At just 16 years of age, Samuel Eto’o arrived at Leganés in order to gain experience in Spanish football. Being loaned by Real Madrid to Butarque was the first step on Eto’o’s way to the very top level of world football. While Van Gaal’s Barça were crowned champions in 1997/98, Eto’o led the survival of Leganés in the second division. His major breakthrough would come a little while later however. After a season and a half divided between a loan spell at Espanyol and his parent club Real Madrid, the Cameroonian made his way to Mallorca where he would surpass expectations in his five seasons with the club.
His performance did not go unnoticed and soon drew the attention of FC Barcelona, who did not hesitate to take a gamble on Samuel Eto'o. The lethal striker joined Rijkaard’s team in the 2004/05 season. For five seasons, Eto'o was a key element in one of the club’s most successful ever periods. His 130 goals in 199 games were decisive for the club's achievements.
He had an enviable track record, both personally and the collective – three La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues, two Spanish Super Cups and one Copa del Rey for the team. Individually, he was three times named African player of the year, Bronze Award in the 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year award, and twice top scorer in La Liga. Eto'o was renowned for scoring decisive goals. He scored Barça's equaliser at Levante to claim the league in Rijkaard’s first season and also scored in each of the two Champions League finals he played: at the Stade de France against Arsenal and in Rome against Manchester United.