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Mysterious Samuel Eto'o retirement reflects striker's eventful national team career
YAOUNDE, Cameroon - It fits with the stormy international career of Samuel Eto'o that his retirement should be clouded in mystery, leaving his national coach unwilling to talk about it and players and Cameroon supporters unsure what to believe.
"I cannot tell if the decision is definite," Cameroon midfielder Jean Makoun said.
Once banned for 15 games by his national federation for rallying players to go on strike, and often at odds with football bosses in his country, the 32-year-old Chelsea striker told teammates he was quitting the national team after Sunday's win over Libya, which sealed a place in the final World Cup playoffs.
Eto'o has not made any public announcement, however, and has threatened to quit before.
Cameroon has just a month before the decisive tie for a place in Brazil next year. Roger Milla, Cameroon's 1990 World Cup hero and its most influential player before Eto'o, said the retirement was linked to the country's "rotten" football management amid reports Eto'o quit after arguing with coach Volker Finke over team selection.
"His decision to quit the national team is not a haphazard move," former striker Milla said. "It is a strong signal he is once again sending to the authorities."
Cameroon also was recently temporarily suspended from world football by FIFA and the federation's problems have often brought the rebellious streak of the gifted Eto'o to the fore, leading him to clash with authorities, threaten to give up internationals on other occasions, disagree with coaches, and have his loyalty to the team questioned.
One former player didn't believe Eto'o had retired.
"A footballer who quits with the Brazil World Cup just months away?" former Cameroon forward Patrick Mboma wrote on Facebook this week. "No way! I would really love to speak with Eto'o as soon as possible."
Eto'o made his international debut as a teenager in 1997 and won two African Cups with Cameroon in 2000 and 2002, establishing himself as one of the world's top strikers by the time he was 20. He was voted Africa's player of the year four times and is his country's all-time leading goalscorer.
His club career, especially, emphasized his talent as he's played for Barcelona, Inter Milan and now Chelsea, winning three Champions League titles and league crowns in Spain and Italy. An international retirement would likely extend his time in Europe's big leagues.
But at home, even with his status as his country's top player, Eto'o has often courted trouble, challenging officials and coaches and forcing Cameroon's state president more than once to intervene to smooth over problems.
Despite the brushes with authority, Eto'o apparently remained popular with teammates, perhaps for his willingness to stand up for them against African football's often poor organization. His 15-game ban, later reduced, was for his part in Cameroon players refusing to play a friendly against Algeria in 2011 because of unpaid match fees. Eto'o probably didn't need the money but made a stand.
"His absence from the team is going to be a great loss," midfielder Makoun said. "We were very happy with the victory over Libya but the captain's (Eto'o's) disclosure in the dressing room came like a bombshell and had a huge, immediate impact on all of us as we just went silent."
While Makoun said Eto'o told the players in the dressing room he was retiring for personal reasons, reports say it was because Eto'o wanted Finke to pick veteran goalkeeper Carlos Kameni and other out-of-favour players for the Libya game. Finke apparently refused to be bullied by Eto'o, even though he still paid tribute to his captain's on-field value soon after the qualifier.
"Samuel Eto'o is a great player ... he has given a lot to football in general and for Cameroonian football in particular," Finke said before declining to answer more questions on his decision to retire — and also suggesting he wasn't certain if it was definite.
"He is the only one to explain this," Finke said.
Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.
Follow Gerald Imray at www.titter.com/GeraldImrayAP
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