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Eto'o settling in to unusual surroundings

There was a time when Samuel Eto'o and Jose Mourinho were portrayed as sworn enemies who were destined to spend their careers as opponents rather than allies.

Back in the days when Mourinho's Chelsea and Eto'o's Barcelona side were embroiled in explosive and acrimonious Champions League battles, the pair appeared to have differences that could never be reconciled.

Yet after one of the most expensive transfers in football history, Eto'o finds himself under Mourinho's command at Inter Milan, with the Italian club pulling off a masterstroke by securing the services of the proven Cameroonian goal poacher and pocketing the inflated sum of £40m in exchange for Swedish hit man Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The fact that Ibrahimovic is only regarded as a truly world class performer in Italy and has rarely looks a threat against Europe's best in the Champions League made the financial terms curiously one-side in the favour of Inter, with Eto'o content to have made the switch to the Serie A champions.

"It felt as if it was the right time to move on to another important championship and look to meet some fresh challenges head on," begins Eto'o. "It's like I'm starting from scratch again, which is an exciting and inspiring prospect.

"I have been in Spain for my entire pro career and had achieved far more than I could ever have predicted. I had five largely fantastic years at Barcelona and came to maturity there as a world-class striker. I won big trophies and had the pleasure of lining up with some of the biggest names around in football.

"Obviously, in the end people say I was forced out and with any working environment, there will be tensions and disagreements. Still, I don't want to dwell on the negatives. The satisfactions completely outweigh the bad moments: the incredible noise made by the 110,000 fans at the Camp Nou when were winning, the great attacking football we played. They are magical memories to take with me."

Inter are certainly getting a very different type of striker by swapping Ibrahimovic for Eto'o, with the new man quick to point out that his job is not to fill the void left by the departing hero.

"I don't like being compared to other players, whether past or present," he protests. "It doesn't make sense. I'm Samuel Eto'o and I have my own qualities, my own track record, which I think stands up to any sort of examination.

"My career has been a good one, probably better than good. I've won everything possible during my time at Barca and very importantly, I've always been present on the big occasion, so I will not be concerning myself with what Ibrahimovic did at Inter. My job now is to reward the faith my new club have put in me."

Eto'o is often portrayed as something of a high maintenance character, with his unbreakable self-confidence allowing him to come across as arrogant at times. Mourinho is hardly the manager to be linking up with if you are that way inclined, but the striker insists he is happy to be working with 'The Special One', even after their previous disagreements.

"The ties between Chelsea and Barca were played in a hot, highly-competitive atmosphere and at such times, words can be misinterpreted," he reflects. "I'm proud to play for a coach who has proved himself a winner at the highest level, in England, in Italy and with FC Porto. He's charismatic, has strong opinions and wants to be the best. I can relate to that.

"It's obvious to me that Mourinho is one of those natural coaches, a guy who knows exactly what he desires and how to go about getting it. Players like clarity and they get it with him, so I can easily understand players wanting to go that extra mile for him.

"Maybe we are similar in many ways. All top professionals are perfectionists. When things don't go as they should, we look for the reasons, so we can put it right. Some people don't realise how driven we are, how much we want to win and to improve. I'm 28 and no way do I think I've fulfilled all my potential."

So Eto'o is convinced he can shine in Serie A, even though some have suggested the slower pace of the game may not suit the striker. "I feel most comfortable in a team which moves the ball around sweetly and goes at the opposition as much as possible," he concedes.

"I've heard that Inter have a power game, but I wouldn't agree with this assessment from what I've seen. We have more than enough players who are technically gifted and move well. We have an intelligent coach and intelligent players. Given time, I'll adapt to my new team-mates and them to me. I'm especially looking forward to working alongside Diego Milito as we are both killers in front of goal.

"Inter is a club with a great name and a winning tradition, while Serie A is still a top league. I don't go along with the idea that Italian football is in decline and I wouldn't be here if I believed that.

"The special thing about Inter is their intense ambition and I share this. They are the undisputed leading club in Italy, but they really crave the Champions League. The club are tired of early elimination and I'm honoured that the Inter president (Massimo Moratti) sees me as a key component in the mission to win in Europe.

"What we have to be careful about is making the Champions League our priority. We must not lose sight of the other vital objective, which is defending the Serie A title. When you start to pick and choose the games you are especially keen to win, you get into difficulty."

Eto'o could have earned much more money if he had agreed to a switch to Arab-backed Manchester City this summer, but it seems his ambition was more important than his bank balance.

"City have a very interesting project," he adds. "They want to end the dominance in England of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. However, they could not offer me Champions League football. Top level European competition is a must, something I cannot do without."

Some footballers would be nursing bruised pride if they were levered out of the club riding high at the top of the European game and used as a makeweight in a deal for a another striker.

The ever-confident Eto'o has probably come to terms with his demotion by convincing himself that he was the more valuable facet of the deal that took Ibrahimovic to Barca.


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