Over the course of a quite brilliant career, Samuel Eto’o has unquestionably earned a place amongst the world’s footballing greats. The winner of more honours than any other African footballer, past or present, Eto'o stands alongside ‘Old Lion’ Roger Milla in the hearts of Cameroon fans. That devotion is due in part to the Inter Milan striker’s huge talent, but also to his tireless dedication to the Cameroon cause.
In spite of appearances, things have not always been easy for the Nkon-born player. Sent to France with his brothers at the age of 14, administrative problems meant that he was forbidden not only from playing football, but also from attending school. After a few months of being passed between various members of his family, he returned to Cameroon and joined Douala’s famous Kadji Sport Academy.
Before long, Eto’o was back in France and trying out for Le Havre. The trial came to nothing, but any disappointment soon vanished when Spanish giants Real Madrid spotted his talents and signed him up for their youth team in 1996. He would see out his four-year contract there, but ended up playing just six matches for the Merengue. A loan move to Mallorca was eventually made permanent, and it was on the beautiful Balearic island that the Eto’o story really began in earnest.
In 120 appearances between 2000 and 2004, Eto'o scored 48 goals, making him the club’s all-time top scorer in La Liga. He had a large hand in Mallorca’s Copa del Rey win in 2003, before getting caught in a complicated three-way tussle for his signature between the Majorcans, Real and Barcelona. Eto’o finally agreed on a move to the Camp Nou.
In Catalonia, he found the perfect stage for his striking talent. In five seasons at Barça, he helped the club to two UEFA Champions League titles, in 2006 and 2009, three Spanish league titles, in 2005, 2006 and 2009, the Copa del Rey in 2009 and two Spanish Super Cups, in 2006 and 2007. With 107 goals in 145 matches, Eto’o arguably contributed more than anyone to this exceptional trophy haul.
Eto'o's temperament has sometimes got him into trouble over the course of his career. After falling out with Pep Guardiola at the end of the 2008/09 season, he preferred to take on a new challenge rather than make peace, and moved to Inter Milan under Jose Mourinho. Making light of the complete change of scene, he was able to adapt brilliantly: just a few months after arriving at the Italian club, he had already formed an acclaimed partnership with his Argentinian team-mate Diego Milito.
As well as his club honours, Samu has not been short of trophies with the national side. Since his first cap at the age of 15 in a friendly against Costa Rica, he has won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations twice with Cameroon, in 2000 and 2002, as well as the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in 2000. On top of this, he has received a good number of individual awards, including African Player of the Year in 2003, 2004 and 2005. He also became the all-time top scorer in the history of both the Africa Cup of Nations and the Cameroon national team. Since Paul Le Guen took charge of the Indomitable Lions, he has worn the captain’s armband for his country. Now all Eto'o needs is to lead his beloved country to FIFA World Cup™ glory on African soil...