He came, he scored, he fought. He gave away a penalty.
Samuel Eto’o’s Chelsea career will be one of the more difficult to evaluate once this summer’s likely departure is confirmed. Having registered 12 goals in 34 games, including a respectable nine over 21 league appearances, making him the club’s second-highest scorer this season, it seemed impossible the striker could leave London without his reputation notably enhanced, even his name etched in SW6 folklore.
However, despite his double-figure tally taking in strikes in wins over Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, plus the first Blues hat-trick against Manchester United since the club’s inaugural title-winning campaign of 1954-55, sadly, it seems as if the Cameroonian’s time at Stamford Bridge may be characterised as much by comments made off the field as contributions made on it.
Long before landing in the English capital last August, Eto’o had endeared himself to enemies of Roman Abramovich’s enterprise worldwide by allegedly, not to mention rather bizarrely, insisting he “would rather sell groundnuts in my home village than play for a pathetic club like Chelsea” following a 4-2 win over his then-employers Barcelona. But his undying endeavour in a blue shirt from the word go that frightened the life out of a litany of goalkeepers, leading to game-changing moments of opponents’ calamity, put paid to any lingering fears from the crowd of seeing anything less than his best, at least in the cosy environs of West London.
His debut away to Everton ultimately ended in deserved defeat but it was apparent that the man signed on a free transfer from Russian outfit Anzhi Makachkala could well prove an astute acquisitionn for Jose Mourinho. Unfortunately for the Portuguese, who led him to unprecedented success with Inter Milan that featured a win at the Bridge, in which Eto’o scored, in 2009-10, their relationship was to sour, not only due to the African’s inability to find the net outside of Chelsea or Cobham this term.
Remarks of an incendiary nature made by Mourinho at the turn of the year about his forwards, under the impression he was off-the-record, were picked up by French station Canal Plus and rapidly carried around the globe. Amazingly, it was not the manager’s lamenting of his front line’s profligacy and its effect on his team’s chances of impending silverware that was to take centre stage in the ensuing furore, as Mourinho – master of modern public relations up until that point – went on to single out Eto’o by questioning the age of his former talisman and asking, “he is 32, maybe 35, who knows?”
The controversy seemed to have been swept under the carpet as Eto’o responded with three fine goals against a beleaguered United at the Bridge in January, the first of which he celebrated by hilariously doubling over and using the corner flag as a makeshift cane in mockery of the jibes, to which his coach reacted with great merriment, lauding the actions as “beautiful”.
But that theory has been blown out of the water in recent weeks, with the now 33-year-old labelling Mourinho first “fool”, then “puppet” in a series of attention-grabbing exchanges with the media, designed to hog the limelight as he seeks pastures new, Eto’o even claiming he can continue at the top level for another 8 years, using the inimitable Roger Milla as precedent.
For all the positives provided by Eto’o in 2013-14 – and there were many, the highlight undoubtedly that hat-trick, among the finest seen along the Thames in many a year – the events of April 30 will also ensure the attacker’s brief Blues tenure will be reviewed with regret and no little anger, as the home faithful watched their clearly unfit substitute struggle with the pace of a Champions League semi-final and lunge into a tackle he had no right to win to concede the spot-kick from which his potential replacement, Diego Costa, effectively ended Chelsea’s hopes of attaining the continent’s highest accolade for a second time.
There was something poetic in the way that, under a year after returning from hibernation in Siberia with Anzhi, one of the most decorated footballers in history came up short when reintroduced to the top level, as spring turned to summer on the elite European calendar, costing his side and proving Mourinho right on two fronts in the process.
Chelsea fans will undoubtedly hold his achievements in high regard. He will go down as more Hernan Crespo than Andriy Shevchenko. On the other hand, his outbursts since season’s end have left a bitter taste and the once-roared “Hello, hello, Samuel Eto’o!” has become a murmured ‘bye-bye’ to the bad-tempered Barcelona boy who couldn’t bear to lose and wouldn’t hold his tongue when he did.
As Juan Mata discovered, go up against the Special One and there is only one winner.