Samuel Eto’o has announced his retirement today after leaving Barcelona ten years ago. Eto’o is one of those puzzling cases of a player who succeeded despite never looking like the best player on his own team. Yet, his trophy cabinet is full and his individual records are numerous.
Eto’o moved to Real Madrid from Kadji Sporting Academy in Cameroon as a teenager and, due to rules that prohibited him from playing in the Segunda División B with Real Madrid B as a non-EU player, he was rushed out on loan. A loan to Leganés followed by an even worse loan to Espanyol almost derailed his career before it began.
The Cameroonian found some success at Mallorca, who bought him the following season. He became the team’s all-time La Liga scorer before moving to Barcelona. It always feels like Barcelona are the ones getting hard done by with players choosing Real Madrid over the Blaugrana, but this time around Real Madrid already had the player and didn’t know what they had. It was Barcelona’s gain.
He won three La Ligas at the Camp Nou, winning the Pichichi trophy in 2006 as well. That year Barcelona won its second Champions League and Eto’o won his first, being named UEFA Best Forward of the Year for his six goals and his performance in the final. He was brought down in the box by Arsenal’s Jens Lehmann, getting the goalkeeper sent off. Eto’o capitalized on the man-advantage in the second half, scoring the equalizer. That year he also finished third for the FIFA World Player of the Year and won his third straight African Player of the Year.
A tremendous sidekick to Ronaldinho, it wasn’t long before he became the perfect sidekick to Lionel Messi. His relationships with both Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola often get a lot of negative attention, particularly because of how critical Eto’o is of Guardiola in ways that the majority of players and pundits are not. However, Eto’o’s accomplishments on the field as part of the team concept speak for themselves. In 2009, the Cameroonian scored the opening goal in a 2-0 victory over Manchester United in the Champions League Final. Barcelona captured the treble and the trio of Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Eto’o scored exactly 100 goals as a unit.
All that success didn’t guarantee him a spot in Guardiola’s long-term plans and he was shipped to Inter Milan that summer for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Under Jose Mourinho, Eto’o continued to flourish, even though he was playing a drastically different way than he did at Barcelona. Inter won the treble behind Diego Milito’s two goals in the Champions League Final, but Eto’o was pivotal in the win. By winning the treble in back-to-back seasons, the striker got another record all for himself as the only player to win consecutive trebles with two different teams.
Eto’o finished his career with moves to Russia with Anzhi, Chelsea, Everton, a return to Serie A with Sampdoria, Antalyasport and Konyaspor in Turkey and finishing things off in the Qatari League. He won a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics, played in four World Cups, and won two of six Africa Cup of Nations. He is Cameroon’s all-time leading scorer and the all-time leading scorer at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Alongside George Weah and Didier Drogba, it’s hard to think of a more influential African football. The hope is that the 38-year-old takes the same energy and work-rate that made him such a menace on the field to his work in charity and in preparing the next generation to tackle the same challenges he faced. His impact on African football may just be beginning, especially if he continues to invest in training academies.
Eto’o made his announcement on his Instagram, writing, “The End. It’s time for a new challenge. Thank you, everybody.” For what he’s already done for the footballing world off the field, this is just the beginning for the Cameroonian’s impact on the game.