Hair today and gone tomorrow as Samaras signs off at Celtic

THE final curtain on a Greek Tragedy in seven parts came down at the weekend.

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The goal Samaras scored in Moscow was a key part in Celtic making it into the last 16 of the Champions League last term
The goal Samaras scored in Moscow was a key part in Celtic making it into the last 16 of the Champions League last term

With a dramatic flourish befitting his character, Georgios Samaras scored and then exited stage left.

His parting words were aimed at chief executive Peter Lawwell, who, he insisted, despite indications to the contrary over the past six months, never made any contract offer to retain his services.

Was that a dagger Sami saw before him, one he could not resist plunging into Lawwell's controlling influence?

Certainly, the 29-year-old has kept his counsel throughout the final year of his contract.

The few times he was prepared to speak to the media in his quiet, unassuming manner, never once did he reveal the club were making no serious attempt to extend a stay which began when he arrived on loan from Manchester City in January, 2008.

Not even when he was on international duty with Greece, helping them secure a place at this summer's World Cup finals in Brazil, did Sami speak to the press in his home country to bemoan the lack of an offer then claim something was lost in translation.

And, while most players now employ at least an agent, if not a room full of representatives, most only too willing to let it be known if their player feels he is not being offered what he thinks he is worth, Samaras has always opted to leave all his affairs in the capable hands of a lawyer, with client confidentiality paramount.

So it has been left this season to Neil Lennon to field questions about Sami's future.

The manager has done his best to play it with a straight bat, right up to Friday's press conference ahead of the final game of the season.

"There's nothing new to report," was the stock answer to the weekly question about whether there had been any developments in terms of Samaras' future.

Lennon can justifiably argue such negotiations do not come under his remit. They are the domain of the chief executive and the player.

That has to be the case for a working relationship between manager and player to survive.

Lennon was as good as his word with Sami, continuing to play him even though the wide attacker was not going to be part of the future of the club.

The manager believed that ensuring he went to the World Cup in match-fit condition was the least he could do for a man who, over the period of his tenure in charge, had served him well.

Of course, however, it was not always sweetness and light between the two.

So poorly had Sami played in the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Ross County which almost ended any hope Lennon had of securing the job permanently, the then-interim boss was ready to ship him out immediately.

Even after a frank discussion over what it would take to make Samaras as effective for the Hoops as he is for Greece transformed the player from a lost soul up front to a potent attacking force driving in from the left wing, Lennon admitted he is the type who can get a manager the sack.

Now, they are finally to part. But, it is not an amicable divorce. The decree absolute rather than a contract has been delivered by the club.

Lennon has been fulsome in his praise of the departing star, and insisted he goes with the best wishes of all in the management and playing team for the service he has provided.

It was a heartfelt sentiment, perhaps an indicator that losing another of his key players and better earners does not sit well with the man charged with keeping standards high enough to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League.

Never has Sami been more appreciated than in Europe, where he has made scoring away from home an art form.

His dozen goals have been delivered across the gamut of surroundings and occasions, from little stadiums in Helsinki and Helsingborgs to the Nou Camp and San Siro.

Most important of all, arguably, was the winner in Moscow last season which gave the Hoops their first-ever away victory in the Champions League proper and set them on their way to the last 16.

Domestically, Sami also left an indelible mark, his double in the Old Firm game at Ibrox in January, 2011, winning over many Celtic supporters who had, hitherto, lost patience with his form which could fluctuate from unplayable to incompetent in the space of one game.

However, even his fiercest critic would have to agree he made watching Celtic interesting, and his overall contribution - 73 goals in 250 appearances - is worthy of huge respect.

Sure, fans and Lennon could be left exasperated as he side-footed a shot into the keeper's arms when the ball was demanding laces be lashed through it.

And many a mazy run ended up a cul-de-sac when a simple pass was on, if only he had spotted his better-placed team-mate through his trademark long hair.

But, when he was good, he was very good, and it will only be now he has gone that what he can bring to the team - particularly on the big stage - will be fully appreciated at Parkhead.

For Lennon, the challenge will be to replace him, though finding anyone who is an exact replica is impossible.

The manager reckons that, if Samaras was not at the end of his contract, he would be worth several millions.

The fact the club have fielded a clutch of significant offers during his time in the Hoops, from as far afield as Spain, Russia and Italy, supports Lennon's valuation.

But, more pertinently, how much will it cost Celtic to find someone who can score the valuable goals Sami has done, for the past couple of seasons, in particular?

The rainforest of stats which Uefa produce every Champions League night show he has become one of the most potent goalscorers in the competition, though the same information packs also throw up the weird fact he can be among the players who commit most fouls.

Given his aversion to the more physical side of the game, that always raises a smile within Parkhead.

However, there will be few who can see any reason to smile at the sight of Samaras ambling through the Parkhead exit for the last time.

He created not one unsavoury headline, but made plenty glorious ones for his big-game exploits.

The Enigma in Hoops is no more … and Celtic will be the poorer for it.

Football

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