(Reuters) – Samuel Eto’o proved his doubters wrong by outshining Chelsea’s other strikers last season and the Cameroon captain is determined to stay in the spotlight for a while yet, despite his advancing years.
But it may be tougher for the 33-year-old striker to leave his mark at the World Cup than in the English league.
Few give Cameroon much chance of progressing beyond the group stage of the tournament in which they face Mexico, Croatia and hosts Brazil.
The problems lie not just with the other teams. Eto’o accused fellow players in the national side of not passing him the ball last year, adding to friction in the squad which has struggled to live up to the glory days of the 1990 World Cup when Cameroon reached the quarter-finals.
Eto’o announced he was retiring from international football in 2013 but quickly reversed that decision, saying Cameroon’s president had pleaded with him to return to the team.
The tournament gives Eto’o a chance to cement his status as possibly Africa’s greatest ever player. He has scored 56 goals in 117 games for his country since making his international debut as a 16-year-old.
But he refuses to consider the Brazil World Cup to be the finale of his international career.
“I am going to go to this World Cup and to the next one when I will be 37. Some did it at 42, so I can still play in two more World Cups,” Eto’o told africanfootball.com last month.
He then underscored his point by getting a goal in Cameroon’s 2-2 draw in a friendly against Germany on June 1.
Nicknamed “Little Milla” as a child – after Cameroon striker Roger Milla, who shone at the 1990 World Cup – Eto’o took African football to a new level. He has been named the continent’s player of the year an unprecedented four times.
The striker first hit the headlines with Mallorca and went on to win the Champions League twice with Barcelona and again with Inter Milan.
Eto’o now lacks the explosive pace that helped him score 152 goals at Barcelona.
But his 12 strikes for Chelsea last season answered those who questioned whether he could still compete at the highest level after two years in relative but lucrative obscurity with Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala.
There, he became the world’s highest paid player on a reported salary of 365,000 euros ($497,100) a week.
Eto’o has shown his predatory instincts remain strong, snatching several opportunist goals for Chelsea, closing down goalkeepers and defenders and hoping for a lucky break. He destroyed Manchester United with a hat-trick in January and scored vital goals against title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal.