The first interviews that players give for Chelsea TV when they sign for the club are almost always so unbelievably boring, as regardless of age or ethnicity, they just all tend to mumble the same clichés about how happy they are to be here. Samuel Eto’o didn’t exude such a gratified tone yesterday – understandable for a 32 year old veteran with his experience and CV. He did make one particularly striking and revealing comment however, when asked why he chose Chelsea over the other interested clubs, he explained, “Chelsea has Jose Mourinho, other clubs don’t”. A cool reminder of the immediacy with which the Portuguese raises the stature and profile of a club just by walking in the front door.
The quote reminded me of a story I’d read from Eto’o’s autobiography, the summer he moved to Internazionale. The Cameroonian revealed he already had a verbal agreement to join Mark Hughes’ Manchester City when Inter President Massimo Moratti called to try and tempt him to Italy instead. He then recalled that the decision was effectively made for him however when Mourinho rang and said. “I’m just calling to see what shirt you wanted, Is the number 9 okay?”
The effect he had on the forward must have been extraordinary. For a striker with nothing left to prove, to walk back into the top level so readily to play specifically for one coach speaks absolute volumes.
The autobiography revealed a history between Chelsea and Eto’o also. As he disclosed the fact we have tried to sign him multiple times throughout his career, with the most recent time (in 2006) including a rationale from Mourinho that perhaps explains his obvious tactical admiration for the player. Jose said back then that he felt Eto’o was “the only player he could play with Didier Drogba”. And his deployment of the Cameroonian at Inter was probably proof that the partnership would’ve worked wonderfully, as for the duration of his treble winning campaign he had Eto’o selflessly running up and down the left flank in support of Diego Milito – something a 30 year old Andriy Shevchenko it seemed had neither the legs nor the willingness to do.
I have a feeling though that it’s surely only the qualities of Eto’o’s character that allowed him to play this role in the first place that’s bought him to Chelsea in this instance. Surely Jose can’t be planning for him to play a similar role this time around? With the abundance of wide options and number 10s in the squad his role will be as a centre forward and his task to add on his 288 career goals in 543 games.
How well he’ll be able to do that is very much a mystery at this moment. The coverage of domestic Russian football in England is non-existent. Since his move to Anzhi I’ve only seen him twice in the Europa League which is hardly sufficient to assess how his quality has diminished. In two years he has scored 25 league goals for the Makhachkala club and 36 overall in all comps (in 71 games). Not a bad record but we should also take into account how he was in a team that had been thrown together rather guilelessly and at times was playing in midfield also. Though at present, to expect anything over 15 league goals seems overly optimistic to me.
The other concern alongside the mystery of the player’s remaining quality is of course how highly he will be motivated. His move to Anzhi at the age of 30 was a pretty definitive signal that he was satisfied with his career and all he had achieved. There exists a widespread alternate point of view that his intention was to become the world’s highest paid player as a symbolic demonstration of what a child growing up in Africa can achieve. Regardless of his intentions back then, his interview yesterday with the club made it apparent his priorities are to play well and ‘enjoy his football’ rather than add more trophies to his CV – this doesn’t concern me so much however.
He obviously has an admiration for the club and for its tradition of having been represented by some of the all-time great African players over the last 15 years and he’ll surely be obliged to live up to the standard they’ve helped to impose. In particular the standard of his fellow striker Didier Drogba, whom he named in his ‘Perfect XI’ for FourFourTwo a few years ago (he also picked John Terry incidentally). Together with our legendary former #11, Eto’o stands at the pinnacle of modern day African football. To replicate Drogba’s contribution to Chelsea is all but impossible. There isn’t necessarily any reason I can see however, why, like Drogba, he can’t continue to perform exceptionally into his mid 30s.
Welcome to Chelsea, Samuel Eto’o.