Fourth award entitles Eto’o right to claim to be Africa’s best-ever

2010-12-22 00:00

CAIRO — A record fourth African Footballer of the Year award entitles Samuel Eto’o the right to claim to be the continent’s best-ever player, but it is a title that sits uncomfortably with the Cameroonian.

The 29-year-old Inter Milan striker crowned a year of unprecedented club success with the award, handed to him in Cairo on Monday as he finished ahead of perennial rival Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast and Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan in the polling.

The Cameroon captain has now achieved more honours and won more major medals than any other of the continent’s players, but is reluctant to accept he might be Africa’s best ever.

“That would be impossible to say. To win the Footballer of the Year four times is to create a new record, but I don’t think it gives me the right to say I am the best,” he told Reuters in Cairo after accepting his award.

“There were greats in previous generations who had different challenges and situations to me. You can’t really compare the times.

“Now there are youngsters who are climbing the ladder of success behind me and who are coming up really fast. Who is to say who is the best?”

But there is a case to be made that Eto’o’s achievements are unsurpassed by any of the other top footballers to emerge from Africa.

Monday’s award beat Abedi Pele’s trio of successive African Footballer of the Year accolades in the 1990s.

At international level, Eto’o has competed at three World Cup finals, captaining his country at this year’s tournament in South Africa.

He has won the African Nations Cup twice and 18 goals in six finals tournaments is a record that will be tough to overcome. He also won an Olympic gold medal in 2000.

But it is at club level where he has excelled. He moved to Spain as a teenager and determinedly worked his way through the difficulties of adapting to new conditions and bouts of racism to go on and prove to be one of the finest strikers in Europe.

At Barcelona he won two Uefa Champions League winners medals and scored in both the 2006 and 2009 finals, and was victorious again in May’s final with new club Inter Milan. With both teams he won domestic league and cup honours too.

The baby-faced Eto’o’s exceptional speed and finishing ability have set him apart from many of his contemporaries.

His achievements overshadow a gallery of legends, the likes of Mozambican-born Eusebio, who played in four European Cup finals but won just once, Roger Milla, who was named the best African player of the last century and Abedi Pele, who won club honours but never qualified with his country for the World Cup.

Eto’o’s achievements also easily outshine current rival Drogba but he must still match the 1995 achievement of Liberian George Weah, the only African ever crowned World Player of the Year.

“These honours are not something that you seek out, but when they come they give great pleasure. And they motivate too,” Eto’o said.

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