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Rewind to Boxing Day 1963

Barclays Premier League
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Eto'o Brutè?

Soccer often reflects the delicate twists of life and nowhere was this better highlighted than in Barcelona's destruction of Real Madrid this past weekend. The catalyst of Sunday's victory was the Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto'o who added to his pattern of scoring against the club that formerly owned his rights.

Based on Real's performance one could probably note that they are also the team formerly known as the galaticos. The goal by Eto'o was his eighth goal in 13 matches against Real and his tenth league goal for Barcelona. (He leads all La Liga players this season).

The signing of Eto'o by Barcelona last summer for approximately $30 million was considered an unnecessary extravagance at the time by some observers. Barca had more pressing needs elsewhere and also had mercurial striker Javier Saviola on the squad. However, Eto'o has been an upgrade and ensured that the on-loan Saviola has not been missed much.

Eto'o is unique in that he is one of the rare breed of strikers who is powerful and prolific enough to play alone upfront, while also being unselfish enough to be used in tandem and linked with another strike partner.

With Eto'o in such superb form, Madrid can only rue the fact that they let him slip away. The irony of course is that now he is no longer a Real Madrid player, Real pays him more attention then it did when he was actually on Real's books.

His love-hate relationship (some would argue mostly hate) with Real is probably best underscored by the treatment he received from the club when he first arrived in Spain in 1996. As a 15-year old boy, Eto'o arrived in Spain to sign with Real Madrid. The only problem was that Real had reportedly forgotten he was due to arrive that day and had not sent any representatives to pick him up from the airport. Since he spoke no Spanish at the time, Eto'o was effectively stranded at the airport for several hours that day.

This neglect from Real was to be further manifested during his time with the team. At the time of his signing, Eto'o had been touted as one of the brightest ever prospects from Africa, a delicious blend of Roger Milla and Jean Manga Onguene's sublime skills. Even so, for the most part, Real allowed Eto'o to languish in its reserves with little opportunity to feature even as a fringe squad player.

In fairness, given Real's squad depth at striker at the time, it was hard to find playing time for the raw but gifted teen. However the last 5 seasons spent at Mallorca, firstly on loan, then later sold, have allowed Eto'o to prove that he is among the elite strikers in La Liga.

It's difficult to understand the Madrid hierachy's decision-making when firstly they rejected the opportunity to buy him back from Mallorca (Real still owned a half-share of Eto'o) and then secondly endorsed the sale of Eto'o to Barcelona. Given Eto'o's propensity to score goals against Real, one would have thought the last thing Real would do was to sell him to its most hated rivals. Explanations that they didn't need yet another striker was undermined by Real's subsequent acquisition of English striker Michael Owen.

If Eto'o keeps playing like he has been, he may well end his career remembered as the finest striker Africa has produced since George Weah. Currently though he's probably better known for his often-quoted dismissal of David Beckham, of whom he once famously said, "I might not be as handsome as David Beckham, but I'm a better footballer".

Armchair Musings

With news emerging from Nou Camp that striker Henrik Larsson would be out for the season with a torn ACL suffered during the game, Barcelona's celebrations were understandably muted. With Larsson out, even more of the striking burden now rests with Eto'o and the Barcelona forward line is starting to look depleted. Look for Barca to possibly add a striker in the transfer window.

As for Larsson, it's a shame that such a great ambassador of the sport may see his career end with injury. In a very generous gesture Barcelona took it upon itself to extend Larsson's contract (it was due to expire next Summer) in order to allow Larsson peace of mind during his rehab.

Michael Owen fans everywhere breathed a recent sigh of relief when the boy-wonder recently went on one of his patented goal streaks for Madrid (six goals in seven games). His playing time came about due to the injury to David Beckham. This allowed manager Mariano Garcia Remon to experiment with a 3-striker lineup with Ronaldo and Owen upfront and Raul playing behind them. With Beckham back from injury though, Owen found himself relegated to the bench once more vs. Barcelona.

The biggest question for Owen in Spain has always been the amount of playing time he will actually be afforded, not whether or not he can score goals. If reports are true and Real has actually signed Brazilian wonder kid Robinho for next season, Owen's struggle for playing time may become even more acute.

Robinho is hailed as possibly the next Garrincha and the most explosive dribbler to emerge from Brazil in decades. I doubt any manager in the world will be able to employ a balanced lineup that will still satisfy the combined talents of Raul, Ronaldo, Robinho and Owen.

Despite blowing a 2-goal lead against Bolton over the weekend, Chelsea still looks primed to win the Premiership this season. Impressive defensively at the start of the season, Chelsea's recent offensive surge has erased all doubts about the team's ability to score and play attacking soccer.

The fuel injection that has provided this surge is mostly due to the long-awaited introduction of Arjen Robben, back after a layoff from injury. Robben, who was arguably Holland's best performer during Euro 2004, has provided electric pace, creativity and goal-scoring from his left wing spot. Compounding the headache for defenders is his ability to play upfront, on the right or behind the strikers.

His style of play is best described as Dennis Bergkamp blended with Marc Overmars. With Damien Duff and Arjen Robben, Chelsea has the luxury of fielding 2 of the best 4 left-sided players in the Premiership. If Didier Drogba starts living up to his hefty price tag and goal-scoring reputation, I doubt even Arsenal can keep pace with Chelsea this season.

West Bromwich Albion's Nigerian star Kanu recently told reporters how wearing the captain's armband has made him a better player. "It's a great responsibility. I am not only thinking about Kanu and scoring 20, 30 goals, but I am also thinking about the team."

Call me a cynic, but it's just as well Kanu's captaincy means he is no longer thinking about scoring 30 goals a season. At his current pace he's on track for around 5 Premiership goals this season.

To make matters worse, I'm not entirely sure he's become a better player either. His astounding miss a couple of weeks ago vs. Middlesborough ranks in my mind as one of the most inexplicable misses I've ever seen in soccer. From literally one-yard out from an open goal, Kanu managed not only to miss the target but to also scoop the ball over the crossbar at a next to impossible angle.

A blindfolded donkey facing the wrong way standing in the same spot would have scored. The miss best sums up why Arsenal gave up on the enigmatic hitman. Although gifted with sublime skill and the ability to make the difficult look easy, Kanu also infuriatingly makes the easy look difficult.

Jen Chang is the U.S. editor for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at: armchairsweeper@gmail.com