One is a slight footballing exhibitionist; the other a hulk of muscle and hunger. One is concerned primarily with a carefree expression of his skills, in which winning is almost secondary to the spectacle; the other seems perpetually to be labouring at the extremities of his talent. One is romance; the other is pragmatism. Both are representative of the philosophies of their clubs, and it is that contrast of styles that makes Wednesday's meeting of Samuel Eto'o and Didier Drogba, Barcelona and Chelsea, so enticing.
The protagonists may be uncomfortable with lead billing, but they seemed to acknowledge their primacy in the drama with a gladiatorial hug ahead of their own personal dress rehearsal, as Cameroon met Ivory Coast in the African Nations' Cup quarter-finals. "I'll never say it's only about Drogba versus Eto'o," the Barcelona striker insisted. "I'm not concerned with individual duels, not with me against Drogba, nor me against anybody. Teams are strong because they can count on special players, but above all they are teams. But Drogba is a special person, and not just a special footballer."
He showed how special in that quarter-final, twice converting from the spot in a marathon shoot-out; Eto'o, by contrast, launched his second penalty into an orbit previously visited by David Beckham, Jaap Stam and Chris Waddle. Yet that seemed a mere detail, a minor black mark, after a tournament in which he had underlined his claim to be the best striker in the world with five goals in four appearances.
"He always was a great player, but the problem was that [in the past] he was not scoring," said Gérémi, whose brains will surely be picked for ways to nullify his international team-mate. "He has a lot of quality; he has proved it. But I will think about how other defenders will stop him."
Gérémi also knew Eto'o at Real Madrid, though his impact there was minimal; he made just three appearances before joining Real Mallorca in 2001. "He is more confident now," said the Chelsea midfielder. "You start to play, you learn, maybe every day, and when he was at Madrid he was too young. But he was learning and now he is showing what he has learnt. A player like him at his level now is only thinking about scoring. He tries to score in every game, which is good for him. When you see him before the game he just thinks about scoring, scoring, which is good for his morale."
It clearly works; in 20 league games this season he has scored 18 goals, a ratio only partly explained by Barcelona's attacking approach. The attraction on Wednesday is to see how that flamboyance will fare against the defensive industry of what even the Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina, no Chelsea apologist, this week acknowledged was the "best midfield in the world".
"They're two teams with differing styles, and there are people who prefer Chelsea's style and people who prefer Barcelona's style," Eto'o said. That may have sounded like diplomacy - and he insisted that there is no lingering resentment from the off-field controversies of last season's clash - but there was a waspish undertone as he went on. "Almost every team," he said, "even those who play good football, when they come to the Nou Camp they defend a lot, put men back, so we had played against that. It's a style of play that we've experienced a lot."
Yet Chelsea are not simply a defensive team, and it was with an extraordinary burst of attacking football that they turned the tie last year, scoring three in the opening 20 minutes of the second leg. Whatever else he is, as Gérémi cautioned, Jose Mourinho is not predictable. "I'm not going to tell you the tactics," he said, "because this is Mourinho. The way Barcelona play is totally different [to Chelsea], but you see that in England as well. The mentality of Mourinho is to play according to the team you are playing. Maybe it will be counter-attacking, but you don't know how Mourinho will play it."
Maybe not, but it is hard to imagine that Eto'o and Drogba will not have central roles.Reuse content