World Soccer's Dan Brennan caught up with Inter Milan and Cameroon star Samuel Eto'o on the eve of the African Cup of Nations. The prolific striker discussed his exit at Barcelona, his new role with Inter and Cameroon's chances to reclaim African glory.
World Soccer: After having so much success at Barcelona, were you surprised the club let you join Inter Milan?
Eto'o: That's a question that I can't answer myself. The coach [Pep Guardiola] has to do that. I heard and read what he said about there not being a "feeling" with me -- and I keep asking myself what "feeling" means when you've always given everything on the pitch, always delivered and helped win every possible title. But I have to look forward. I'm at a great club and I think this season we will have a very good campaign.
World Soccer: After being used to playing such attacking football at Barça, is it hard adapting to a team where you have only Diego Milito and WesleySneijder helping you in attack?
Eto'o: I hope this will be corrected as we go along, because otherwise we will not go far.
World Soccer: What do you think of José Mourinho? He wasn't very complimentary about you and your Barça team in his autobiography...
Eto'o: That was at the time when Barcelona faced Chelsea and I had just a general impression. But now I can see him daily in training, I think that he is doing a good job and things are looking good.
World Soccer: You moved to Inter last summer as part payment for ZlatanIbrahimovic's transfer to Barça. What do you think about him?
Eto'o: A great player. There is no problem with him and surely he will adapt to the tactical scheme that they have at Barcelona, although we are different in our approach to the game. I hope it works out for him.
World Soccer: Do you still feel positive towards Barça despite the circumstances of your exit?
Eto'o: Of course. I still have the club and the fans in my heart.
World Soccer: Do you miss La Liga?
Eto'o: A little, yes. It was a large chunk of my life. I spent 13 years in Spain and when you spend that amount of time somewhere it has a deep influence on you. But now I'm facing a new challenge. I have to adapt and try to succeed.
World Soccer: Speaking of success, you've enjoyed a bit of that over the years, haven't you?
Eto'o: I've managed a few things, yes, and it's always a pleasure, but to keep winning you have to regard whatever you have already won as history. You must always start from scratch, find the strength to win again.
World Soccer: Is Inter bigger than Barcelona?
Eto'o: They are different. Inter shares the football limelight in Milan while, with respect to Espanyol, Barcelona represents the city, and that's why they say it's "more than a club."
World Soccer: Are you a problem player?
Eto'o: No. People can say that if they want, but I don't accept it. I work hard at my job. Like everyone, I've had controversial moments in the past, but those are already forgotten.
World Soccer: Which specific moment would you consider to have been the most significant for you while in Spain?
Eto'o: Perhaps it was having Luis Aragonés as my coach. He is like a father to me. I worked with him at Mallorca. I arrived [at Mallorca] on a low, because Real Madrid always sent me out on loan, and whenever the season ended, I'd return to Madrid without a clear idea about my future. So I stayed at Mallorca and Aragonés really shook me up. He talked to me a lot, he advised me and I stayed there for four seasons until I ended up at Barcelona. That's why I was so happy when he won the European Championship with the Spain national side, because I respect him so much as a coach and as a man.
World Soccer: Many say that you have a complex with Real Madrid because, though you played for its second-division reserve team, Castilla, in 1995-96, you never established yourself.
Eto'o: It's not like that. Over time, I became closer to Barcelona than Real Madrid, but I had very good friends among losBlancos, people who I have fond memories of. Perhaps it's just that my character is very expressive and when I win, there is an outpouring of emotion.
World Soccer: What was your lowest point in Spain?
Eto'o: Without doubt, it was when I was on loan from Real Madrid at Espanyol in 1999. The coach, Miguel Brindisi, never played me and I felt depressed there and couldn't wait to return to Madrid.
World Soccer: Do you have an idol in football?
Eto'o: Sure, Roger Milla, who was everything for Cameroon. I was lucky enough to have seen him play a great match when I was only 6. At the end of the match, Milla threw his shirt to the fans and I was very lucky to catch it. Ever since then, I was fascinated by football. At the age of 12, I was already playing with people aged 20 without many problems.
World Soccer: How did you first move to Europe?
Eto'o: I was 15 when I made my debut for the national team. Then I found out that the game was being watched by Pirri [a Real Madrid legend in the 1960s and early 1970s] and he was the one who took me to Fabio Capello, who was the coach at Real Madrid. They loaned me straight to Leganés. I actually arrived in Madrid in February 1997 when I was 16. That early experience helped me to grow and become strong inside.
World Soccer: Do you still regard yourself as "running as a black man but living as a white man?"
Eto'o: That phrase has been discussed a lot, but I think it is not always understood what I meant by it. What I meant is that you have to sacrifice to live well. I like some luxuries, such as cars, but because I pay for them with what I earn, there's no debate. And while I do like to enjoy the good things in life, I also have a charity to help children in Cameroon and I feel good doing this. I feel like I am giving back everything that football gave me. I feel privileged to be able to do what I enjoy doing and that I also get paid to do it. That gives me great pleasure.
World Soccer: Do you think that this World Cup, the first to be played in Africa, may finally be won by an African team?
Eto'o: That's my dream, but we know how difficult it is. Cameroon, fortunately, has enjoyed some success over the years and I am already lucky enough to have an Olympic gold medal, from Sydney 2000, when we beat Spain in the final. Who is to say that we can't do the same again in South Africa?
This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of World Soccer magazine. To subscribe, click here.
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