Since signing for the club in January 2008, Georgios Samaras has scored 37 goals. Whilst this on the surface appears little more than average compared to the gargantuan feats of Henrik Larsson, but Samaras’ record is from 87 starts as a Celtic player. In the SPL, he has scored 28 goals in 56 starts. Critics will argue that, as he has also appeared as a substitute on 37 occasions that this highlights his poor goal scoring return, but the counter view is that many forward players struggle to make a true impact from the bench. Statistics can be very ambiguous in terms of substitute appearances as there is no differentiation between two playing for two minutes at the end of the game and playing for 60 or 70 minutes. Samaras has actually scored more SPL goals than Jan Venegoor of Hesselink, albeit having played more matches to achieve this.
Samaras has scored seven goals in 49 caps for his national side, yet rather than be castigated, he is the popular focal point of the Greek attack. As was highlighted in the World Cup, Samaras is excellent as a loan striker, holding up the ball in order to draw the two attacking wide players and creative midfielder into play. As modern football evolves, a striker does not automatically equate to someone who knows how to score. Kris Boyd is a prime example, a natural goal scorer but exceptionally limited footballer who was ruthlessly exposed at a higher level than the SPL, both in European competition and in the English Championship.
One of Samaras’ biggest problems is the league that he plays in. The SPL suits players who play at a frantic pace. Scott Brown looks at home in this league, but would be reduced to chasing shadows in the Spanish or Italian leagues as more technical players negate his strengths. Samaras would thrive in these leagues due to his footballing intelligence, yet in the frantic competition of the SPL, he struggles to adapt to the lack of time allowed on the ball. This does not mean that he is a terrible player, as critics have naively suggested, but it does highlight his weakness to the league he is in. The Dutch league is of an arguably higher standard, and yet he thrived at Heerenveen.
He is a target for abuse. This is an embarrassing and ugly side of the Celtic support and those that openly boo players should be ashamed. His performance against Rennes was full of enthusiasm, power and skill. There are only two Celtic players who have the courage to run at the opposition. One is a man lauded by vast sections of the support, culminating in a song about his fenian army, and the other is Samaras. Yes, Paddy McCourt cost a fraction of the price that Samaras did and grew up as a Celtic supporter, but he is cut a great deal more slack despite running into defenders on a far regular basis. Creative player should be encouraged, because the alternative is the frightened, sideways pass approach that has engulfed many of the current squad. When you know that one mistake will result in a cacophony of abuse, internal fear makes you play within yourself. Samaras may be earning vast amounts of money, but he is still human, with the same fear of failure as all of us. A major disadvantage with social media is that you have people openly saying that they want a player to fail. Even last night, there was a vocal minority criticising him despite his match winning display.
Should the tactics be altered to accommodate Samaras? No, but Celtic should be playing a system that plays to the strengths of the better footballers. Ledley, Ki and Kayal can adapt to any midfield setting, but players like Samaras, Commons and Forrest need to have their strengths utilised. I am no lover of 4-4-2. It is an out-dated formation that is far easier to defend against due to the static nature of the midfield. The match against Rennes highlighted the strengths of a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation. Stokes, samaras, and to a lesser extent Hooper can play the loan frontman, but then you have Forrest, Samaras, Commons, and perhaps even Brown and McCourt as the attacking three. Samaras showed that he can cause problems for the opposition by playing out on the left. He was winning headers like a target man, which enabled the fast paced striker to score a composed second goal, and played a perfectly weighted and timed ball for Hooper’s finish at the end. Samaras tormented a very good French side, so clearly has the capability. If he has a poor game against Motherwell, it does not make him a bad player, just an infuriating one who still struggles to adapt to the pace of the Scottish game.
Faithful through and through? Samaras exasperates but he is deserving of greater support than he has been receiving. He also needs to produce a consistent level of performances before he is truly loved. He may never get there, but I hope that he has a successful season. The talent is certainly there.