Former Inter striker Samuel Eto’o has recalled some of his memories from his times with Inter and Barcelona ahead of the two sides meeting in the Champions League tomorrow.
“I played with the best teammates, under the best coaches, in the best stadiums in the world, with the best fans and against the best fans. I remember the applause of those of Bayern Munich in Madrid, when I went to greet them: it was priceless,” he began an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport.
“I cannot explain what happened between Materazzi and Balotelli after the match at San Siro against Barcelona, the one where Balotelli threw his shirt on the ground. If I re-imagine that image of that dressing room again, I see the spirit of our group.
“I told Marco, ‘congrats, you’re a real man.’ And I told everyone else: “We will qualify from the group.” After the return leg at Camp Nou I was exhausted. Zanetti came up to me and said: “Listen, listen. Keep on fighting.” Every time I see Inter’s matches I still hear Zanetti’s voice.”
He continued, “Was Inter the best time of my career? No. That was when I was with Mallorca although half of my footballing honour comes from my time at Inter, the other comes from Barcelona.
“Barça was the showcase that allowed me to make millions of African children dream that everything is possible in life. Inter confirmed it. I won back-to-back trebles with two different teams. I proved that I had done well to not listen to those who said to me, ‘you don’t have to go to Italy, there people of colour have problems.’ However I actually found that it was less than in other places.”
He was then asked whether he made a mistake in saying Balotelli could have become the next Lionel Messi or Ronaldinho.
“Mario loves me like a little brother, but he has never played to even 10% of his ability: the Mario that I saw in training, when he could be bothered, has never been seen in a match situation. It is too bad. In some moments he has been able to enter the hearts of those who looked at him, but he could have been in them every day for twenty years.”
Next the former Cameroon international spoke on former manager Jose Mourinho’s hiatus from football and revealed an anecdote about the Portuguese tactician.
“In football there are moments in which it is good to stop for a while. For twenty years he had been used to managing, fighting, winning and working to improve his players. I am happy to see him relax a bit.
“I remember after I came back from the African Cup of Nations in 2010 and he proceeded to keep me out for four games. I asked to talk to him as I was very annoyed. He explained to me, ‘you are my best player but the team is doing well without you’. Those words changed how I saw a lot of things and I learned that sometimes, in fact almost always, the whole team is the star of the team and that does not just apply in football.”
Next he discussed the current state of state in his opinion.
“There are good players, a good coach and the club is putting a lot of money into things. I am not a magician but my dream is to come and celebrate the next Champions League won by Inter at San Siro. I feel the right energy to dream about such big things.”
He then proceeded to speak on Barcelona’s poor start to the season ahead of them hosting Inter in the Champions League.
“Messi has played very little. When he is playing, he is Barcelona. I hope he does not play against Inter. If he doesn’t play it’s a 50/50 as to who will win but if he plays it it more difficult than that.”
He then spoke on current Inter number 9 Romelu Lukaku.
“I know him both on and off the pitch. We we’re together at Everton. He is very intelligent, even if he is young and he has said important things about the problem of racism. There are players who feel like stars and other people who are normal. He falls into the second group.”
Eto’o famously tried to walk off the field when racially abused but was convinced to stay on by referee Victor Esquinas Torres. Daniele Orsato also recently stopped a game between Atalanta and Fiorentina when Dalbert was getting abused.
“The two referees deserves Balon d’Or’s for their actions whilst I have a lot of anger toward the football leaders. That being said, Gianni Infantino said something very important on racism at the Best awards.
“We need tough rules, not just a fine of €100. These rules need to be respected and it is everyone’s responsibility. So I say, please, football leaders and politicians, we are relying on you to make decisions that can change everyone’s life.
“Stadium closures are wrong. They punish those who have done no wrong. Around the stadiums there are so many security cameras and you can see exactly what anyone is saying at any given moment. Those people must never enter a stadium again. Never. And they must never be allowed to enter any stadium.”
He concluded by discussing his thoughts on the Curva Nord’s recent release regarding racism in football, in which they claimed chants Lukaku was subjected to were not racist.
“I still talk to some of those in the Curva, but I have not yet spoken to them about that letter. If you want to upset someone, you have a million ways to do it: I’ll tell you, it’s my duty to respect them. but I’ll tell them I think it’s right for them to rectify their actions.”