Undroppable mercurial talent or frustrating waste of a jersey; Georgios Samaras is the one
of those players who consistently divides opinion over his worthiness of place
in the Celtic squad. With his contract coming to an end in the summer and, so far at least, no progress having been
made in efforts by the club to entice him into signing a new contract, the
question arises as to whether Celtic should be actively looking to move on
their Greek international or risk losing him for nothing in the summer.
Samaras is one of the last remaining Strachan signings in the current Celtic squad and, having initially signed on-loan in January 2008 before making the move permanent that summer, is one of the longest serving players in the squad – only Scott Brown has been at the club longer. Since joining, Samaras has played around 240 games for the club, scoring 71 times in all competitions giving him a strike ratio of 1 goal in just over every 3 games. A record which stands up fairly well against the current first pick centre forward Anthony Stokes whose goal ratio is around 1 goal in every 2.5 games. Furthermore, Samaras’ goals record has not been helped by the fact that he is not an out and centre forward and usually plays wide on the left.
However, despite posting a decent goals to games return it is not difficult to see why Samaras has failed to win over many Celtic fans. At 6ft 4” tall it is not unreasonable to expect Sammy to be an effective aerial out ball, someone willing to challenge strongly for a ball in the air, and to be a major aerial threat at set-pieces. Unfortunately, all too often this is not the case and the big Greek is easily beaten in aerial confrontations. Although he does score the odd headed goal, it is the half hearted nature with which he appears to challenge for the ball in the air that angers the fans. Coupled with his laconic style and his inability to rarely step out second gear, it is little wonder why most fan frustrations are vented his way. The big man also has a tendency to drift out of matches (several games at a time), and at times, playing with Samaras is akin to playing with a man down. Furthermore, he’s not quite won back a section of the fans for that missed penalty against Old Co at Ibrox.
In his defence however, Samaras is not the bustling, British style centre forward that we expect a 6ft 4” striker to be, therefore we should not expect him to play him like one; in fact, there are question marks as to whether Sammy is even a centre forward. Despite Celtic fans claiming to be amongst the most knowledgeable and patient in the world, Samaras has come in for criticism pretty much since day one – or at least since his signing was made permanent. A big name international striker coming up from the EPL, Samaras was expected to score by the barrel load by most fans; the majority of whom would have rarely seen him play, let alone know anything about his style of play. As it has turned out, Samaras is not a penalty box striker, he’s not a back to goal striker who can hold the ball up, and he’s definitely not a 6-yard box poacher. But still, that is what a large number of fans want from him.
So, what do we get from Samaras? Well, he’s a forward – not a striker – and a modern day forward with no set position. He likes to drift in and out, pulling defenders with him, and is happiest (or most effective) when driving at defenders from the left hand side. Undoubtedly Samaras is a very skilful player and, when on his game, is unplayable as a defender; something he has proven against top European opponents. He is a goal threat, just not a natural finisher, and despite having the tendency to be a bit greedy, is also a good team player and unselfish when it comes to creating chances for others. It is also noticeable that an angry Samaras (yes, it does happen) is also willing to track back and is not afraid to put a tackle in where necessary.
However, the big question still remains; does he deserve a new contract? His performances at domestic level do sometimes leave a lot be desired and there is a growing feeling that Samaras only plays when Samaras wants to play. As a forward player he doesn’t really score or assist enough to be considered an out and out first team pick, and when he is not on his game Lennon would be as well subbing him after 5 minutes as he won’t contribute anything to remainder of the game. Furthermore, his laconic style does not lend itself to Sammy being the ideal impact sub. Having said that, there has been the odd game where Sammy has taken it by the scruff of the neck and won it single handed; the Glasgow Derby at Ibrox in January, 2011 being a prime example. Furthermore, Sammy’s European performances last season led to calls for a new contract to be handed out there and then, such was his brilliance. This season however he failed to live up to his own high standards, as did the rest of the team; individually and as a whole.
As one of the clubs highest earners, I think it is reasonable that the fans expect more from Georgios Samaras, and that he is not producing his best enough of the time. He has the ability to be a world beater – hence Atletico Madrid’s supposed interest in him – but also the propensity to be an empty jersey. I am a fan of Samaras, I like players like him and Dimitar Berbatov who offer unpredictability, and have a lazy style about them but somehow still manage to produce moments of magic. I just think that that style of play is not suited to Scotland and that Samaras becomes a luxury that, in a league still dominated by cloggers, cannot be accommodated in the side. Personally, I’d love to see him sign a new contract but only reduced terms as we cannot afford to pay £20k a week only for him not to play. Unfortunately Sammy, we may have to say goodbye. Wherever he’s playing next season, be it Celtic Park or elsewhere, I wish him well.