UNTOLD STORIES: SAMUEL ETO'O

UNTOLD STORIES: SAMUEL ETO'O

Born in Douala Cameroon on the 10th March 1981, Samuel Eto’o, like many young men in Africa, grew up dreaming of playing professional football in Europe. Luckily for young Samuel he was a precocious talent. By his tenth birthday he was already playing for one of the countries top junior sides, Kadji sports academy.

In 1992 it was announced that the side would be going to Europe to test themselves against some of the best junior sides in France. For then 11 year old Samuel Eto’o it was his first chance of realising his dream. 

When it came time to return to Cameroon young Samuel would not be with the side.

 

 

Indeed he would not be located for six months following his disappearance midway through the tour. Eventually he was discovered living with his sister who had emigrated to France some years earlier.

He was returned home but his ambitions to break into European football did not end there. By the time he turned 13 he was back in France, this time attempting to arrange his own trials with French clubs. Once again however, he would be unsuccessful. It was not for lack of talent but simply that no clubs wanted anything to do with a 13 year old with no papers or documentation. 

Despite his incredible initiative he returned to Douala and to the Kadji Sport Academy. The next time he found himself in Europe would be scarcely believable for the boy who had dreamed of playing there for so long.

 

 

He would not simply find himself on the books of a European club but with the single most storied club in European football history. Real Madrid. 

After shining with Kadji SA a 16 year old Eto’o began his involvement with the Cameroonian national team. It was here that a scout from Madrid would get wind of the teenager and sign him up.

 

 

His young age meant that he was immediately incorporated into the Real Madrid B team but months after his arrival the side were demoted to the third tier of Spanish football. A league which, at this time, non EU-players were banned from competing in. The now 17 year old was instead loaned to second division outfit Leganes for the 97/98 season. 

4 goals in 30 games was a start but it would be the 98/99 season that would prove to be possibly the most consequential of his entire career.   

A loan to La Liga side Mallorca would see him score six in thirteen, leading the side to pay a club record fee to make the move a permanent one. In the end he played just 3 times for the Madrid senior team. It would be at Mallorca that Eto’o the superstar would emerge.

 

 

After battling for everything in his career, from arranging his own trials in a foreign land at 13 to trying to prove himself worthy of the Madrid first team at just 17,  Eto’o had finally found an environment of love and acceptance. 70 goals in 165 games certainly helped Eto’o become a hero to the people of Mallorca, but it was his warmth for those who came to see him week in week out that made his relationship with the club so special. 

It was 2003 when Eto’o, now the captain of Mallorca, famously payed for 30,000 euros worth of food for fans travelling to Elche to watch him lead the lead the side out for the Copa Del Rey final. Mallorca won the game 3-0, Eto’o scored two.

 

 

A year later Eto’o would be gone, snapped up by Barcelona for 24 million euros. From then on Eto’o would secure his legacy as one of the greatest footballers to ever have lived. 

In his first season with the Catalan outfit he became the leagues joint top scorer as Barca claimed the title and the next year after would see him become the first player to win African footballer of the year 3 times in a row (2003/04/05).

By the time Guardiola replaced Rijkaard in 2008, Eto’o was so highly thought of at Barca that he was the only established attacking squad member who kept his place. It’s widely claimed that a group of senior players, including captain Carles Puyol, had pleaded with Guardiola to keep him. 

Whatever ultimately led to the decision to keep Eto’o after Guardiola’s overhaul payed off immediately when he scored 30 league goals as a part of one footballs greatest ever front three’s alongside Messi and Henry. The opening goal of Barcelona’s two goal champions league final win vs Manchester United topped off a phenomenal year for Eto’o as the side completed an historic treble. 

By the end of the 2009 season he scored 100 league goals in just 5 seasons at Barcelona.

 

 

That summer, and with a year left on his contract, he rejected a new contract, one which reportedly had no increase to his base salary and was sent to Jose Mourinho’s inter Milan in a deal that saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic go the other way. 

His first season would see him become the only player to ever win back to back trebles with two different sides as he and Inter won Serie A, Copa Italia and, once again, the Champions League.

 

 

After two years he would, once again, be on the move. His destination Anzhi Makhachkal, the newly rich side from Russia’s remote south west. 

The move made him the highest paid player in football history. A move which many criticised as money grabbing and lacking in ambition but honestly, he’d won virtually all there was to win in the game. 

And as American basketball star John Wall remarked after criticism of a big payday he had been given “My kids’ kids’ kids should be fine.” 

Good for you, Samuel.

 

Words by Andy Gallagher

 

 

 

 

 

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