As an attacking spearhead, captain and inspirational leader of a generation, Samuel Eto’o will have several roles to perform for Cameroon in the coming days. The undisputed star of the Indomitable Lions pack, the Inter Milan striker also has the responsibility of ensuring that coach Paul Le Guen’s message gets through to his team-mates, one he can be expected to fulfil with authority.
Eto’o was the obvious choice for the captain’s armband when the Frenchman took over last June and showed his motivational qualities during Cameroon’s successful push for a place at South Africa 2010, the sixth occasion on which they have reached the FIFA World Cup™ finals.
Fresh from helping the Milan giants clinch a Serie A, Coppa di Italia and UEFA Champions League treble, Eto’o remains as hungry for success on the international stage as he has always been. And it is that undiminished appetite that made Le Guen’s choice to appoint the irrepressible goal-getter as his on-field leader an easy one.
"When I handed these responsibilities to him I wanted to make a statement," the former Lyon and Glasgow Rangers coach tells FIFA in an exclusive interview. "Samuel Eto’o is a talismanic player and the most important member of the team. They know what a great champion he is, and he always plays for his country with pride. He is also an out-and-out team man, as he showed for Inter this season."
Such a burden might be too much for many players. But then again Eto’o is no ordinary footballer and has a very clear understanding of his obligations over the coming days, with tomorrow’s meeting with Japan providing the latest major test of his tenure.
Samuel Eto’o is a talismanic player and the most important member of the team.
"To my mind being a captain means being a leader of men," said Eto'o. "And you don’t need an armband for that. What I always try to do is be the coach's right-hand man out on the pitch."
Given his admiration for Le Guen, it is a role he will be more than happy to carry out at South Africa 2010. "He’s come in and really helped the players to relax and calm down. The progress we’ve made recently is all down to him."
Sharing the workload
Cameroon’s top scorer in the qualifiers with nine goals, Eto’o is adamant he can cope with the pressure of being the nation’s standard bearer: "I scored a lot of goals for sure but I couldn’t have done that without the rest of the team helping me. I can’t get the ball and do everything on my own, I need them to get the ball to me and know I can always rely on them for that.
"We have some good players like Eric Choupo Moting, who is a young man with a lot of talent," he continues. "Then there are the old hands like Pierre Webo, Achille Emana, Mohamadou Idrissou and Vincent [Aboubakar], who I think is a terrific player."
The value of those veterans is also not lost on Le Guen, who is expecting them to do their fair share to support Eto’o. "He’s obviously a valuable asset but we have many other strings to our bow and I am absolutely convinced we can show that during the course of the competition," explains the Cameroon boss. “We’re going to prove that we are not entirely dependent on him."
Though his side was knocked out early at the CAF African Cup of Nations Angola 2010 and suffered recent friendly defeats to Portugal and Serbia, Le Guen’s confidence in his charges remains undimmed.
"First of all we’ve only played away games and we drew with Italy in one of those matches," he explains. "I don’t think all the hard work we’ve done should be undermined just because of those warm-up games. I can tell you we weren’t even thinking about winning them. Eto’o only played for 20 minutes against Portugal, but I’m not worried about that in the slightest. What I was looking for was a good workout and that’s what we got."
Part of the Frenchman’s motivation for success is founded on the fanatical support his team have been receiving from the Cameroonian people: "The country expects a lot of us. There’s a very strong bond between the fans and the national team and everyone’s expecting us to win. That’s what they’re dreaming about and that’s why we need to set our minds on going a long way."
Echoing those sentiments, the African Player of the Year in 2003, 2004 and 2005 is intent on tapping into that huge swell of support and breaking into new territory. "I hope we can match their expectations and go as far as possible, further than in 2002," he says by way of conclusion. "I can’t wait to get started and experience some more memorable moments."