Sunday 17 December 2017

Enigmatic Samaras commits to Celtic cause

Roddy Forsyth

He is by no means the most popular Celtic player with the club's support, but the news that Georgios Samaras has signed a three-year extension to his contract could be seen as confirmation that Neil Lennon will stay at Parkhead to consolidate the team he has built in his first year in charge.

Whether or not Lennon is about to acquire his first trophy as a manager will be known at full-time in tomorrow's Co-operative Insurance Cup final -- but if he succeeds then it is very likely that the Greek forward will have a hand in the matter.

Samaras, who is capable of maddening the Hoops faithful with his inconsistency, has nevertheless become a consistent irritant to Rangers of late, a state of affairs that began when he took them by surprise with two goals in the New Year league derby at Ibrox.

The paradox of Samaras was acknowledged by Johan Mjallby when the assistant manager again conducted the pre-match briefing instead of Lennon, who is serving a ban of debatable length from the technical area and who will not lead his team out at Hampden Park.

"Georgios has been a bit of an enigma over my time here, but when he is at his best, I would say he is unplayable at times because he has everything," said Mjallby.

"He is quick, he is strong, he has height, he is a big boy, he is great with the ball at his feet and he can take players on -- he has everything.

"Maybe mentally he cannot get really 100pc fired up for other games. We are trying to get to Sammy to make sure he is up for every game -- and he probably is -- but he is on top in these massive games."

Samaras certainly believes that Lennon is in for the long run and he revealed that the Northern Irishman had been active in persuading him to stay. "The manager spoke to me about the contract," he said. "Does that mean he is staying long-term? I hope so.

"In his first year as a manager he is trying to make something really good at this club. He's brought in new players and you can see the quality they have.


"It's a new manager and a young team and I want to be part of that."

As for the prospect of this, the sixth Old Firm derby of the season, with another to come in April -- a phenomenon that has exceeded the patience of many interested parties -- Samaras confirmed that he thrives on the occasion. "They are great games, one of the greatest derbies in the world," said the striker.

"The motivation is huge, the atmosphere is magnificent and it's something else. People say that playing Rangers seven times a season is not so good but I don't agree.

"It's not that they can't handle me or that I'm too good for them. They are a good team -- Bougherra and Weir for many years have done really well for Rangers. It's just a game, it's nothing else."

The absence of Kyle Bartley from the Rangers side makes it all the more enticing for Samaras to partner Gary Hooper in attack -- in a team that will also welcome the return of the Celtic captain, Scott Brown, along with Mark Wilson, both of whom have served suspensions.

Lennon, though, will be banished, not only from the dugout but from the build-up for an hour beforehand. When will he address his players?

"Probably 61 minutes before the cup final," said Mjallby, who declined to offer detail of what Lennon had said to the players before they beat Rangers in the Scottish Cup replay two weeks ago, an address that was, one hears, strong on individual motivation.

"I'm not going to tell you any secrets. It's usually the same scenario," said Mjallby. "You don't really need a team talk for a cup final because if you're not really up for it there's something wrong with you.

"He's really impressive the way he gets the team up for games and you can see that he's learned a lot from Martin O'Neill and Gordon Strachan. I see him as very close to Martin O'Neill.

"Martin had much more experience, but maybe he's more attack minded than Martin. Martin usually fancied a big strong physical team as well.

"We've got more skilful players and we like to play passing football, but you need to mix it up because if you don't get results it doesn't matter."

And in the final analysis, that will be the judgment tomorrow afternoon, on the first occasion when the team that Lennon has built gets the chance to inscribe Celtic's name on the tangible substance of silverware. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Celtic v Rangers,

Live, tom, Setanta Ireland 3.0

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