Having threatened to give up playing for his country before, Cameroon’s all-time leading goal-scorer announced he was definitely retiring this time, ending an international career that began a day before his 16th birthday and took in four World Cups, two African Cup of Nations titles, an Olympic gold medal and a record four African Player of the Year awards.
Eto’o leaves international football as Africa’s most decorated player.
The 33-year-old forward played more than 100 games for his country and scored 56 goals, the most by anyone for Cameroon. He announced his decision to give up days after he was left out of Cameroon’s squad for next month’s African Cup qualifiers and then stripped of the captaincy.
”I wish to inform you that I put a definitive end to my international career,” Eto’o said on his official Facebook page in a statement published in both English and French. ”On this occasion, I wish to thank all Africans in particular and all my fans around the world for their love and unconditional support. Find here the expression of my deep gratitude.”
The talents of Eto’o were undeniable – proved also by his success with some of Europe’s biggest clubs like Barcelona and Inter Milan – but he was sometimes troublesome with his national team. He was once banned for 15 games by Cameroon for rallying players to go on strike and refusing to play a friendly game in 2011. His ban was later reduced to just four games after a public outcry in Cameroon and the intervention of the country’s president – a sign of how much he was admired at home.
His leadership didn’t always inspire those around him and at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, Cameroon turned in a woeful performance that was criticized fiercely by fans back home.
Cameroon coach Volker Finke said this week that ”after two squandered World Cups, we need profound changes.”
And after Finke left out Eto’o from the squad to play in qualifiers next month, the Cameroon sports ministry said it was dropping Eto’o as captain permanently and replacing him with midfielder Stephane Mbia.
At his height, Eto’o was one of the best strikers in the world. Making his debut internationally as a 15-year-old underlined his rare talent.
He won back-to-back African Cups in 2000 and 2002 and Olympic gold at the Sydney Games in 2000. Eto’o was at his peak personally for Cameroon at the African Cups in 2006 and 2008, where he finished both as the tournament’s leading scorer.
But despite the presence of Eto’o, Cameroon never reached any great heights at the World Cup during his career. In fact, in four World Cups, Eto’o won just one game. But he scored a record number of goals for Cameroon in his 17-year-career and his strike rate was a goal every two games.
His retirement follows another great African striker, Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba, who also chose to give up internationals after the World Cup. The decision by Eto’o frees him up to concentrate on his new club challenge after signing this week for Everton in the Premier League.