At the age of 38, the famous
Cameroonian striker has decided to put an end to a career that is out of the
ordinary in every aspect. Here is a look back at the itinerary of the amazing
football child named Samuel Eto'o.
After moving to Qatar in August 2018 for a swan-song, he chose this early September 2019 to announce his retirement from competitive football - at a time the main European leagues and the UEFA Champions League are starting. These are competitions where the native of Nkon, near Yaoundé in Cameroon has left his mark. A very talented football player as well as an excellent communicator, Samuel Eto'o seems to have always chosen, throughout his immense career, the moment when he had to come to light. And this tactic has been extremely successful for this fast and skillful striker.
So, as he solemnly announced his retirement, all he needs in his trophy cabinet is a replica of the FIFA World Cup and a France Football Golden Ball. For the rest, Samuel Eto'o has won almost everything a footballer can hope to win on earth, doubling, tripling or even quadrupling some individual or collective titles: a gold medal at the Olympic Games (2000), two African Cup of Nations (2000 and 2002), three European Champions League (2006, 2009 and 2010), two consecutive European treble with Barcelona in 2009 and Inter Milan in 2010, two World Club Cups (2009 and 2010), four African Football Player of the Year awards (2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006).
His first major achievement, which would guide his exceptional destiny as a football player, came on African soil, precisely in Abidjan. It was 1996, in an Under-17 African Cup of Nations qualifying match between Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon. Real Madrid, the big Spanish club, sent scouts to supervise another promise of African football, Ivorian Bonaventure Kalou. But they would return with, lying in their notebook, the name of the unexpected Eto'o - author of a breathtaking match including a supersonic goal scored in the 11th second of the game. A brilliant speaker, he believes his exceptional success was destined: "I may not be the most gifted of all time or even of my generation, but my star shines. It is God's will. I am very lucky," Eto’o said.
However, he was able to maximise his opportunity and make it grow, thanks to his strong personality and sacrifice. We cannot forget that before this stroke of luck in Abidjan, French professional clubs such as Le Havre and Cannes had pushed back this kid who grew up in the red-light districts of New-Bell in Douala and Mvog-Ada in Yaoundé. His glorious elder Joseph-Antoine Bell, who observed him at that time, testified: "I have a precise memory of Samuel Eto'o. That was in 1994, in the south of France. He had come with the Cameroon Brewery Football School for an internship in which I was one of the leaders. He was 13 years old and a mad talent. Everyone noticed it. He played in front, walked all over the front of the attack and even came looking for balloons behind! He was a nice little guy, with a strong character: he loved to play with partners and opponents," the former goalkeeper of Indomitable Lions said.
After this internship in Avignon and unsuccessful tests in some training centres, Samuel, who did not have valid documents, decided to return to Cameroon. He joined the Kadji Sport Academy (KSA) where he made a name with the affiliated team in the 2nd division during the Cameroon Cup qualifiers. The coach of the national under-17 team, who is also the general manager of the KSA, former Indomitable Lion Michel Kaham, called him to Abidjan for this important match, which was finally lost by the Cameroon national cadet team (4-2) against the Elephants of Côte d'Ivoire. Having caught the eyes of Real Madrid recruiters, Eto'o flew the following Wednesday to the Spanish capital.
JOURNEY TO REAL MADRID
In the Casa Blanca, he met Davor Suker and Petrag Mijatovic whose posters adorned his teenage room in Douala and who are now his training partners. Real Madrid loaned him for a season to Leganes, a club in the 2nd Spanish division, making him the youngest player in the Madrid club (16 years and 10 months) to sign a professional contract. Better than Raul, the "child of the village"! But helmed by a slew of experienced strikers (Mijatovic, Suker, Morientes, Raul, etc.), Eto'o was lent and then sold halfway to Mallorca, the club in the Balearic Islands in Spain, for a price already substantial at that time: about 7 million euros. A good pick for Mallorca, who discovered in Samuel Eto'o the most prolific striker in its history: 54 goals in four and a half seasons.
The child from the Nkongmondo district in Douala then became a gem that the biggest clubs, including Real Madrid, who had brought him to Europe but failed to keep him, wanted to take away, while being very clever to keep 50% of the player's rights in the event of a new transfer. However, Samy kept his nerve against a club that didn't want to give him a chance and so, in July 2004, he moved to Real Madrid's close enemy, FC Barcelona, for 24 million euros. In the Blaugrana squad, the Cameroonian striker won the league in his first season, scoring 24 goals in 37 matches and being named the club's best player of the season by Catalan fans. Barça, which last won the Spanish championship six years before, were now back in the game with Eto'o, alongside Ronaldinho at the top of their game, with a superb Deco that had been added from FC Porto.
These associated artists would lead the Catalan club to its second Champions League in history in 2006: in the final at the Stade de France in Paris against Arsenal (2-1), Eto'o scored his club's first goal. Three years later, in 2009, he won the Blaugrana's third continental title - now without Ronaldinho and Deco but with a new nugget in Lionel Messi - against Manchester United at Rome's Olympic Stadium (2-0). In the league, even if he was once again beaten by Forlan for the Pichichi Trophy, he still scored 30 goals in 36 matches, and even got the treble; League-Champions League-Cup. Not enough in the eyes of the new coach and former club captain, Josep Guardiola, who puts him on the transfer list. "Pep" is the only one who didn’t see the influence of Eto'o, who, in his five seasons spent with Barcelona, scored 130 goals in 200 matches in all competitions!
HIGHEST PAID FOOTBALLER
Eto'o's answer to the ungrateful Guardiola came on the field: having started at Inter Milan, he won another hat-trick and above all the Champions League, which the Milan club had not tasted for half a century. And this was achieved by defeating Barcelona in the semi-finals and winning the final on 22 May 2010 at Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium against Bayern (2-0; for the first time Eto'o did not score in the final). With three European Champions League titles and four African Golden Ball to his name, Africa's finest football record went on to chase other trophies, even non-sporting ones, such as that of the world's highest paid footballer when he signed for two years with an exotic Russian club, Anzhi Makhachkala, for an annual salary of 20 million Euros. After two seasons in the cold Caucasus, the captain of the Cameroon Indomitable Lions managed to make FC Anzhi known throughout the world, taking them to the semi-finals of the Europa League.
PHENOMENON: 20 YEARS AT THE TOP
Samuel Eto'o made history in the European Champions League by becoming one of four footballers to win the title in two consecutive years with two different clubs: Paulo Sousa (1996 with Juventus and 1997 with Dortmund), Marcel Desailly (1993 with Marseille and 1994 with AC Milan), Gérard Piqué (2008 with Manchester United and 2009 with FC Barcelona), and Samuel Eto'o (2009 with FC Barcelona and 2010 with Inter Milan). He had already erased from the table the old record for the number of goals scored at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) held by Ivorian Laurent Pokou (14 goals) since 1970 after the 2008 Can in Ghana, a record that was consolidated during the next edition of the Angolan AFCON in 2010, when Eto'o increased his total number of goals scored at the African Cup of Nations to 18.
LOVE FOR AFRICA
Eto'o is clearly committed to Africa. "I live in Europe but I sleep in Africa," he likes to say. The one Ahmad Ahmad appointed as special adviser to the African Football Confederation (CAF) last July in Cairo naturally turns to his continent when it comes to his after-football: "After Libreville in Gabon, my foundation will open another training centre for young football players in Nairobi, Kenya. I still think that if we have 10 or 15 strong nations in Africa, we will have a chance to win the World Cup one day.”
LOVE FOR CAMEROON
He is equally in love with his country, Cameroon. We have seen this in particular, leading the President of CAF Ahmad Ahmad to the President of the Republic Paul Biya to negotiate a "date shift" for AFCON 2019, which was withdrawn from Cameroon for lack of preparation and renewed for 2021. In recent months, and in response to the repeated mistakes of the football administration in his country, Eto'o has decided to influence the progress of the Cameroon Football Federation (Fécafoot), and in particular sponsored the election of the new Federal President, Seidou Mbombo Njoya, after having cornered the ephemeral Dutch duo of Cameroon team coaches, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert.
In the coming years, Samuel Eto'o himself may be seen in a football management office, as he is still a player and has already built a football academy, the Fundesport, from which the two best goalkeepers of the Cameroon team, Fabrice Ondoa (winner of the 2017 AFCON) and André Onana (semi-finalists of the 2019 Champions League with Ajax of Amsterdam), have emerged. But the man quickly announced that he was not dreaming of a George Weah-style political career at all, seeing himself on the bench in a coach's costume. Will the phenomenal fate that has carried his playing career for two decades also make him the first coach from Africa to take the leap from the ceiling in European stadiums?
Birth: 10 March 1981 in Nkon (Cameroon)
1994-1995: Cameroon Breweries Football School
1995-1996: Kadji Sports Academy
1996-1997: Real Madrid Castilla
1998-January 2000: Real Madrid
2004-2009: FC Barcelona
2009-2011: Inter Milan
2011-2013: Inter de Milan
2016-2018 : Antalysaspor, then Konyaspor
2019 : Qatar FC
- Winner of the AFCON 2000 and 2002;
- Gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games
- 4 African Golden Ball (2003, 2004, 2005 and 2010)
- 3rd FIFA Football player of the Year in 2005
- two Spanish Cups (2003 and 2009) and two Spanish Super Cups (2005 and 2006)
- 3 times Spanish champion (2005, 2006 and 2009)
- One time Italian champion (2010)
- 3 times winner of the European Champions League (2006, 2009 and 2010)
- Winner of the Italian Cup (2010)
- Winner and Best Player of the Fifa Club World Cup (2010)
- 92 selections
- Top scorer in AFCON's history (18 goals, between 2000 and 2010)
Source: Emmanuel Gustave Samnick - AIPS Football Commission Member