World Soccer: What are your first football memories as a boy growing up in Cameroon?
Samuel Eto’o: The great Cameroon side with Roger Milla. But that doesn’t make me at all unusual: that’s the seminal moment for any child from my generation in Cameroon. What the team achieved in the 1990 World Cup was something incredible.
So, did you model yourself on Milla? Have you always been a striker?
No, I admired him hugely, he was my hero, but I started off as a central midfielder. Then I moved out to the right wing and finally to centre-forward. It’s not worked out too badly.
Your goal-scoring record is phenomenal. What’s the key to scoring goals season after season?
It’s all about hunger and commitment. I always say that the one player who I admire is Raul. He typifies what I am talking about – that desire, season after season, to keep scoring goals, to never ever let up, even when people are ignoring him or questioning him. I keep scoring because I keep wanting to score. I am never satisfied. I always fight.
You joined Real Madrid as a 16-year-old and were loaned out, rather than given a chance in the first team, before you finally moved to Mallorca. Was there ever a moment when you thought that it wouldn’t work out?
No, never. I always said that I wanted to play football and I wanted to play at the highest level. It doesn’t matter what road you take, there are many different routes to the top but they can all take you there. I was convinced that I would get there. I never had any doubts at all.
Is success sweeter because it has come at the expense of Real Madrid? You seem especially motivated every time you play them.
No. Success is sweet because my team wins, nothing else matters. I want the
fans of Barcelona to be happy. I’m not playing to prove a point to anyone else. I’m playing to win.
You seem to be quite a spontaneous and passionate person. You have also been involved in a number of controversial incidents. Have you ever regretted anything you have done?
I have always tried to be true to myself. People react to that the way they want to but that is how I am. I am not pretending; this is me. I can make mistakes but there is no point dwelling on that.
You have also made a stand for what you think is right and threatened to walk off the pitch in Zaragoza after racist abuse from fans. Do you think your stand on racism has made a difference?
[Smiles] I would rather not talk about that.
Is there something the authorities – the league, the government, the federation – could do to improve the situation?
They are there to look for solutions to these problems and they know what needs to be done. I am not the person to tell them. I shouldn’t have to either. I have to trust that they will know how to act.
Maybe they could start by treating African football with more respect. How did you feel about so many clubs complaining about the African Nations Cup when they would never say the same about a European or South American tournament?
The tournament needs to be understood and given more respect. But the needs of clubs and national federations need to be considered. The governing bodies of European football need to reach an agreement with the governing bodies of African football. But I think it will be difficult to change the dates because we have changed it once and there are few options. What date can we change to next? Let’s hope they sit down and talk to find the best solution for all sides.
Which players do you especially admire?
I always looked up to Roger Milla as a kid, but now there are certain strikers that I love to watch. There is a player who I believe in a very short time will be a genuinely great player: my team-mate Bojan Krkic. The kid has everything. He has to keep growing, improving and developing that special aura of magic that strikers have but he is well on the way. What he has achieved at 17 is beyond what any normal player would be capable of.
What about a defender who’s especially hard to face?
I would pick out Dani Alves and Carles Puyol. I have the good fortune to have Puyol alongside me… and it’s a relief that we have signed Alves now. He’s a defender I used to enjoy playing against because it was such a challenge, so hard. Playing against someone like that makes you work to improve yourself as a player.
Do you watch other leagues?
Yes, all the time. I watch the Italian league, the English league, the German league, the French league. I am crazy about football, really hooked.
This summer it looked like you might leave Spain. Would you be disappointed if you didn’t experience a different league? Is that an ambition?
There were offers but I made the decision to stay at Barcelona and I honestly think that was the best decision I have made in my life. I don’t have a burning desire to try a different league. I have lived all of my career so far in Spain and if I finish it here then fine. I’m happy here. I have no intention of leaving.