Rafa’s Eto’o: More goals

by Niccolo Conte on July 28, 2010 · 5 comments

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.

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5 comments… read them below or add one

1 Rami S. July 28, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Hi Niccolo,

Many praise Mourinho’s tactics and his ability to manage players (and I don’t disagree with most of that), but he really did not invent a new system or create something original. He actually followed a mix of an Italian strategy along with some minor adjustments.

Mourinho relies on a strong defensive unit + GK (Julio Cesar) and then makes sure he can win games even if by a score of 1-0. When he was in charge of Chelsea, they were not really entertaining and with Inter he was after the results as opposed to the attractive approach. Some used to mix both and win just like Barca do but not Mourinho.

His style reminds me a bit of Arrigo Sacchi with Italy during the 1990s. In any case, I believe Eto’o will have more chances to score but the question is whether this will come at the expense of D. Milito scoring less. Last season, Diego was key to Inter’s treble as he scored against Siena in Serie A, Roma in Coppa Italia and had the double against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

This piece I wrote shows the majority believe D. Milito was crucial for the treble as the poll proves: http://www.serieatalk.com/diego-milito-inters-hero-as-nerazzurri-complete-historic-treble/2432

As such, one wonders if more for Eto’o means less for Diego.


2 Niccolo July 30, 2010 at 9:21 am

Hi Rami,

I’ve always thought that Mourinho’s success is 50% motivation, 30% tactics, and 20% luck. Mourinho is a very lucky man and I remember many last minute goals from last season and even the one before, where Inter didn’t deserve to win.
For me Benitez will be successful at Inter, he wants to improve what Mourinho did last season, not throw it away and start again. As for Eto’o, I’m not sure what to think, but I’m sure that in the end he will find a way to play where he scores goals along with Milito.


3 Rami S. July 31, 2010 at 1:25 am

Hello Niccolo,

You’ve touched upon a topic I am quite intrigued by and have debated for years now! Mourinho is a master motivator and great at getting the best out of his players but I believe he is not the best tactician out there. We are in full agreement there.

I’d say luck (at 20%) is a fair assessment and I’d say all teams need luck (whether couple of calls their way or against the teams chasing them, a lucky goal, opposition facing unlucky injuries, etc…). I’d say motivation as tool by Mourinho would probably gather about 60% because the Portuguese is by far the best at motivating his players.

I’d put his tactics and choices at 20% only. He got lucky against some of the Serie A teams and Inter won a few games which should have ended in a tie. At the end, Inter deserved to win the title not because of their performances but because Roma threw away the title which brings another topic- that of Ranieri’s eternal destiny to finish second best.

Going back to Mourinho, he was lucky to be at Chelsea at the right time and with a massive budget, then with Inter who have the best players and a huge budget and now Real Madrid who have some of the biggest stars in the game & rely on a big budget.

I am not sure if you saw this piece I wrote a while back but we all know Mourinho is not just a master motivator but also a person who craves the attention of the media. Here’s the link and thankfully the majority have figured Mourinho’s manipulative skills out because there are still some considerable numbers who out him up amongst some of the all-time greats which is inaccurate:



4 nfami chamberlin October 4, 2010 at 11:38 am

bonjour samuel ,infatiguable combattant assassin des gardiens de buts pour quand ton prochain match au stade omnisport de Douala ta ville de residence ça nous manque beaucoup les match à douala ton public de coeur on ve te sentir en chaire et en sueur dans cette arene merci


5 Bobjazz from TO October 14, 2010 at 11:10 pm

I think Eto’o is a far more talented striker than Millito and that’s why Barcelona is suffering today because of their mistake of trading Eto’o. Even though Mourinho new that Eto’o was a better striker than Millito, he also thought Eto’o had more skills and could help better in different positions than Millito would and so he decided to use Eto’o as Messi and use Millito as Eto’o and Millito scored 23 goals while Eto’o would have scored 32 goals because he trusted his defense.


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