The early 2000s had two of probably Africa’s three greatest strikers ever in Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba, both playing for great teams, Drogba leading the Abramovich era at Chelsea, while Eto’o is remembered for being part of FC Barcelona’s side, maybe one of the best football club sides in history. What is amazing about both players is that while both play(ed) for multiple teams over their careers (Eto’o is still playing in 2018 for Qatar SC, as per transfermkt), when you try to think of them, you think of those two great clubs.
Something that has always bugged me about the two, is deciding who was better. It is not an argument I have seen on social media lots, compared to the tired Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Messi debate, or the new one sections of Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC fans are trying to make a thing, on Eden Hazard vs. Mohammed Salah.
I find that very interesting, and indulge me as I try to bring about a new argument on who is the #GOAT to hopefully fill your Twitter mentions will strangers frothing at the mouth with anger as they try to convince you their man was the #GOAT and your preference is the stupidest thing they have ever heard.
I will do this over two blog posts, part one making a case for Samuel Eto’o, part two defending Didier Drogba
The case for Samuel Eto’o
Samuel Eto’o, born in 1981 in Cameroun, was always regarded as a great prospect even as a youngster, starting his football at Kadji Sports Academy in Douala, before he was snapped up by no one else than Real Madrid at the age of 16 in 1997, and quickly started playing for the youth team.
Eto’os time in Spain didn’t start off to the greatest of starts, with spells at Real Madrid B, Leganes and Espanyol on loan all failing to return too much success in terms of goals. He joined La Liga side Mallorca on loan in January 2000, where he scored 6 in 19 games, starting to show his potential. He joined Mallorca permanently in August 2000 and from then on to 2004, scored 54 goals for the side in 133 games, turning the heads of FC Barcelona, who would go for him, after, naturally, a tussle with Real Madrid, who wanted to buy him back.
He eventually joined Barcelona, who promised first-team football. His spell at Barcelona was very successful, winning La Liga title in his first season in 2005 while scoring an impressive 25 goals in 37 league games for the side. From 2004 to 2009, Eto’o would score 108 goals in 144 games in La Liga, a record that surely made him comparable to any striker in Europe, the best of the best at the time. Eto’o would win his first UEFA Champions League trophy in 2006 with Barcelona, edging out Arsenal in the famous Paris final, scoring the equalizing goal for the team in the match that Barca won 2-1. Indeed, it was he who was fouled by Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, with the red card changing the complexion of the game.
Samuel Eto’o won his second UEFA Champions League in 2009, scoring the first goal in Barcelona’s triumph over Manchester United, the game that made the world sit up and appreciate that Pep Guardiola’s side was not a normal side, as Eto’o won the treble of La Liga, UEFA Champions League and Copa del Rey.
In a not so surprising turn of events, Pep would deem him surplus to requirements, sanctioning a sale to Internazionale of Italy immediately after the season of 2009. The swap deal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with 46 million euros added in by Barcelona added in for good measure, can in hindsight be declared as one of the greatest transfer heists of all time, by the good old Internazionale head Massimo Moratta.
The inter Milan side that dominated Italian football from 2006 to 2010 after the infamous calciopoli scandal had designs on conquering Europe, and with the world’s best coach (at the time) Jose Mourinho at the helm, and players such as Brazil’s Lucio, Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto’o and even Kenya’s MacDonald Mariga, they went for it in 2009. Beating the likes of Chelsea on the way, Inter Milan would meet FC Barcelona in the semifinal, a two-legged tie I consider one of the most important UEFA Champions League matches I have ever seen.
Defence against attack, and mixed with the volcano that made Barca travel by bus to Italy from Spain, Inter won the first leg 3-1 in a great performance. They would lose the second leg 1-0 in a contest that is known for Eto’o playing at right fullback, one of the best attack versus defence games I have ever seen. They beat a very good Bayern Munich side in the UEFA Champions League final. Inter Milan and Eto’o would win the treble of Italy’s league, the cup and the UEFA Champions League that year, making Eto’o the only African player ever to achieve that unique accolade.
Eto’o did this while playing on the right wing, as Argentina’s Diego Milito played as the striker. Still, Eto’o would end up with 53 goals in 102 matches for Inter Milan, before his career would take on a somewhat nomadic turn. He played for the remarkable Anzhi Makhachkala (whose story from grass to grace to grass is a must read), Chelsea, and to my shock, Everton FC, Sampdoria, then spells in Antalyaspor in turkey and Konyaspor in turkey. All in all, according to Wikipedia, Samuel Eto’o has 356 goals in 730 games in his football club career.
Samuel Eto’o’s career for Cameroun, as well as the recognition he got in the African continent, is probably unsurpassed in recent times. Making his debut in 1997 aged just 16, Eto’o would go ahead to play 118 games for his national side, scoring 56 goals for his side. He won the African cup of nations twice, in 2000 and 2002, as part of the great Cameroon side that included the likes of Patrick Mboma, Rigobert Song, the late Marc Vivien Foe and Geremi. He was also crowned as African player of the year four times, in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2010.
Internationally, Eto’o has won many trophies and accolades, and as it stands, he is African cup of nations all-time top goal scorer, the all-time goal scorer for Cameroon, as well as RCD Mallorca’s all-time goal scorer. Looking at the titles and accolades won over long careers, there is simply no comparison between Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba. Eto’o played mainly as a striker in his heyday, and a brilliant season as a right winger for Inter Milan, as well as decent periods, especially with Chelsea FC. Eto’o triumphs.