Believe me, the prospect of Catalonia’s favourite Cameroonian becoming a legend for Real Madrid instead of Barcelona was a very serious possibility. After all, he did play for them!
That’s right! As a fresh-faced seventeen year-old starlet developing from the famous African Kadjia Sports academy back home in Cameroon, Samuel Eto’o was spotted by a local talent scout for Los Blancos in the very early stages of his footballing career – promptly before signing professional terms with the club to allow him to go out on loan.
During this time, Eto’o went on loan with the likes of Leganes and Espanyol before he was courted by a plucky seaside outfit called RCD Mallorca. While there, ‘Sammie’ became a fan’s favourite for his short-term employers …
… where scoring an average of a goal every other game across a half-season arose a ‘fork-in-the-road’ moment for the talented forward.
After three successive loans away from the Santiago Bernabeu, Samuel Eto’o contract was nearing its expiration … and so he had a choice to make. Does he either: stick it out with Real Madrid to stake a claim for a starting role there, or does he look for pastures new with another club and work his way up through the ranks of Spanish football through consistent, assured first-team involvement.
Well, two things happened in quick succession which forced Eto’o’s hand in making his ultimate decision.
Firstly, as we’ve discussed in a previous article surrounding Luis Figo’s move to Real Madrid in 2000, the club were going through its first ground-breaking Galactico period – which didn’t include promoting some obscure lad from their academy amongst their globe-trotting registrar. Then, Mallorca committed to putting down a club-record transfer fee in excess of £4 million for Samuel Eto’o to sign full-time terms with Los Bermellones.
Nevertheless, Real Madrid sought to ‘protect‘ their initial investment to ensure that they get first right of refusal over Eto’o in case he came good at Mallorca and encouraged them to reverse their decision to sell him. This happens far more frequently than you might think – where big clubs abuse their status to assume that whoever was once associated with them would be begging to pick up a return phone call to come back to them.
However, after four in-form seasons thereafter with RCD Mallorca, Samuel Eto’o was ready to do anything but return to Madrid. In fact, he was aching to do the opposite of that!
Instead, Eto’o had discovered that there was a new dynasty building over in the independent state of Catalonia – where a Barcelona outfit (ran by Dutch legend Frank Rijkaard, and hell-bent on disturbing Real Madrid’s impending glory with the Galacticos) were intent on spoiling the party.
And so it came to be, that once Barcelona had beaten out competition to sign the coveted playmaker Ronaldinho from Paris Saint-Germain before courting Eto’o (more on that here), it happened to be that Samuel was far more interesting in joining that new project than whatever association he maintained for his previous time at Real Madrid.
108 goals in 144 appearances for the Blaugrana proves that this was a very fair choice for Samuel Eto’o to make at this point in his career. And personally, I deem the oversight in respecting his talent and rewarding it with some airtime in the famous white of Real Madrid, seeks to dispel much of the myth that reigned over that glory-hungry era.
I mean, I know the ‘butterfly effect’ exists, but just imagine what could have been achieved had they had some faith in Samuel Eto’o. The mind races …