Oops, he's done it again. Samuel Eto'o has announced his retirement from international football, and this time, he says there will be no turning back. Eto'o described his decision as "definitive," but there may be more drama to follow.
Eto'o was left out of the latest Cameroon national squad for the first round of African Nations' Cup (ANC) qualifiers, which will see the Indomitable Lions travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and host Ivory Coast. By implication, he was also axed as captain, and the armband has been handed to Stephane Mbia. It seemed the double snub was where Eto'o drew the line.
That much is understandable. The 34-year-old is, if nothing else, the public face of Cameroon football. He is their most recognisable player, especially to supporters abroad, their most decorated, and one of their most experienced. To be swept out like last night's leftovers would not have sat well with him, however necessary the need to address the morning after was.
Cameroon left their reputation on the floor at the World Cup, where they went from refusing to board a plane to get to the tournament because of a pay dispute to a 4-0 thrashing by Croatia in which their infighting became embarrassing. Some members of Cameroon's team got physical with the opposition (Alex Song elbowed Mario Mandzukic in the back). Others got physical with each other (Benoit Assou-Ekotto head-butted teammate Benjamin Moukandjo). Unsurprisingly, Song and Assou-Ekotto were also left off the latest squad.
How coach Volker Finke survived is anyone's guess, but since he did, he had no choice but to clean out ahead of the next assignment. In total, 13 of the World Cup touring party were dumped for the ANC qualifiers, and eight uncapped players were named in Finke's squad. Eto'o is only one of the men missing out, and his recent history could not have justified anything else.
After playing in only the first of Cameroon's three World Cup matches, he was sidelined with a knee injury and has not played a game since. His chances of changing that appeared slim until a couple of days ago because he was without a club. Eto'o was released by Chelsea at the end of last season and was picked up by Everton only this week.
If he finds form with them, talk will turn to whether Eto'o would consider an international comeback. Do not be too surprised if he does.
Months before his "definitive" announcement, Eto'o declared himself young enough to compete in another World Cup after 2014 because he will be only 37 by the time Russia 2018 rolls around. By the time that happens, Cameroon may decide that they need him again, the same way they decided they needed then 42-year-old Roger Milla in 1994, and there's no reason to believe Eto'o won't agree, the way Milla did.
There seems to be an everlasting link between Cameroon and Eto'o, as neither seem to be able to do without each other. Eto'o is his country's all-time top scorer (56 goals), and he is often the man they pin their hopes on when they are looking to achieve something. He is also their chief troublemaker. In his run-ins with the FA, he has warned numerous times that he would walk out, such as during last September's dispute with Finke and the September before that. There have also been suspensions, such as the 15-match ban that was later reduced to four after he led a player strike about (you guessed it) bonuses and accusations that the FA was after his life.
But for all the accolades and antagonisms Eto'o has racked up, there are still some milestones he has not reached. Eto'o is not Cameroon's most-capped player. He needs another 19 matches to catch Rigobert Song, and while Eto'o is the leading goal scorer at ANC with 18 goals, Eto'o has failed to make a major impact on World Cups. He also has yet to announce full confidence in the administrators running the game in his home country. Those things may mean Eto'o could return for more, be it on the field or behind the scenes, and change his mind about how "definitive" his exit really is.