Ahead of the 1997/98 season, Real Madrid took the decision to loan a promising young striker by the name of Samuel Eto’o to CD Leganes, a club plying their trade in Spain’s Segunda Division. The 16-year-old’s maiden season in professional football yielded four goals, the first of which was scored in a Copa del Rey defeat away to Rayo Vallecano in September 1997.
Sixteen-and-a-half years and 300 club goals later, Eto’o admits he can’t recall that strike in the outskirts of Madrid.
‘It was a long time ago!’ he points out. After all, once you’ve scored as many goals as he has, it must be hard to keep track of them all.
‘I will do that at the end of my career when I have time to look back and reflect. For now my focus is just on the future and the next game. That’s more important. It’s nice to know I have scored that many goals but I don’t keep count. I hope and I want to score many more.’
Eto’o returned to Real Madrid after that season at Leganes but didn’t quite make the grade at the Bernabeu and joined Real Mallorca. It was on the Balearic Island that he did make a name for himself; before long he had earned a move to Barcelona and was La Liga’s top scorer, as well as a Champions League winner. That was a feat he repeated at his next side, Inter Milan. Did he think he could reach those heights when on loan at Leganes in Spain’s second tier?
‘I sweated for it,’ stresses Eto’o. ‘I thought – and I always said this to myself – that it was a possibility.
‘If now I have reached that goal – and indeed scored a lot of goals – it is because hard work has allowed me to. You have to work hard to achieve your dreams.’
A man of Eto’o’s experience will certainly prove helpful as the season reaches its climax, and the 33-year-old says he will do all he can to help both his younger colleagues and the team more broadly achieve our objectives.
The striker has certainly lived up to that promise in his last two appearances, netting crucial openers against both Spurs (the 300th goal of his club career, pictured above) and Galatasaray (number 301). The most recent of those games brought Eto’o head to head with Didier Drogba, while the win over Spurs gave him a taste of the type of London derby he can expect today.
‘I was very happy to see the reception he got,’ he says of Drogba’s return to the Bridge. ‘He did many great things at this club. We are two of the great children of Africa and it was a pleasure to play against him. It was a shame for him that he lost but it was our night in the end.
‘The game against Tottenham was difficult and it was also good,’ he recalls of our 4-0 win. ‘The atmosphere was fantastic. A derby is always a match you can take extra satisfaction from winning. The manner in which we beat Tottenham was really good too so it was a great day.’
All of Eto’o’s goals since moving to Chelsea have come at our west London home, and he is quick to praise the patience of the club’s supporters who regularly sing his name on matchday. He celebrates his goals jubilantly and in close proximity to the crowd, only serving to highlight the strong rapport he has developed with them.
‘It’s always a great pleasure to play at Stamford Bridge. I already knew it because I played here as an opponent and today it is an enormous pleasure to defend the jersey. I have already said a big thank you to our fans and I want to thank them again for the all the support they have given me and continue to give me.
‘My adaption to English football at the beginning of the season was not easy. Game after game, with lots of work, I have tried to integrate myself and show what I am about, and voila, when you work and you give everything for the cause the supporters recognise that.’
By Rupert Cane