JOHANNESBURG, March 9 – African football superstar Samuel Eto'o turns 30 Thursday having achieved so much but with many ambitions unfulfilled.
Emulating Liberian George Weah and being voted World Footballer of the Year, turning round his unsuccessful captaincy of Cameroon and helping destroy racism within the game probably top his wish list.
Weah was named the top footballer in the World, Europe and Africa in 1995 while playing for AC Milan while the best Eto’o from city rivals Inter has managed is a record four African Footballer of the Year titles.
The closest he came to the world title was a third place and the odds are against him despite a phenomenal Serie A scoring record this season as age favours superstars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
After that record fourth success in the African poll last December, Eto’o played down suggestions that he is greatest footballer produced by the ‘dark continent’.
"To win the footballer of the year title four times is to create a new record, but I do not think it gives me the right to say I am the best," he stressed.
"There were African greats in previous generations who had different challenges and situations to me. You cannot really compare me with them," claimed the native of Nkon village near Atlantic commercial city Douala.
Eto’o has found scoring for Inter in all competitions easier than lifting four-time African champions Cameroon out of the doldrums since replacing icon Rigobert Song as captain two years ago.
When French coach Paul le Guen inherited a demoralised team in mid-2009 one of his first moves was dropping the rapidly slowing Song and transferring the armband to Eto’o.
But the ‘Indomitable Lions’ made a meek quarter-finals exit from the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola against eventual champions Egypt and fared disastrously at the World Cup in South Africa later last year.
Considered strong contenders for a knockout place after being drawn with the Netherlands, Japan and Denmark in the first round, Cameroon lost all three games and Le Guen quit amid claims of divisions within the squad.
"I am the best striker in the history of Cameroon and African football but I have to play where the coach tells me," Eto’o said after being instructed to play an unfamiliar wide front role against Japan.
Cameroon made an unimpressive start to the 2012 Cup of Nations qualifying campaign with an away win over lowly Mauritius followed by a home draw against the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The ‘Lions’ face resurgent Senegal in Dakar on March 26 and Eto’o must rally his troops as defeat would place them in danger of missing the finals for the first time in 18 years.
Eradicating racism from European grounds is close to the heart of Eto’o, the victim of abuse from Spanish stands several times who once reacted to monkey-like grunts by imitating the animal as he celebrated a goal.
"If it is just the clubs that are fined, then people know they can get away with racism. We need to work together to find the answers — the law and the legal system can help deal with the problem," he said.
Eto’o left Africa for Real Madrid in 1997 and after being lent to three other Spanish clubs, joined Real Mallorca where his talent emerged and Barcelona took him to Camp Nou seven years ago.
"Barcelona should erect a statue for Samuel. This club has had very few strikers like him and he was key to all the titles we won," said former team-mate Andres Iniesta.
After helping Barcelona win the 2009 Champions League he moved to Inter and repeated the feat. His African accomplishments include two Cup of Nations winners medals and a record 18 goals in the finals of the competition.