After a rocky start to life at Sampdoria, Samuel Eto’o appears to be hitting his stride – even if the goals aren’t flowing.
When Samuel Eto’o waved goodbye to northern Italy in the summer of 2011 to join Anzhi Makhachkala, head scratching was rife around Europe.
Just a few months after his 30th birthday and on from bagging 34 goals and 16 assists for Inter the previous season, one of the most deadly finishers around was moving on down an unexpected road.
Offered a record €20 million net salary by the nouveau-riche Russian side, Eto’o embarked on an alternative adventure, as is becoming more common for ageing players these days.
Many said the Cameroonian chose to go for the money. Others noted that with a trophy cabinet stocked with prestigious silverware, Eto’o no longer had anything to prove.
Whatever the striker’s reasoning, his journey in Russia wouldn’t last too long. Anzhi’s staunch financial backing was withdrawn within two years, and Eto’o was sold.
It was at Chelsea that he landed, of course, to reunite with Jose Mourinho. Hitting 12 goals between Premier League and Champions League, Eto’o showed he had life yet.
But his tenure at Stamford Bridge was to last only a year, as Mourinho rang in the changes to his strike force, having been openly disappointed with his attacking options.
Everton stepped in to bring in the high-profile star, with hopes high that the veteran could prove a vital option for Roberto Martinez, helping to bring along Romelu Lukaku.
Yet his time on Merseyside proved short. Three Premier League goals and eight starts later, Eto’o was shipped off to Sampdoria with his former physical prowess appearing to have abandoned him with age.
Things got off to a rocky start. Within his first week in Genoa, Eto’o butted heads with head coach Sinisa Mihajlovic, refusing to train after a 5-1 hammering at the hands of Torino.
Sky Sports reported that the Cameroonian was even voiding cancelling his contract with the Blucerchiati – but the situation was salvaged, and he remained at Marassi.
And now, Eto’o seems to have found the new lease on life he had been looking for.
That is, even if the numbers don’t initially jump out at onlookers. Scoring once and adding a single assist, the ex-Inter man hasn’t exactly been prolific in front of goal.
No longer able to simply burst past defenders at pace as he once did, Eto’o must now rely on guile and find ways to affect the game even when not handed a multitude of chances.
Of late, Mihajlovic has moved the Cameroonian into a wide position in an attacking trident, using the veteran as something of a decoy – but a skilled one, at that.
Attracting the attention of defenders due to his pedigree, Eto’o has become an effective foil for the likes of Luis Muriel, Stefano Okaka and Eder.
Forced into tight spaces by markers, the 34-year-old has been at his best. Over the past four games – all Sampdoria wins – he has completed 18 of 25 dribbles, per Squawka.
Sunday saw his top performance in terms of take ons yet – Eto’o was successful in seven out of 10 attempts, winning two fouls and making a nuisance of himself to Inter, his former club.
Having started each of the Blucerchiati’s four victories on the bounce, Eto’o has carved out a place for himself in Genoa – thriving, despite not scoring prolifically as he once did.
The Cameroonian has Sampdoria in contention for a Champions League place – four points out of third place – though charging into Europe’s elite competition is unlikely.
Nonetheless, Eto’o seems to have found the oasis he was looking for at Marassi, even if his mode of operation is different to the one he made his name under as a younger man.