Samuel Eto’o signed for Chelsea on Aug. 29. He joined the West London club on a free transfer from Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, agreeing on a one-year deal and rejoining Jose Mourinho, the manager with whom he won the Champions League in 2010.
Eto’o’s move to Chelsea came about after the club were ultimately thwarted in their summer-long pursuit of Wayne Rooney. At the time, he joined a stable of strikers including Romelu Lukaku, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba—each offered something different; although, the hierarchy wasn’t immediately apparent.
It soon became clear that Lukaku wouldn’t be part of the equation as he was loaned out to Everton.
It was a risky move by Mourinho; Torres’ failings have been well-documented, Demba Ba has hardly risen to the level required since joining Chelsea in January and Eto’o arrived as an unknown quantity.
During his career, Eto’o has been one of the world’s finest forwards.
He is a three-time Champions League winner, a four-time African Footballer of the Year, twice an African champion and an Olympic gold medal winner. Not only has he won almost all there is to win, he has also been a key contributor for a number of excellent sides; he is the all-time top scorer in the Cup of Nations, is Cameroon’s all-time top scorer and was also Man of the Match in the 2006 Champions League final.
However, now that he's 32, few were anticipating anything as remarkable this season. On top of his age and declining influence, the fact that he has spent the last three years away from the limelight in Dagestan also tempered expectations.
In Russia, Eto’o was often used in a deeper role as a creative influence behind the striker, rather than as a centre-forward. However, it wasn’t immediately clear how Mourinho intended to use the Cameroonian icon.
Chelsea have a surplus of would-be No. 10s, so it is unlikely that Eto’o was recruited to play in support of a frontman.
Under Mourinho at Internazionale, he was often employed on the wing where he impressed many by sacrificing himself for the good of the team. His endless running and unflinching discipline made him a favourite of the Nerazzurri fans, but it often led to disagreements between Mourinho and him—Eto’o unhappy with being played out of position.
No one truly suspected that Eto’o, with his ageing legs, would be working out wide any longer, which left only one realistic option.
The Cameroonian was bought to play as an out-and-out striker, the pinnacle of the club’s 4-2-3-1 formation, be it from the bench or as a starter.
As a forward, therefore, it is goals, that elusive currency, upon which we must judge and examine Eto’o’s impact at Chelsea.
The blunt headline doesn’t look good.
Despite some occasional false dawns during this season, the opening months of Jose Mourinho’s return to the club haven’t proved to be the triumphant return that many were anticipating.
Their failings have prompted a swathe of articles such as Garry Hayes' work, "Strikers Chelsea Manager Jose Mourinho Should Consider for a January Transfer," with Bleacher Report.
As Hayes reported, Mourinho didn’t hold back with criticism of his strikers following the Blues’ 3-2 defeat against Stoke on Saturday.
The EPL-winning manager said: "[If you] ask if I would like my strikers to score eight, 10, 12 goals [already this season], then yes, I would. If they had we would be top of the league. That's the reality."
His three strikers have scored only four league goals between them. It is the kind of return that would trouble a club in the bottom half of the league, let alone a side with aspirations for the title.
The state of affairs is not made any more comfortable by the fact that Lukaku, cast out and sent away on loan to Everton, has already found the net eight times in the league this season.
It is a reality that throws major doubt upon Mourinho’s transfer window judgement and is a damning indictment of Eto’o, Torres and Ba. In fairness, his intention was to retain Lukaku and send Ba out on loan, but Arsenal’s refusal to pay a premium fee saw the Senegalese striker remain at Stamford Bridge.
The trio’s lack of success in front of goal also comes in stark contrast to Rooney, Chelsea’s chief summer target. While Mourinho’s men have been deserted by their scoring touch, Rooney has enjoyed a fine start to the season and has been one of the key rays of sunlight in David Moyes’ troubled regime.
The England International has found the net eight times in the league and has been Man of the Match on four occasions.
Considering the factors outlined earlier in the article, Eto’o is perhaps the most forgivable of the trio.
It’s important to recognise, as well, that, in patches, the former Barcelona man has demonstrated his enduring class.
In the 4-1 victory over Cardiff on Oct. 19, Eto’o both scored and set up a goal before being removed on 69 minutes. Against Schalke, in early November, he was in outstanding form—scoring twice and earning the Man of the Match award while he also found the net in the Blues’ fortunate 2-2 draw against the Albion at Stamford Bridge.
Beyond this, however, there has been little of note. Eto’o has taken his time finding his fitness and adapting to life in England, and since his first game against Everton, he has only completed 90 minutes on one occasion in the league.
The Cameroonian was snapped cuddling two hot water bottles at the Britannia Stadium in a bid to fight off the biting conditions at Stoke; it is hardly indication that the African forward is on the cusp of a breakthrough in West London.
A torn hamstring suffered at the end of last month has put him out of action, and it will take several weeks before Eto’o is in a position to continue from where he left off.
It remains to be seen how motivated Eto’o will be when he does return, particularly when he finds himself in the midst of the infamous British winter schedule. Reports this week indicate that the former Mallorca man is already planning for life after Stamford Bridge.
If a move away is confirmed—and Toronto FC have been linked with an £8 million-a-year deal for his services—then that will surely take the edge off any lingering motivation he may have to make an impact in the Premier League.
Ultimately, any evaluation of Eto’o’s impact must be done against the expectations that accompanied him to the Premier League in August as well as Chelsea’s requirements, rather than the pedigree and past glories he brought with him.
Considering the expectations, there is positional and there is contribution. Ideally, one would not have a 32-year-old as their leading forward, but considering Torres’ ongoing malaise and Demba Ba’s struggles, that is what Eto’o has, sporadically at least, been over the last few months.
Naturally, it is no surprise that he hasn’t been up to it.
It is hard to criticise a player who ideally would be finding his feet as an impact substitute because he is not leading the line of a troubled team successfully week in and week out.
Eto’o has arguably failed to match the expectations that greeted his arrival, and he has indisputably failed to provide what Chelsea have been missing for so long: a striker who will fire them to the top of the league.
I close by turning to the words of Bleacher Report’s Matt Jones. Ahead of Eto’o’s summer move, he prophesised that the transfer was a step in the wrong direction for the club. Jones questioned whether the "dynamism that once saw him fire Barcelona and Inter to treble cup success" was still as prevalent as it once was, and also asked if he would be suited to the Premier League.
The writer also conceded that even if Eto’o was to bag a hatful, it would only be a short-term fix for the club’s "chronic striker problems."
I agree with the Independent’s Simon Rice that the Cameroonian has "failed to live up to his billing as one of the most feared strikers in the world" since arriving in London.
Whether anyone truly expected this of him is one of the issues at the heart of this study; indisputably, however, Eto’o’s ageing legs and frosty feet were not what Chelsea needed this season.