ON THE day that Celtic announced a significant contract extension for their 24-year-old Nigerian international centre back Efe Ambrose, manager Neil Lennon revealed that one of the club’s top priorities is to do the same with talismanic striker Georgios Samaras.
The notion that the 28-year-old Greek international could finish his career at Parkhead might have seemed laughable to Celtic fans after he took a while to settle in when his loan deal from Manchester City was converted to a full contract in 2008.
His languid style back then did not always find favour, but after a plethora of good, committed performances, Samaras is now something of a cult hero at Parkhead and a favourite of Lennon, who seems determined to have the 66 times-capped Greek in his core group of players.
Samaras’s display against Barcelona in midweek, when he was often the only attacking force, may well have prompted Lennon’s desire to take him at his word – the player hinted in July he might want to extend his contract which expires next summer.
“Georgios is a great player and has been great for the club for quite a while,” said Lennon as he prepared his side to face Motherwell today. “He’s very important to us and I thought his performance the other night was magnificent. He gave us everything and he really upsets a lot of teams at that level.
“He is quite unique in the way he plays, so obviously we’d like to get him tied down for a considerable period of time.
“He likes it here, he’s happy here and the fans love him, which is testament to him for the way he has turned his career around. I like that in a player – he’s shown an abundance of character.”
Lennon pinpointed Samaras’s strengths: “He’s a threat. He might not be a prolific goalscorer at that level, but there’s not many who are, and if he was then he’d be playing elsewhere. But what he gives the team is an out ball, the ability to eliminate people with his pace and power. He is the quintessential modern-day player.”
Samaras is a doubt for today’s match at Celtic Park – Lennon also said that Joe Ledley, Derk Boerrigter and Tom Rogic would be missing for the visit of third-placed Motherwell.
At the same time as naming Samaras as a long-term investment target, Lennon made it clear that goalkeeper Fraser Forster is going places, but not out of Parkhead.
“He is on the cusp of playing for England,” said Lennon. “Fraser’s time is going to come. I don’t think there is anyone going to stop him taking over as number one. He’s got the lot, really.”
Reports suggesting that top continental clubs might want him have troubled but not surprised Lennon, who had to deal with such speculation during the summer transfer window: “I had a brief chat with him and we were aware of interest, but there was nothing concrete. It doesn’t surprise me. He is going to be on a lot of clubs’ radar.
“It’s flattering, I see [Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi] Buffon is talking about him as well. I don’t want him to be a short-term thing [at Celtic]. I want him to have longevity and for people to talk about him for the next four or five years rather than just over a Champions League campaign. His move to Celtic has been very beneficial for us, and certainly for him.”
With Forster already breathing down his neck for an England starting place, Joe Hart found himself under renewed pressure yesterday when Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini warned him that replacement goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon is ready to step in if he fails to improve.
Hart was at fault for two goals in the 3-1 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday, adding to a growing list of errors in recent months. Pellegrini said: “Joe knows he must improve the way he is playing, but he has our trust. Pantilimon is working hard and I am absolutely sure, if it is tomorrow or another game and he must play, he will do well.”