AGONA Legends: Georgios Samaras, the Ethniki history maker
At the age of 33, famous Greek forward Georgios Samaras decided to hang up his boots after an unsuccessful season at Samsunspor, ending a career which saw him become a hero for the Ethniki Omada and create headlines with Celtic. AGONAsport analyses his achievements.
481 matches, 115 goals, 69 assists. That’s the figures which Samaras takes away with him at professional club level, and that’s not even taking into account his showings for the Greek national team, where he notched nine goals in 81 appearances. Over the years, Samaras gradually saw his profile raise in the European game, impressing at Heerenveen before earning lucrative moves to Manchester City and Celtic. It’s a surprise for many to see the striker retire at 33, but instead of leaving football altogether, reports have suggested that he will join the set-up of hometown club OFI.
FIRST STEPS WITH OFI, TRANSFER TO HEERENVEEN
Having been born in Heraklion, Samaras naturally signed up to join the OFI academy, however he didn’t stay in Greece for long. Heerenveen, a well regarded club in the Netherlands, spotted potential in Samaras and snapped him up in July 2000. For the first two years of his Dutch stay, the Greek remained in the reserves, but he made his senior debut in the 2002/2003 Eredivisie campaign on October 26 in a 2:0 victory over Excelsior. In the same season, Samaras participated in 14 league matches, registering a decent return of four goals in the process.
Staying with the Heerenveen first team for three full seasons, the lanky forward was snapped up by Manchester City in January 2006, with the English outfit paying 8.5 million for his services.
ETHNIKI DEBUT, INCONSISTENT FORM IN ENGLAND
Just weeks after penning a deal with Manchester City, legendary German coach Otto Rehhagel gifted Samaras his maiden call-up to the Greek national team, handing him his first cap in a friendly match against Belarus on February 28, 2006. Impressively, Samaras even managed to score in the same game, helping Greece take a 1:0 victory in Limassol. In the next match Kazakhstan on March 1, he then repeated the trick, hitting the target to complete a 2:0 triumph.
While he caught the eye with the Ethniki Omada, Samaras encountered problems at Manchester City as he was often played out of position on the wings. Falling down the pecking order, he was shifted out of the club in early 2008, transferring to Celtic on an initial loan deal which soon became permanent. Samaras left City with eight English Premier League goals to his name in 54 games.
Many were doubting Samaras’ ability to adapt to the British game after his struggles at Manchester City, but in Glasgow, he proved all of his critics wrong. In a perfect start to life in Scotland, Samaras tasted his first success as a professional, lifting the 2007/2008 Scottish Premiership trophy. During his brilliant six-year spell at Celtic, the Greek won four league titles, two Scottish Cups and one Scottish League Cup, the only honours which he ever earned.
His most prolific season was in the 2008/2009 campaign. Celtic contrived to lose the Scottish Premiership in dramatic circumstances, but Samaras still had something to cheer about, tallying 15 goals in 31 games to make him the Hoops’ third top scorer.
Samaras turned into an inspirational figure for Celtic, standing out with his key goals, team play and desire to win. Due to his tall build and rather laxidasical style of play, he was accused of being lazy, however he didn’t let the criticism affect him. He was flexible too, willing to play on the left side of midfield when required.
In his time with Celtic, Samaras played in a grand total of 253 fixtures, grabbing 74 goals and six trophies. His journey with the Bhoys reached its natural end in 2014, departing the organisation after he wasn’t offered a new contract. Samaras fittingly scored a penalty against Dundee United in his last match for the club.
FRIENDSHIP WITH JAY BEATTY
Jay Beatty, a well-known young Celtic fan with Down’s Syndrome, struck a remarkable friendship with Samaras and it resulted in him being invited to Athens to participate in a special awards ceremony. In an interview with the Greek media, Samaras shared his views on the touching story: “This boy gives me so much strength, it’s incredible. There are no words. I feel his love so much. This love I feel is also felt by many people in Greece.”
In May 2014, Samaras plucked Beatty out from the crowd at Celtic Park, introducing him to the entire squad on the field and making sure he joined in on the championship celebrations. Naturally, Beatty is a big personal fan of Samaras and always cheered when he scored for the Greek national team.
GRADUAL DECLINE AT VARIOUS CLUBS
Unfortunately for Samaras, he rapidly turned into a journeyman after he left Celtic. In the 2014/2015 season, he opted to return to the English Premier League with West Bromwich Albion, but he was assigned a substitute’s role and didn’t score a single goal. Unsurprisingly, he made a hasty exit, playing on loan at Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia and then scrapping his contract in July 2015.
In March 2016, Samaras discovered employment again, given a deal by American club Rayo OKC. Did he have much luck in the USA? No. Samaras only scored two goals for the club in the second division and remained in the team until it disintegrated a year after signing.
Next stop - Zaragoza in the Segunda Division for the 2016/2017 season. Sadly, he couldn’t find his form in Spain either, barely receiving any game time and not getting on the scoresheet. Samaras’ final destination was Samsunspor in Turkey, and after netting a mere two goals in the previous season, he took the decision to hang up his boots and call it a day. Considering his troubles since leaving Celtic, it was probably the right thing to do, although 33 isn’t exactly an ancient age for a footballer.
FAMOUS MOMENTS WITH THE NATIONAL TEAM
June 24, 2014. Brazil. In Group C of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Greece were playing the Ivory Coast for a place in the knockout stages, but Andreas Samaris’ opener had been cancelled out by the Africans and the game was in its dying seconds. It appeared as though it would be heartbreak for the Greeks, but with the match seemingly over, Samaras was fouled inside the penalty area and he duly converted the resulting spot kick. An historic moment which will never be forgotten by any fan of the Greek game.
Let’s roll back the years even further. In 2009, the Greeks took on Ukraine in the playoffs to make the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and after a 0:0 draw at home, the team travelled to Donetsk as slight underdogs. However, on 31 minutes, Samaras picked up the ball in midfield, somehow spotted the run of Dimitris Salpingidis, dished out a stunning pass and the latter scored the decisive away goal to book Greece’s ticket to South Africa.
At UEFA Euro 2012, Samaras also played a part in Greece’s run to the quarter-finals, bringing the team level at 1:1 in the game against Germany (which the Greeks lost 2:4).
In the Greek media, reports have arisen suggesting that Samaras will now return to OFI and work in the club’s structure, however this hasn’t been confirmed. Wherever he decides to go, he’s left a hugely positive mark on football in Greece, in particular being the architect of two of the country’s biggest, most important goals in history. You’ll be missed, Sammi.
by Shaun Nicolaides