In this article, I wish to present a convincing case to argue that Samuel Eto’o is the greatest African player of all time. The continent has produced many fine footballers, some of whom have dazzled with their ability, and others who have succeeded at the very pinnacle of the game.
In composing this piece, I am assessing three aspects of Eto’o’s career; firstly his intrinsic ability and capabilities—assessing his qualities and his talents; secondly, his club career and successes at this level; and finally, considering his contributions in the national colours of Cameroon, and evaluating his achievements on an international basis.
I recently wrote a similar piece looking back over Didier Drogba’s career, and concluding that while Drogba was great, Eto’o was greater. This summary drew ire and criticism from some quarters of Bleacher Report’s readership, but hopefully this piece will elucidate some of those naysayers and support my central thesis.
Eto’o’s currency is goals; there is no escaping it.
While he perhaps can’t match the likes of Abedi Pele and George Weah for technical prowess, his goal-scoring is phenomenal. As identified by Miguel Delaney of FootballPantheon.com (who placed Eto’o in 64th position in his Greatest Players of all time list), between 2002 and 2011 the forward had an awe-inspiring goal ratio of one every 1.6 games.
Despite only playing for lowly RCD Mallorca for three years he is still, to this day, the club’s all-time leading scorer, and remains eighth on Barcelona’s all-time top goal-scorer list. In 2006, he added his name to an illustrious list of Pichichi Trophy winners, celebrating La Liga’s top scorers.
As well as being a clinical finisher and positionally excellent, Eto’o has also long been aware of the value of working for the team effort and the common good.
This was never more apparent than in the 2010 Champions League final with Inter Milan, where he worked relentlessly, and with admirable discipline, towards the aims and objectives identified by Jose Mourinho.
One caveat is Eto’o’s personality, which has so often generated friction and has led to unwanted controversy. The success has often papered over cracks existing with teammates or managers, but it is interesting to imagine perhaps what a little more stability could have done for his career.
No African player can come close to rivaling Samuel Eto’o in terms of club achievements; indeed, the last 15 years spent in Europe have led to commentators such as Firdose Moonda suggesting that he is ‘already established as Africa’s best football export.’
He is only the second player to have scored in two Champions League finals—suggesting he is capable of flourishing at the very top level of the sport, and is one of only four players to have won the trophy on consecutive occasions with two different teams.
Similarly, he is the first player to win two trebles in major European leagues, achieving the remarkable feat with both Barcelona in 2009 and Internazionale in 2010.
These achievements indicate that while Eto’o can make the big contributions in the big games—as he has done against former club Real Madrid so many times over the years—he has also earned his keep as a key part of hugely successful sides over the course of overwhelmingly successful seasons.
It is not just that Eto’o has won these honours, he has won these honours while being a key figure in successful teams.
His past achievements and wide appeal have led to him being identified as the world’s highest-earning player, with an estimated £350,000-a-week deal with Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala.
It is perhaps in the international sphere that Eto’o’s finest achievements and greatest disappointments emerge. Evidently proud to be a citizen of Africa, he is honoured as the Africa Cup of Nations’ all-time top scorer.
These goals have led to two titles for Cameroon, where they sat at the head of the continent in 2000 and 2002. He also picked up a gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, where the Indomitable Lions became only the second African side to secure the top spot on the podium in the sport’s history.
While it was clear on his debut—when still only 15---that Eto’o would have a long future with the national side, few back then could have realised the monumental influence he would have for the Indomitable Lions.
Still only 32, he is the country’s all-time top scorer with 55 goals, and on 112 caps, sits only 25 behind Rigobert Song in the all-time appearance list.
He has won the African Player of the Year award a record four times, eclipsing the likes of George Weah, Abedi Pele and Didier Drogba, and further honours include being African Young Player of the Year in 2000, third place in FIFA World Player of the Year in 2005 and recognition in multiple and numerous ‘teams of the year.’
He has also contributed to African football in other ways. His academy, the Samuel Eto’o Foundation, was set up in 2006 and attempts to raise awareness about the issues facing West Africa, particularly focusing on the well-being of children.
Through the foundation, the careers of various young football stars, including the likes of Jean Marie Dongou, Fabrice Olinga and Gael Etock have taken their first nascent steps in the game and have begun to learn the sport.
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