IN CONTRAST TO THE CAF AWARDS ceremonies held over the previous three years--in Lome, Lagos and Accra, when the controversial or rather, inexplicable choice of winners did tremendous damage to the brand's credibility, the African football fraternity was, fortunately, in near unanimous agreement over the crowning of Samuel Eto'o as the continent's top player of 2010.
The Cameroonian striker may have had a poor international year with the national team, the Indomitable Lions, but his impeccable European club performance with the Italian Serie A side, Internazionale (or Inter, for short) put him head and shoulders above his continental peers.
Winning the Italian championship (the Scudetto), the Coppa Italia, the UEFA Champions League, as well as the FIFA Club World Cup, all in one season with Inter, made it impossible for Ghana's Asamoah Cyan and Ivorian Didier Drogba, the runners-up, to effectively compete with Eto'o.
Having won the African Best Player of the Year award in 2003, 2004 and 2005, Eto'o has now surpassed the incredible achievements of Ghana's Abedi Pele Ayew and Liberia's George Weah, both three-time winners.
"It is a pleasure to be a winner again, to take it for the fourth time against such top opposition," Eto'o said during the post-awards press conference. "These honours are not something that you seek out but when they come, they give great pleasure. And they motivate too."
As outstanding as Eto'o's current achievement is, there is little doubt that the 29-year-old ought to have achieved this feat at the penultimate awards ceremony in Accra, where he controversially lost out to Didiet Drogba. Winning every Spanish and European club laurel with his old club Barcelona in the 2008 season, Eto'o ought to have won his fourth "Best Player" title in Ghana, which would have made his crowning in Cairo even more remarkable.
Undisputedly the most decorated player in the history of the African game, one would think Eto'o, a two-time winner of the Africa Cup of Nations, in 2000 and 2002, would have few problems with describing himself as the continent's greatest player. But surprisingly, he is loathe to engage in self-adulation.
"I don't think winning the award four times gives me the right to say I'm the best," he says humbly. "There were greats in previous generations who had different challenges and situations to me. You can't really compare the times."
The Nkon-born Eto'o, who left Cameroon as a fragile youngster from the Kadji Sports Academy, to join the Spanish side Real Madrid as a 16-year-old in 1997, has had a tough ride to the top. Unable to earn a first-team shirt at Real throughout his contract with the club, he was farmed out to several teams including CD Leganes and Espanyol, before he got his major break with Real Mallorca in 2000.
Scoring 60 goals by the time he ended his career with Mallorca in 2004, Eto'o finally earned a reputation as a marksman ready to showcase his talent with a top-end Spanish club. Barcelona paid $30m for his sublime talent that year, but the transfer to the Nou Camp was not without controversy. Real Madrid, still owning transfer rights to Eto'o, was reluctant to sell him to their arch-rival. And as financially lucralona remains one of the biggest mistakes the board of Real Madrid and Fiorentino Perez, its then president, ever made.
Stung by Madrid's failure to acknowledge his talent, Eto'o compelled them to recognise his worth by scoring several goals against Madrid, some match-winning ones, whilst featuring for Mallorca and Barca.
After a distinguished career at Barcelona, in which he won three Spanish League titles, two UEFA Champions League trophies, as well as the Copa Del Ray (Spanish King's Cup) and the Super Copa, an unfortunate parting of the ways with Pep Guardiola, his former Barca team-mate who later became his coach, led to Eto'o's departure for Inter for the 2009 season. …