Samuel Eto’o was in the shop window last summer. He was on then new manager Pep Guardiola’s ‘clear-out’ list from day one. There was talk of a move to AC Milan. They plumped for Ronaldinho. There was also speculation that crosstown rivals Internazionale, with new manager Jose Mourinho, were very interested. Again, it came to nothing. So did interest from Chelsea, Arsenal and then French champions Lyon. In truth, apart from an overly-ambitious outfit from Uzbekistan, there were no serious bidders for his services.
In the end, faced with the dilemma of what to do with a striker who you don’t really want, but can’t just leave on the bench because you are paying him in excess of 100,000 euros per week, Pep told the man from Cameroon to work his tail off and earn a spot in his side for the 2008/09 campaign.
Eto’os response has been nothing short of emphatic. Four goals against Valladolid; a hat-trick against Almeria; 6 doubles; the first goal to break the stubborn Real Madrid resistance at the Camp Nou; the equaliser at Real Betis when his team was struggling in mid-season; the winners in 1-0 victories at Athletic Bilbao and Valladolid. Twenty-nine league goals in all, with only one of them coming from the penalty spot.
Indeed, he’d be worthy Pichichi winner this season if it wasn’t for the incredible heroics of a certain blonde haired Uruguayan in Madrid. “When the season finishes and everything goes well, [the manager] Pep [Guardiola] will tell me that he’s happy with me and to go talk to [Laporta].” Sounds like a reasonable enough assumption. But, will he?
Sure, for the past couple of seasons Eto’o hadn’t been the same dynamic, virtually unstoppable goal scoring machine he had been in 2005-06 when he did take home the Pichichi and scored in the Champions League triumph over Arsenal, but his numbers this season must mean something to Pep. So, why have rumors of a summer move resurfaced?
Simply put, there are still a number of unanswered questions regarding the the fourth highest scorer in Barcelona history.
For instance, has Eto’o been a vital part of this awesome Barcelona machine this season? One could make the case that 29 goals is a significant enough contribution to say he has. But has his been a more significant contribution than that of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Iniesta, Henry or Alves? Would the team as a whole suffer if he was sold and their was a new name on the number 9 shirt?
His temperament has always been a potential for concern. This was one of the main reasons behind Guardiola’s attempt to offload him a year ago. Florentino Perez once called him a “ticking time bomb”. His high profile falling outs with Ronaldinho and former manager Frank Rijkaard and the substantial effect this had on the team as a whole have not been forgotten, and Pep definitely does not want any potentially divisive elements in his dressing room. Sure, he may have come good again this season – but will he stay that way?
Additionally, the word around some campfires is that his knees certainly aren’t what they used to be. He missed five months back in 2007 after injuring himself in a pre-season friendly against Internazionale. Since then, his pace and dynamism haven’t been the same. He no longer stretches defenses like he once did. Some may argue he doesn’t need to, what with Messi on his right and Henry on his left, but what if one, or God forbid both, of them went down with a serious injury? Could Eto’o be relied upon to step up and lead the attack once more?
Is it worth Pep sticking with his current number 9, or should he cash in on him whilst he can, and invest the cash in a young player, with perfect knees, who could lead Barca’s line for the better part of the next decade? This summer would be the perfect time, what with Eto’o in form, still only 28 and players the likes of Villa, Aguero, Kerrison, Forlan, Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez all potentially available. And, of course, he does have wonderkid Bojan Krkic already at his disposal.
“My future is with Barça,” said the 28-year-old recently, “to be clear, I have no intention of leaving.” On the surface it would appear that Sammy doesn’t want to leave the comfortable confines of the Camp Nou. And why would he? The man himself summed it up best, “If you were playing in this Barcelona team, the way it is playing, would you want to leave for anywhere else in the world?”
It’s a good point. He loves scoring goals, and no-one is scoring more goals than Barcelona at the moment. Trouble is, with so many unanswered questions hovering over him, he may not have a say in the matter.