I'll be honest with you, folks—when Chelsea was first linked with Samuel Eto'o, I didn't really understand the interest. At 32, he didn't seem to be much of an upgrade—if any at all—over Fernando Torres, Romelu Lukaku or Demba Ba.
Heck, I wrote as much.
But despite my protestations, Chelsea continued to be linked with Eto'o. His agent, Claudio Vigorelli, told Italy's Sportmediaset TV (via ESPN) that three teams—Chelsea, Manchester United and Inter Milan—remain in the running to land the Cameroonian's signature.
There had to be a reason for this constant interest. It seemed to me that Chelsea were just fine with the forwards they had if they couldn't land Wayne Rooney, so I went in search of justification for the team's intrigue with Eto'o.
And I tracked down an argument, courtesy of Miguel Delaney of WhoScored.com, that made a lot of sense:
As excellent as Chelsea initially were in attack [against Hull City], it occasionally looked like they needed someone to pin it together; to properly link so many lively attacking midfielders; to sometimes supply an element of pause. At certain points, it was as if all that intensive early running needed someone to ensure it was fully integrated.
It has been a staple of so many [Jose] Mourinho teams. At Real Madrid, the primary role of Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain beyond finishing was to open up space for those behind such as Cristiano Ronaldo. At FC Porto, Benni McCarthy’s running was key on their route to the 2004 Champions League.
Much like Rooney, Eto'o would offer Chelsea that linking forward, both able to maintain possession and facilitate for his teammates in a way that Torres, Ba and Lukaku wouldn't offer the Blues.
Delaney included this telling graphic in his article to support that point:
When I first evaluated Eto'o and what he would bring to Chelsea, I was perhaps a bit too focused on his declining goal production. His 15 goals in 29 appearances over the past two years in league play for Anzhi Makhachkala was an excellent ratio, but hardly a comforting overall total.
But while a player like Rooney that both drops further into the buildup play and scores regularly would be ideal, the fact remains that Chelsea have plenty of players who can score. Frank Lampard, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard were the leading scorers for the Blues last season and combined to post 36 goals in Premier League play.
Players like Mata, Hazard, Oscar, Kevin De Bruyne and Andre Schuerrle—creative players with a scoring touch—were always going to be the strength of this team and the focal point of the attack.
As Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe notes, that changes the role of the forward for Chelsea:
@MiguelDelaney with the directness of Chelsea's wide men, any forward on the team will be playing a nine-and-a-half-esque role this season— Sam Tighe (@stighefootball) August 21, 2013
In other words, Eto'o wouldn't need to score 20 goals to make an impact.
Do I think Chelsea should overpay to sign him? No. Do I think he's a great Rooney backup plan? Not great, no, but certainly servicable. Would I still like to see Mourinho give Lukaku the playing time he'll need to evolve his game and slowly become a player that may make Chelsea supporters recall fond memories of Didier Drogba?
But would the addition of Eto'o make sense for the Blues as he would link up the attack in a way that the current crop of forwards wouldn't?
He sure would.
I'm willing to admit his addition would make more sense than I had initially considered. It wouldn't be an epic signing, but the perceived basis for Chelsea's interest in Eto'o seems sound.