No more mystery as Greek epic ends with a triumph at Celtic

PERPLEXING one week, unplayable the next.

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Georgios Samaras had many highs during his six years at Celtic - such as Champions League success against Barcelona in 2012
Georgios Samaras had many highs during his six years at Celtic - such as Champions League success against Barcelona in 2012

Georgios Samaras is the ultimate sporting riddle - a star wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

The laid-back Greek international with the Biblical-like appearance has been both Messianic and false prophet in his six years at Celtic.

Neil Lennon famously said he was the kind of player that can get managers sacked.

Peel back the layers, however, and you find a man entirely at ease with his own place in the Parkhead pantheon of recent times. Even Lennon is now a fully-paid up member of the Samaras fan club.

The Parkhead manager is in no doubt about the substantial debt the club owes Samaras.

Particularly when it comes to remembering his towering and talismanic performances as Celtic scaled new heights at home and in Europe.

But all things must pass, and the man signed from Manchester City in 2008 is now preparing to bring the curtain down on six medal-laden years as one of the Bhoys.

He will officially be out of contract 24 hours after Lennon's lions are presented with the SPFL trophy a week on Sunday at Parkhead.

That crossroads inevitably brings with it a period of inner reflection. As the player gets set to head off into the sunset - and a possible return to his homeland with Olympiakos - he's comfortable thumbing his way through his scrapbook of Bhoyhood memories.

Sure there have been some speed bumps along the way. But, after 73 goals in 251 games, the striker is hopeful he has made a lifelong connection with the Parkhead support.

Especially, he reckons, because he always felt his main contribution was as part of a Celtic collective.

Which is why he's not one for personal plaudits as he looks back on the highlights reel of his Parkhead career.

Memorable moments are not difficult to find. He said: "The biggest achievement as a team was to beat Barcelona 2-1 in 2012 [in the Champions League].

"I didn't score and didn't make an assist and I don't know if I played well. The only thing I remember from that game is playing on one leg.

"Two weeks earlier I got injured in the first game against Barcelona and I didn't train for two weeks.

"I remember my ankle was the size of my head.

"The team trained on the morning of the match and after it the gaffer said to me, 'do you want to play?' I said 'yeah' and he said 'you are playing'."

Shakhter Karagandy may not share the same dizzy heights as the Catalan giants. But Samaras places the same importance on this season's win over the Kazakhstan outfit which ensured Celtic's place in the Champions League for the second year running.

Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, Lennon's men had to produce a performance of epic proportions to win 3-0 in front of a sell-out home crowd.

And Samaras pinpoints that night as yet another in which something so strong gelled inside the Celtic team.

He recalled: "That was a game I will never forget. It was dramatic.

"Kris Commons scored just before half-time and James Forrest scored the winner in the last seconds and that is something you will never forget.

"I can talk about my goals, awards, good games, records, and captaining the team. There are plenty of things you can say about yourself, but in the end it is all about the team."

Samaras was delighted to see Commons voted Scotland's Player of the Year by his fellow-professionals last Sunday.

There could only be one winner, but Samaras felt a twinge of sympathy for Virgil van Dijk and Fraser Forster, who both missed out in the fanfare for the Commons man.

He told The Celtic View: "They needed to cut the awards in three as it's so hard to choose between them. Kris had a great season, scoring important goals. Virgil was a bit unlucky with injury, but he came back really strong.

"You feel secure when you see him at the back as he is so good with the ball, has good pace and can attack and defend really well. He has the potential to be a very good centre-half in Europe and for the Dutch national team.

"Fraser had the best season of his career at Celtic. To have 13 clean sheets in a row, make so many great saves and break club and Scottish records - and almost beat Edwin van der Sar's British record - these are all great achievements.

"From my point of view, whether it's from the PFA, sports writers, the fans or players, I think they need to give one to each.

"It was hard for me to vote as all three deserve it for different reasons."

Samaras is now getting ready to speak of Celtic in the past tense, while preparing for a new future.

Perplexing maybe, but much less of a riddle.

Football

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