With Didier Drogba fighting to overcome a fractured arm to play in the tournament, the media’s search for Africa’s great hope has settled, perhaps somewhat improbably, on Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o. Not that the Inter Milan striker is anything but a supremely gifted forward who gives every last drop of sweat for the team — the team around him, save for the central midfield duo of Arsenal’s Alex Song and Lyon’s Jean Makoun, are fairly limited, meaning he has a heavy load to carry. He’s supremely aware of his responsibility both to lift the team to greater heights and to honor the aspirations of a nation that looks to him as a savior.
And the stress is beginning to tell, with Eto’o very publicly wrestling with his demons. He stormed out of a press conference last week when reporters tried to ask him about his threat to quite the World Cup before it even kicks off, after his idol, Roger Milla, questioned his commitment to the national cause.
Milla is an African football legend, having — at age 38 — led Cameroon to one of the greatest ever upsets at the World Cup, it’s 1-0 defeat of Argentina in 1990’s opening game. (They went all the way to the quarter finals).
Eto’o was just nine years old at the time, and he proclaimed Milla his idol — and then proceeded to succeed in European football to an extent that far eclipsed Milla. Perhaps it was jealousy that prompted Milla last month to declare that Eto’o “has done much for Barça and Milan buyt nothing for Cameroon”. Eto’o was so rattled that he threatened to walk out on the national team. He didn’t, of course, but his performance in the friendly against Portugal, where after a petulant and distracted performance he got himself sent off (see clip at top) for a kung-fu tackle on Portugal’s Duda, suggests that, like England’s Rooney, Eto’o could be an explosion waiting to happen — and one that opposing defenders will be doing their best to ignite.