Soccer often reflects the delicate twists of life and nowhere was this better highlighted than in Barcelona’s destruction of Real Madrid this past weekend. The catalyst of Sunday’s victory was the Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto’o who added to his pattern of scoring against the club that formerly owned his rights.
Based on Real’s performance one could probably note that they are also the team formerly known as the galaticos. The goal by Eto’o was his eighth goal in 13 matches against Real and his tenth league goal for Barcelona. (He leads all La Liga players this season).
The signing of Eto’o by Barcelona last summer for approximately $30 million was considered an unnecessary extravagance at the time by some observers. Barca had more pressing needs elsewhere and also had mercurial striker Javier Saviola on the squad. However, Eto’o has been an upgrade and ensured that the on-loan Saviola has not been missed much.
Eto’o is unique in that he is one of the rare breed of strikers who is powerful and prolific enough to play alone upfront, while also being unselfish enough to be used in tandem and linked with another strike partner.
With Eto’o in such superb form, Madrid can only rue the fact that they let him slip away. The irony of course is that now he is no longer a Real Madrid player, Real pays him more attention then it did when he was actually on Real’s books.
His love-hate relationship (some would argue mostly hate) with Real is probably best underscored by the treatment he received from the club when he first arrived in Spain in 1996. As a 15-year old boy, Eto’o arrived in Spain to sign with Real Madrid. The only problem was that Real had reportedly forgotten he was due to arrive that day and had not sent any representatives to pick him up from the airport. Since he spoke no Spanish at the time, Eto’o was effectively stranded at the airport for several hours that day.
This neglect from Real was to be further manifested during his time with the team. At the time of his signing, Eto’o had been touted as one of the brightest ever prospects from Africa, a delicious blend of Roger Milla and Jean Manga Onguene’s sublime skills. Even so, for the most part, Real allowed Eto’o to languish in its reserves with little opportunity to feature even as a fringe squad player.
In fairness, given Real’s squad depth at striker at the time, it was hard to find playing time for the raw but gifted teen. However the last 5 seasons spent at Mallorca, firstly on loan, then later sold, have allowed Eto’o to prove that he is among the elite strikers in La Liga.
It’s difficult to understand the Madrid hierachy’s decision-making when firstly they rejected the opportunity to buy him back from Mallorca (Real still owned a half-share of Eto’o) and then secondly endorsed the sale of Eto’o to Barcelona. Given Eto’o’s propensity to score goals against Real, one would have thought the last thing Real would do was to sell him to its most hated rivals. Explanations that they didn’t need yet another striker was undermined by Real’s subsequent acquisition of English striker Michael Owen.
If Eto’o keeps playing like he has been, he may well end his career remembered as the finest striker Africa has produced since George Weah. Currently though he’s probably better known for his often-quoted dismissal of David Beckham, of whom he once famously said, « I might not be as handsome as David Beckham, but I’m a better footballer ».
Jen Chang, ESPN