Samuel Eto’o has won plenty of trophies, scored plenty of goals, and played in plenty of different systems. He has often played as a center-forward, finishing plays and scoring lots of goals, but for Inter Milan, under the orders of Jose Mourinho, Eto’o wasn’t used as a finisher, but maybe more as a supporter. Now Rafael Benitez has a new position for Eto’o in mind, instead of sacrificing the player to provide defensive cover, Benitez wants his Eto’o to score more goals.
Eto’o used to be Barcelona’s assassin, quick and precise with his runs towards goal, served by Xavi or Iniesta leaving him to provide the final touch for the goal. Eto’o was Barcelona’s adaptable striker in a 4-3-3, changing positions with Messi and Henry to help his teammates score goals of their own. Eto’o was the perfect striker for Barcelona, providing goals and sacrificing himself for the team, a creative and intelligent player who always knew when to be where. The Cameroon striker was a key player in Barcelona’s treble in the 2008-09 season, but when Barcelona decided to give Eto’o away to receive Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they lost their hardworking goalscorer, and they got a relatively lazy center-forward.
When Eto’o went to Inter Milan to play under Jose Mourinho, he was introduced to a whole new system: one which didn’t revolve around his attacking movement, but one which required a lot more defensive work from him. While during the beginning of the season Eto’o played in a 4-3-1-2 (next to Diego Milito supported by Sneijder), as the season went on, Mourinho changed formation, slowly shifting Eto’o wider and wider. This eventually became a 4-2-1-3 in attack, with Sneijder behind Pandev, Milito, and Eto’o on the right, and a 4-2-3-1 in defense, with Milito left as a lone striker, and Pandev and Eto’o playing defensively. In this system Inter Milan was a counter-attacking machine, but Eto’o was used in a position which maybe isn’t his best.
Eto’o played almost as a full-back in certain matches, providing defensive support for the entire right wing, letting Maicon charge forward with his rampaging runs. This was especially evident during Champions League matches, for example when Inter Milan played Barcelona in the semi-final at the San Siro: Eto’o had a much more passive and defensive role as Maicon went forward to score in the match that ended 3-1 for Inter Milan. Eto’o sacrificed himself in this way many times, but he retained his goalscoring instinct with his 16 goals for Inter Milan, 12 in the Serie A, two in the Champions League, one in the Coppa Italia, and one in the Supercoppa Italia.
Now, Rafael Benitez has already talked to Eto’o, and he has reassured the player that he will have a more attacking role in the upcoming season. Benitez doesn’t want to change the system, he wants to improve it, a higher defensive line is the basis of the new Inter Milan. This will allow more possession, giving Inter a Spanish style, and it will allow for players like Eto’o more freedom to push offensively, with no need to drop back into the full-back position. Rafael Benitez wants to change the 4-2-3-1 into something more similar to a 4-2-1-2-1, raising the two offensive wingers higher up, creating a system similar to a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-1-3.
This system would throw away Eto’o’s vertical movement on the wing, and it would allow Eto’o to cut inside the box, exchange with Milito and Sneijder, and be as dangerous as his Barcelona days. Benitez is trying to get the best out of the Barcelona player while at the same time using the other players like Sniejder and Pandev to supply Eto’o and Milito. And if Moratti were to buy Dirk Kuyt, there would be a new “hardworker” to provide defensive cover, allowing Eto’o to play even more offensively and hopefully score more goals.