in six months. How are you approaching this tournament?
It’s always a great tournament to play in, and whether you’re with your club or your national side, taking part in a World Cup is a chance to write history. My team-mates and I can do that now with Inter, and we’re going to do everything we can to write it with a golden pen. We simply can’t have any regrets at the end of this competition.
Internazionale lifted the Toyota Intercontinental Cup in 1964 and 1965, after winning the European Cup twice in succession. What do you think a third world title would mean to the club?
It’s a major objective for us. This club has a great history behind it and has already won lots of silverware. But it still needs to win a lot more because the number of trophies it has to its name doesn’t reflect the size of the club. This team now has the opportunity to rewrite its history and make it even greater.
You won the Champions League twice with Barcelona but you’ve never taken part in a FIFA Club World Cup. You missed the 2006 competition through injury and you’d moved to Italy by the time the 2009 event was played. Do you think winning here in 2010 will set the record straight for you?
Well, I did play in and win [the Intercontinental Cup] with Real Madrid when I was younger (in 1998). I missed out with Barcelona unfortunately, but I don’t feel I have to set any record straight. All I know is I now have the opportunity to win it with Inter and I’ve worked hard to be on top of my game and give my very best. I really hope the help I give my team-mates can help us secure the wins we’ve been dreaming about, in the semi-final first of all and then the final.
You’re up against Korea Republic’s Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC in the semis. How have you gone about preparing to face them?
We know it won’t be easy, especially because we’re the favourites to win. We respect their strengths and what they’ve done to get here. Up to now we’ve just been getting an idea of what they're about, but no matter the opposition we usually focus on our own game first and foremost. If we can play our very best football, then we’ll be tough to beat.
As a Cameroonian, have you been keeping an eye on Africa’s representatives, TP Mazembe Englebert?
Their opening game was on when I arrived here in Abu Dhabi and I watched the rest of the match with the other African players in the Inter team. We started getting behind them and we all wanted them to hang on to their lead. I was absolutely thrilled they won in the end. They showed a lot of pride in representing our continent and I’d like to congratulate them on the way they did that. I hope they can make the final now but if we do end up facing them there, then we’ll just treat them like any other side.
Is this tournament a chance for you to escape the pressure you’ve been under in Italy? The team has been struggling in the league and the Champions League and you’ve been suspended.
We’re not thinking about that. We’re all very calm about the team’s results and my personal situation. I got a three-match ban because I breached the disciplinary code that applies to every player. These things happen but I know I won’t do it again. On a team level we’ve had a lot of problems, partly because we’ve had one injury after another in the last five months. Things have got a lot better lately, with virtually everyone back to full fitness and some young players coming into the team. We’re convinced that as we get back to full strength we’ll hit top form and start getting the results the club’s looking for.
Internazionale seemed invincible last season. Has your difficult start to the current league campaign triggered any soul-searching?
We’ve never thought of ourselves as the best team in the world. And at the start of the season we knew we had to go out and defend everything we won last season, which is not easy. The injuries haven’t helped and we’ve not been able to put the same team out for two games running. We have to keep on adapting to situations but we have to remember that all’s not lost yet. We’re ten points off the lead in the league but there’s still everything to play for. We only have to look back to last year, because we were ten points clear at the mid-season break but only clinched the title in the last few weeks. As for the Champions League our aim was to get through the first round and we’ve done that. The competition’s going to enter a different phase now and we’ll need to sharpen our focus. People are expecting big things of us. We know that and we know we can get there.
SYou finished second in your group and will have to face one of the section winners now. Are you worried about the draw?
We’ll need to have maximum respect for whichever team we face, but as a sportsperson you should never feel scared. I don’t think any of the group winners will want to face Inter either, and I also think our experience will give us an advantage. We weren’t favourites last season but we beat teams who were better than us for the simple reason that we believed in ourselves every time and we played our very best football. That’s the spirit we need to show for the challenges that lie ahead. People say you learn a lot when you lose but we’ve learned a lot in winning too.
The FIFA Ballon d’Or 2010 will be awarded in a few weeks time, with three of your old Barça team-mates in the running: Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Xavi. Who’s going to win it?
It’s hard enough to compare them, but having to decide between them is impossible. All three of them deserve to win and I’d love to see them make an exception this time and give them all the award. They should hand out three Ballons d’Or this year.
You’ve been nominated for the African Footballer of the Year award, seven years after you won it for the first time. What’s the secret to your continued success in the game?
I’ve kept on working, but more than anything I always try to do better every year. I don’t just settle for hitting my best form; I try to do even better. If I win this year, it will mean just as much to me as my three previous wins (2003, 2004 and 2005), though it would be a little bit special. I’m getting to the end of my career and every title means that bit more now. I’m getting older and I’m working hard to stay at the top, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to win any more trophies.
Your trophy cabinet must be pretty full already but you still seem as motivated as ever. What keeps you going?
Winning! I’ll miss it all, when, in a few years time, I won’t be able to pull on the jersey any more, and go out on the pitch and say to myself, ‘Today I’m going to win’. All I’ll have then will be my memories. But the more victories and memories I have, the more wonderful stories I’ll have to tell my children, like when I went to Abu Dhabi in 2010 and won the Club World Cup with Inter (laughs).
You’ve had a productive 2010 with your club but a difficult one with Cameroon. Looking back, what stands out for you?
We shouldn’t dwell on our disappointing World Cup but the problems we had there will help us improve in the years to come. We know there are so many things we need to put right and we’re going to try to do it quickly. But overall it’s been a very positive year, and not everything’s been that bad.