Sport Soccer

Thursday 26 April 2018

The Jose I know hasn't changed one bit – Eto'o

New Chelsea striker delighted at reunion with Mourinho and is positive about the World Cup play-off, he tells Ian Hawkey

Samuel Eto’o is happy to have been the first Chelsea striker to score in the Premier League this season
Samuel Eto’o is happy to have been the first Chelsea striker to score in the Premier League this season

London Daily Telegraph

It is just after school half-term in the club shop at Stamford Bridge, and a proud father is buying replica jerseys for his children. It is a hefty order.

He asks for home and away shirts, bearing the forenames of each child, all four of them, aged between six and the early teens. The dad arranges to have them dispatched to his workplace, Chelsea's Surrey training ground.

Because Samuel Eto'o arrived in London late in the transfer window, there have been things to catch up on, such as the children's new blue tops, familiarising himself with a new league, and a language which Eto'o, who comes from the French-speaking part of Cameroon, has never needed to perfect until now. His first two months have left him, he says, "generally quite happy", though he feels English football has not yet seen the best of him.

He, and Chelsea, would anticipate more goals, for a start. The most consistently brilliant centre-forward of the first decade of the 21st century is accustomed to accumulating more than one every five starts, his record so far for Chelsea.

MILESTONE

At Barcelona, he averaged three in every four La Liga games; at Inter Milan, a goal every other Serie A match; the same in Russia, from where Chelsea recruited him after two seasons with Anzhi Makhachkala.

But he gleefully points out he is already the owner of one significant milestone, thanks to his goal against Cardiff City. "I'm happy," he smiles, "because, even coming in late, I was still the first of Chelsea's strikers to score this season in the Premier League. That gave me a thrill."

If that suggests a competitive edge to Eto'o's relationship with Fernando Torres, whose celebrated return to form only yielded his first league goal six days ago, or Demba Ba, it is a healthy joust. He praises Torres, adding only that the idea the Spaniard has suddenly happened on a renaissance is misguided.

"He has been playing well throughout," says Eto'o. "The fact is, as all we strikers know, we tend to get judged just on the number of goals. It's not all about the figures. It's about how you play for the team, how you help your colleagues, how you work defensively. All that, he's been doing very well, and the goals come in streaks."

At Newcastle tomorrow, Torres will probably start, thanks to his performance against Manchester City, and given that Eto'o got the nod for the first XI in midweek in the League Cup.

Rotation is inevitable, but the bench is not Eto'o's natural, long-term habitat, not unless you rewind 15 years, to his nights of teenaged frustration at Real Madrid, when scant opportunities to jump an illustrious queue of forwards left him miffed.

The drive that would carry him to landmark achievements after that, to a Copa del Rey win with Real Mallorca, to two Champions League titles and three La Ligas at Barca, and a treble at Jose Mourinho's Inter, has its springboard in the perception he had been undervalued at Madrid. It also comes from a stubborn streak, which Eto'o identifies in his own childhood, the subject of a book he has released, in a rare format for the sporting memoir: comic strip. It is illustrated by his talented compatriot Joelle Esso, who he sought out because his own children grew up enjoying her work.

"I stick at things, will always push myself hard, and little by little I'll get to where I want to be," says Eto'o. "It can be complicated when you join after the season has begun as your colleagues have already started implementing the manager's ideas."

The manager, of course, was familiar, the mutual admiration between Mourinho and Eto'o remains potent. If some senior Chelsea players see a version of the Portuguese distinct from his 2004 to 2007 Chelsea stint, so does Eto'o, though for different reasons: in the heat of several poisonous Chelsea v Barcelona matches in that period he developed an enmity towards Mourinho.

That attitude swivelled 180 degrees when Mourinho, having tried and failed to sign Eto'o for Chelsea in 2005, signed him for Inter.

Reunited in London, Eto'o sees the same mentor and motivator who steered Inter to the Champions League, using him both as a prolific goalscorer and a self-sacrificing warrior prepared to commandeer, tirelessly, the right flank. "The Jose I know hasn't changed at all," says Eto'o. "I'm happy about that."

Did he regard this Chelsea as being as well equipped as Mourinho's Inter to win all the prizes available?

"I don't like to compare, and I'd only make a judgment on that at the end of the season. What I have in my head is to try to be at the top of this league by then."

Beyond that, there is the World Cup. In two weeks Cameroon host the second leg of their play-off against Tunisia, with the tie goalless. The chance of a fourth World Cup is 90 minutes away.

Eto'o gives the strong impression that, of all his career landmarks, none would mean as much as being there when an African team break through on the game's greatest stage and progress beyond the quarter-final.

"Why shouldn't an African team reach the final?" he asks. "You have to dream big to win the big things. If you only think small, you will only achieve little things.

"Africa has been producing great players for many, many years, who have been playing in major clubs for a long time." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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