Samuel Eto'o announced the end of his illustrious playing career over the weekend, and to mark his retirement from the game we have dug up an interview we did with the striker during the season he spent at Chelsea earlier this decade.
The very best days of Eto'o's career were behind him when he joined Jose Mourinho's Blues on a free transfer in 2013, but he was still a formidable presence in our team when he played and built up a great relationship with the fans, helped by goals he netted in home wins over Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal. He is best remembered in blue for his treble against Man United, and this exclusive interview with him took place in the wake of that achievement in January 2014. It was at the halfway point of a Chelsea career which by its end that summer would total 35 appearances and 12 goals...
Arms outstretched, racing towards a corner flag, a huge grin etched across his face. Samuel Eto'o certainly knows how to celebrate a goal in style, and with good reason - the Cameroonian has over 350 to his name over the course of a career many consider to be the greatest in African footballing history. The sight of him reeling away joyously has become something of a regular occurrence at Stamford Bridge, with eight starts on our home turf yielding eight goals for Eto'o, mostly predatory finishes of the type that have helped keep him at the top of the game for so long.
His first goal against Manchester United on Sunday needed a deflection to take it over David De Gea, but the skill which breezed him past Phil Jones and his willingness to shoot on his weaker left foot from a tight angle exemplified his confidence when the goalposts are in sight. His second and third strikes were born from his uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time, two close-range finishes which secured Eto'o the match ball, and Chelsea the three points. He spoke afterwards about his thrilling afternoon.
'It's a big honour for me, and to keep the ball is a great souvenir,' he says.
'I love the big games. Before the game I spoke with Jose and I told him I wanted to play this game, but it's tough when we have other great strikers like Fernando [Torres] and Demba [Ba]. It was good to get the opportunity to play and try and help the team win.
'The first goal took a deflection; the other two were good because I hadn't had much of the ball so I was glad when the opportunities came my way. It was a real collective effort and to take the three points was the most important thing.'
Coming away from games with maximum points has become increasingly commonplace for the Blues - we have picked up nine wins from our last 11 league outings - with another big-game success, against Liverpool after Christmas, secured courtesy of Eto'o's outstretched left foot. His maiden experience of playing in English football included two starts over the festive period, hitherto a time when competitive football was not on his agenda.
'Against Liverpool it was really important that we won the match, particularly after going behind. We had to reply and we did. I saw how happy the Chelsea fans were after we won and that made it even more satisfying.
'It was an incredible experience playing over the Christmas period. Jose had already told me that Boxing Day in particular was a really special day. Even if that particular day is normally spent with the family it was really good. It's something I have never experienced before and being at Chelsea meant I was able to experience that. I could only be pleased about it.'
As a man whose footballing odyssey has taken him to some of Europe's finest cities, including Madrid, Barcelona, Milan and Moscow (where his former side Anzhi Makhachkala trained), how has he found life in London?
'It's a great city,' he smiles. 'But I already knew that!
'Even if it rains quite a lot it's always nice here. It is a beautiful city, it's really lively and cosmopolitan and it's a good place to live.'
Around the training ground, Eto'o is a jovial character almost never seen without a smile on his face, and it's clear he has quickly built up a rapport with his peers. Having won the league, and of course the Champions League, in both Spain and Italy, he is hopeful of achieving something similar in his first season in England.
'At the moment we are still in practically all the competitions. If Chelsea are not the best club in the world then they are one of the best clubs in the world, so I don't know if we are going to win everything but the season is going well so far.
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'I like playing and when I get chance to do that I have to help my team-mates. There is a huge difference between English football and the other championships, you almost can't compare it, but I am trying to adapt very quickly and that's okay.
'The most important thing in life is to work hard. Football is a part of my life, and I try to be happy all the time. That's why I'm always smiling. If my work allows me to be even happier, then that is great.
'The season is long, and there are a lot of things that could happen, but I hope to score more goals, help my team and then hopefully the season will end well for Chelsea.'
If Eto'o keeps finding the net in the big games, then there's every chance his first season in west London will end on a happy note, but either way, nothing will wipe that smile off his face right now.
There was no silverware for Eto'o to add to his extensive collection, but we did reach the Champions League semi-finals and come third in the Premier League. The striker moved on to Everton and then Sampdoria before spending time in Turkey and Qatar. He retired from Cameroonian duty after the 2014 World Cup with 118 caps and 56 international goals to his name.
- This interview was first published on 22 January 2014