Understandably, being invited to dinner in London by footballing icon Samuel Eto’o caught Brentford forward Bryan Mbeumo slightly by surprise.
But the former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea centre-forward’s intentions weren’t to discuss the ins and outs of being a Premier League striker (although that is where the conversation ended up) - Eto’o visited the capital in an attempt to persuade Bryan to play international football for Cameroon.
The Bees man earned caps for numerous French youth teams but never received a call-up for the senior team, so was keen to hear what the four-time African Player of the Year winner, who made 118 caps and scored 56 goals for Cameroon, had to say.
“It was just the two of us, I met him in a restaurant,” Mbeumo begins.
“He came to London to see me. I know from my dad, who’s Cameroonian, that it could be a good opportunity.
“When he approached me in the first place, I didn’t know if I would go or not. But after speaking to him, he explained to me about the project and I was happy with it.
“Afterwards, he gave me a bit of time to think about it before I gave my decision, and then I decided to play for them.
“I was a bit nervous to meet him! He’s a legend of African football and football in general.
“I also asked him questions about being a striker, how he did certain things, how he dealt with certain situations, and he gave me advice. Talking about football with him was great.”
Mbeumo made the decision made his debut for the Indomitable Lions in September.
The forward played both games for Rigobert Song’s side against Uzbekistan and South Korea, something which delighted not just Bryan, but the whole Mbeumo family.
“I’m very proud for me and my family to represent the country,” Mbeumo says with a smile.
“My dad was very happy - I also did this for him. I knew how proud he would be and he felt amazing after I made my debut and played those two games.
“In the first game we played Uzbekistan, there were not a lot of people there. But the second game against South Korea was a full house, over 65,000 fans, that was amazing.
“I think it was the first time since I’ve been playing football that, when the away team come to do the warm-up, there’s just applause. They were cheering us; they were amazing people.
“The atmosphere during the game was incredible.”
He continues: “It is hard to play with new players that you haven’t played with before. I knew some of my new team-mates from just watching the games, but obviously when you play it’s different.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to make links with each other before the games, so it was hard, the same as when I came to Brentford. You have to adapt to the new systems and things like that.
“It’s hard but we have a good team and we will have time before the World Cup, maybe one or two weeks, to train together, which will be good for us.”
The 2022 World Cup will see Cameroon take part in the quadrennial international tournament for the first time since 2014.
Having grown up in France, Mbeumo recalls watching the famous 2006 World Cup final, which saw Italy beat Les Blues on penalties after Zinedine Zidane was sent off for spectacularly head-butting Marco Materazzi.
That is something the Brentford man says he will “remember for the rest of my life”, and it’s those moments that are inspiring Mbeumo to make his mark in Qatar - just in a less controversial fashion than Zidane did!
The striker says: “It was originally my dream to play in the Premier League, but to play at the World Cup would just be… wow.
“To play against Switzerland, Serbia and Brazil in our group, we couldn’t have asked for better games. It will be tough but, with our group of players, we don’t know what will happen.”
Unsurprisingly, Brazil are the side that Bryan says he is most excited to face, which could see him go head-to-head with some of the best players in world football.
While we sit and chat about him playing in the most illustrious competition on the planet, it’s worth remembering that just three years ago, the 23-year-old was playing in the French second division for Troyes.
But, since winning promotion to the Premier League with Brentford, which has already seen him go up against some top-class defenders, Mbeumo is not intimidated by the prospect of mixing it with the world’s elite.
“When I started playing in the Premier League, you discover something about yourself when you’re playing against some of the best players in the world,” he says.
“Obviously you get a bit nervous when you first arrive in the league, but I’ve learnt more and now it’s quite normal. Now I’ll be more confident when it comes to facing these players at the World Cup.”
When asked what he learnt from the recent friendlies in South Korea and will take into the World Cup, Mbeumo replies: “Togetherness as a group will be key. All the winners of the big competitions - the World Cup, European Championships, Africa Cup of Nations - they have all had, what I would say, is a family.
“It’s important to have a good connection with your team-mates, on and off the pitch, that’s also key.”
That is certainly something that Mbeumo has at club level, as his partnership with fellow Bees forward Ivan Toney grows stronger by the game.
The duo have played 89 times together and combined for 14 goals which, ultimately, helped the club to promotion in May 2021.
And Mbeumo believes that it’s their relationship off the pitch that helps them be so successful on it.
“We’ve played together for over two seasons now. We’ve now created this great relationship on the pitch, but also off the pitch too,” Bryan reveals.
“We spend a lot of time together in the changing room and when we eat. I think it’s important to do this if you want to have a good relationship with someone on the pitch.
“We’re good friends and I think you can see this on the pitch.”
Toney signed for the Bees from Peterborough United at the start of the 2020/21 campaign but, before that, Mbeumo played alongside former Brentford forwards Saïd Benrahma and Ollie Watkins.
Known by fans and the media as BMW (the trio’s initials), they scored a combined 59 goals in all competitions and were crucial in our run to the Play-Off final in 2019/20.
And Mbeumo says it was great to play beside them: “It was crazy. It was such a good feeling. All of my friends would show me things from social media - BMW!
“It was very good. I had a great relationship with those two guys and we played very well together.”
When asked what it’s like to adapt to playing alongside different strike partners, Mbeumo adds: “It is difficult. When you play with new players, you have to adapt the way you play. It takes time to create links. I think we have adapted well and quick to play with each other.”
Mbeumo and Toney's connection was highlighted when Manchester United were beaten 4-0 at the Gtech Community Stadium earlier this season, which saw the former score our fourth goal just before half-time.
And Mbeumo says he had to trust Toney's ability to play the pass across to him as they hurtled forward on the counter-attack.
He explains: “When I saw Mathias [Jensen] kick the ball forward, I just said to myself, ‘Run, run, run, run!’
“I knew Ivan had the ability to make that pass, even if it was hard, I had to trust him.
“I got past [Luke] Shaw I think, was one-on-one with the ‘keeper and I just tried to do what I do in training.”
In a previous Long Read, Yoane Wissa recalled sitting next to Mbeumo in the dressing room at half-time of that game, with the two just looking at each other in disbelief after an astounding 45 minutes against the Red Devils.
When told about Wissa's comments, Mbeumo smiles and says: “Yeah, it was crazy. I was with Yoane and I just thought, ‘Oh my god, what is happening today?’
“We could not believe it because it was against Manchester United, even at home. The thing is, we knew it would be a tough game, every chance we had, we had to do something with it, which we did.”
He adds: “Every game in the Premier League, you gain experience. I think every game I play, I become a better player. Even if I play bad, I can work on it to see what was bad and what could have been better.
“Every game is good for me to learn about myself and learn about the team.”
It’s been three years since Mbeumo moved to West London from France, when he was signed at the start of the 2019/20 season from Troyes.
He had scored ten goals in 35 games in Ligue 2 the campaign before, but it wasn’t just the basic stats that led to the Bees securing his signature.
Mbeumo recalls: “When I first met Brentford about signing for them, I think out of 35 games I played, they had been there 28 times to watch me.
“They made a report about me that described me very well and they could show me what sort of player I was. It was crazy.
“We didn’t know too much about data before this presentation. Brentford put a light on it and now more clubs use it too.
“They showed me so many things. I maybe knew that I was doing certain things but maybe not as much as what the stats said.”
When asked if he remembers any specifics from the scout report, he adds: “My right foot was a weakness. They knew from the start that I didn’t really use it too much. I was hoping they didn’t notice!”
Just 19 years old at the time, signing for the Bees was a daunting prospect for Mbeumo, as he moved 325 miles across Europe.
Fortunately, he had French-speaking Julian Jeanvier and Benrahma at the club to help him translate when needed, which eased what could have been a difficult transition.
Mbeumo says: “It was cultural shock at first. You are almost coming to a new world with loads of new things, new people, and a new language as well.
“I was young at that point but I knew what I wanted so I just tried to grow up and reach each step. This helped me a lot.”
When asked about what shocked him the most when he came to London, Mbeumo responds: “The food! It was bad, it was so different.
“But, on the positive side, the people are so nice here and very helpful, especially with the language. Sometimes I’d make mistakes and they would laugh! But they really helped me a lot.
“I learned English at school and I was quite good. But what you learn at school is so different to when you come to speak to someone in a real conversation.”
As well as having to settle into a new culture, Mbeumo had to adapt to a new style of football, as he was quickly thrust into the rigours of Championship football.
But Brentford’s desire to play out from the back and on the front foot suited the forward - so much so that he scored 15 goals in his first season at the Club.
“It was new football when I came here,” Mbeumo explains. “There were some similarities when I was in France because I was playing for Troyes, who are a team who like to have the ball and play good football.
“When I came here, I assumed that the style would be ‘kick and rush’, but it was not at all. Brentford wanted to play out from the back and I like playing that sort of way.
“I have a good relationship with Thomas Frank, he has made me work on things that have made me a better footballer.
“He has shown me some important things that I can use as a striker, which has helped me a lot.
“Things like working on the last line. When a cross comes, you need to think all the time that the ball could come to you. So, make the run and if the ball is there, it’s almost a free goal.”
While positioning, movement and anticipation are all important as a striker, one other important component is luck.
And that is something that Mbeumo has perhaps been lacking since our promotion to the Premier League, especially last season, as he hit the woodwork seven times - the most of any player in the division.
In our recent 2-0 win over Brighton at the Gtech, he was denied by the goal frame again, as his sensational volley crashed off the crossbar.
But the striker is keen not to solely blame this on misfortune and believes that practice will eventually make perfect.
He states: “I would say that some of the times I hit the woodwork it was not too close to being a goal, some of them it was. Out of seven, I would say about three of them are goals I should have scored.
“Of course, I’ve thought about it! But I just try and work hard in training in front of the goal and forget about it. When I get an opportunity, I just try to be focused on what I’ve done in training and keep going.”
He adds: “I think it’s probably a combination of two things: bad luck and bad skill from me. I maybe just need a bit of work on my finishing!”
The striker’s favourite goal from last season was at the Gtech against Watford, when he was tasked with netting a 96th-minute penalty to win the game, with Ivan out injured.
Mbeumo recalls: “At that time, I knew Ivan wasn’t on the pitch so I was going to take it. When I heard the whistle, I thought, ‘Okay, now it’s my time’.
“I tried to walk around and just make sure I was on my own before it. And then, when I put the ball on the spot, I had to try and imagine it was normal, as much as possible.
“Of course, everybody was waiting and then I scored, it was crazy.”
When reminded that he took the penalty with a similar technique to Ivan, Bryan says: “I train a lot with Ivan to be more composed and calm in those situations.
“He is one of the best penalty takers so I try and learn from him. Every time I can, I go with him and a goalkeeper and take some pens.”
When asked if he would grab the ball if Cameroon were awarded a penalty at the World Cup, Mbeumo laughs. “Maybe…”