I endured the pain of Ross County on Channel 67 in South Carolina and cannot say that I was surprised. I watched the Highlanders outplay Hibs in the previous round and knew that they would be a handful for a team that was not on its mettle, and so it proved. I remain hopeful that this disaster – for such it was – did not have a terminal effect on the Lurgan Bhoy’s chances of being appointed to the main job. I for one think he is the best candidate around, although my dream team would have included Willie McStay and Johan.
Enough of that however, my purpose today is to sing the praises of our Greek Adonis – Giorgios Samaras. It may surprise you dear reader, to know that I volunteered for this duty, although I have a sense such as might have been felt by Mark Antony when asked to bury Caesar.
You see I actually agree with the sentiment expressed on the E-Tims rumour weekly, which suggested that a noted coach, when asked, who the most talented player at Celtic Park is, offered the opinion that it was none other than Gorgeous Giorgios.
Few players in my time watching the Hoops – and that goes back a few years – have made a more immediate impact than our current Greek international. When he came on at Kilmarnock in the cup match two and a bit years ago, he scored an absolutely sensational goal and in so doing made a rod for his own back. You see, as with Paddy McCourt, the only other current player who gets me off my seat, he seems to score goals of breathtaking brilliance – but not often enough for the majority of the Parkhead faithful.
I am, as you may know, a watcher of the message boards, but also an avid fan of podcasts. From both sources I glean some sense of the mood of the support and only a fool would suggest that Giorgios is top of the Celtic Park pops.
While in the Land of the Free I downloaded and listened to David Potter’s discussion with Eddie of his latest work – Celtic’s Greatest Games. In the course of the discussion David touched upon the perennial impatience of the support, which may be faithful through and through, but are, in large numbers, less than tolerant of young players who are learning their trade.
He touched upon the abuse to which now stellar figures such as Steve Chalmers and John Hughes were subjected in their youth when the team was struggling. Celtic fans have always enjoyed seeing young players progress to the first team, but unless they maintain an exceptionally high standard in the manner of Dalglish and McGrain their probationary period will be short lived.
As a school boy, my hero was the incomparable Bobby Murdoch, but even he suffered from the ire of the support during those dark days of the early ‘60’s.
Recently I had a chat with my big brother – yes even we old guys have older relatives – a man who attends every Celtic match in this country. We were talking about the team’s performance in the period after Christmas but before the St. Mirren debacle, and he offered the view that Robbie Keane was being cut a degree of slack by the fans that was not afforded other players. In particular he noted that if Giorgios had missed some of the chances than Keane was squandering he would have suffered dogs’ abuse. This attitude was even noticeable amongst the would be pundits and commentators on Channel ’67, where Robbie had almost inherited the mantle of the Divine Henrik in his immunity to criticism.
In the semi final against Ross County, I did not notice that Giorgios was any worse than any of his colleagues and at least he seemed to make an effort during the second period – an effort which was absent in the performance of some of his more celebrated team mates – Aidan McGeady being the biggest example.
There was a moment towards the end when he came in from the left and shot past the goalie from an acute angle. The ball hit a guy on the line on the derriere and freakishly hit the post and came out. Loud were the howls from the crowd and from the Channel 67 team although it was an absurd piece of defending. A couple of minutes later just before the killer second goal McGeady mis-controlled a ball down the right, barely caught it at the bye line and crossed for Robbie to miss an absolute sitter right in front of goal.
The reaction from all was one of disappointment, but abuse was noticeably absent.
During this dire season I have not thought that Giorgios was by any stretch of the imagination our worst player – frustrating he is – but he is not as some would suggest a non trier. He is undoubtedly a big softy – his concern for injured team mates may say much for him as a human being , but perhaps not as a professional footballer – but he is hugely talented, and properly coached and used he could well be a great Celtic player.
He has strength, skill and vision and when he is on song he almost unplayable – in fact in this he is so reminiscent of the young Yogi it is uncanny.
I think in addition to all this, I like him because he seems to be a good guy who loves playing for the Celtic. If Neil Lennon and whoever comes in to help him can light a fire under our so far less than heroic Greek forward, Celtic fans may yet sing Ooh aah Samaras with vigour and conviction.
There are a number of players that I would gladly ship out as we rebuild, but I earnestly hope that Samaras is not one of them – he is young enough to improve in the right environment with a coach and a team who play to his strengths, but the support could do much to help by getting off his back and being a bit more rational in their criticism.