Signing players in the twilight of their career who have sampled illustrious glories always comes with a measure of risk. Having achieved all of their major ambitions, does the desire still linger? Do they still have the class to cut it at the top level? Can they help inspire a supposed lesser side to bigger and better things?
These kinds of questions were asked of Samuel Eto’o when it was announced the veteran striker would be joining Everton on a two-year deal. After all, the Cameroonian hadn’t really sparkled at the forefront of Chelsea’s team during his first Premier League campaign and at the age of 33, perhaps the three-time Champions League winner was a player after one last payday.
But in the infancy of his time as a Toffee, the former Barcelona and Internazionale striker has a unanimously positive impression. His latest crucial intervention came in Everton’s 2-1 victory over West Ham, in which an invigorated Eto’o emerged from the bench to light up Goodison Park and assist Leon Osman’s match winning goal.
It wasn’t the first time Eto’o has made a critical impact on proceedings in Everton blue. The signs were encouraging in his first ever appearance at Goodison Park when he made a classy goalscoring cameo against former club Chelsea. Since the club’s No. 5 made his debut for the Toffees, he’s gone on to score four goals and notch two assists.
But his contribution extends beyond statistics. When on the pitch, Eto’o is a like the conductor in an orchestra. The 33-year-old is in constant conversation with his teammates, showing where he wants the ball played and even when he’s in possession, Eto’o is pointing where runs should be made. He’s a player that oozes class with every touch, pass and dribble.
Roberto Martinez has described the Cameroon international as a “gift from the footballing Gods” for the football club and while Eto’o may not possess the blistering dynamism that made him one of the most feared centre forward players on the planet in Catalonia and Milan, he’s adapted his game in a distinguished manner that only the very best can.
For a young player like Romelu Lukaku, who has been semi-prolific but remains a little rough around the edges, there could be no better role model. There is so much nous for the burly 21-year-old to tap into and it’s encouraging for Evertonians that the former Chelsea pairing seem to have struck up a major affinity on and off the pitch.
“I’ve been blessed to be working with him” said the burly Belgian, per Sky Sports. “I spend most of the time with him. I come in at the same time as he does, I leave at the same time. We do everything together on and off the pitch as well.”
During his stint with Everton, Eto’o has been most impressive in his role as a withdrawn forward. While we were used to seeing him bursting beyond defences in his halcyon days, now he’s a player that conjures up space between the back line. His touch and manipulation of the ball is a joy to behold, and on the occasions he does find himself in front of goal, that clinical edge resurfaces.
He’s been used sparingly but astutely by Martinez, and with an FA Cup campaign and most probably a Europa League knockout stage to negotiate, that’s a trend that looks likely to continue. But as the season draws on and the pressure games come thick and fast, having a player of Eto’o’s incomparable experience will be vital to what’s an otherwise young squad.
Perhaps most importantly, Eto’o seems to be unashamedly enjoying his time at Goodison Park. The pressure at Everton doesn’t quite compare to that of Chelsea, and the Cameroonian’s performances of freedom and fluidity have been a firm indicator of that. Indeed, Eto’o’s hilarious appearance in the club’s Christmas advertisement depicts a man who is loving life on Merseyside:
For Everton that can only be good news. Eto’o’s displays have been an undeniable bright spot in what’s been a turbulent start to the campaign and his influence will surely do plenty to help the likes of Lukaku, Ross Barkley and other young stars fulfil their undeniable potential.
And even at this late stage of his career, as Eto’o continues to adapt to Martinez’s principles and the robust nature of English football, perhaps there is still some more to come from this wonderfully decorated player.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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