THE insouciance has returned to the demeanour of Georgios Samaras.
The Greek forward has rediscovered the calm exterior which he temporarily tossed aside as he set about a successful salvage operation in the second leg of the third-round Champions League qualifier.
The Scottish champions had lost 2-0 to Shakhter Karagandy in Kazakhstan and Samaras said: “I have played over 200 games for Celtic and that’s the one and only time I’ve been angry.”
In that second leg, he was inspired scoring form to help his club achieve the 3-0 win that has now resulted in them travelling to northern Italy for an opening group stage encounter in the setting of the San Siro.
The joust tonight with AC Milan, and those yet to come against Barcelona and Ajax, mean that normal service has been resumed as far as the 28-year-old is concerned.
He added: “I’m calm now. Look at me, I’m not angry any more. After the first game against Karagandy, I felt differently because it was impossible for me to accept going out of the Champions League to that team.
“We didn’t play well in the first leg but that only made us more determined to show our quality and strength to turn it around. And we did.
“Now I’m more relaxed. We are playing AC Milan, a great team in a great stadium, and I don’t feel angry any more, that’s for sure. I just feel really happy with myself, my team-mates and the club that we achieved our target – our target of getting back to the group stage.
“We showed people we are a good team and that we deserve to be back in the group stage.
“We cannot say what we’re going to do in our group, AC Milan, Barcelona and Ajax are tough teams and, although Barca are favourites, no-one knows what’s going to happen.”
With his anger dissipated, awe will not replace it in the Samaras mindset tonight, after Celtic’s club’s progress to the last 16 of the competition in their previous campaign.
“It’s just a game,” he said. “We gained a lot of experience last season, so the main thing is to enjoy the group. It’s a nice group with some really tough teams – really nice teams to play against – and we’re planning to enjoy the trip and the journey like last year.
“That doesn’t mean we are holidaymakers. There is a big difference between going on holiday and going to enjoy the games. We just want to express ourselves and play without pressure. We are not trying to prove anything to anyone. We try only to be a good team and to be competitive. We have grown up in our minds in the last three or four years, with the same manager and the same team. But what we did last year is in the past. We cannot think too much about that. All we can do is take the experience with us and believe in ourselves.
“Look, we don’t want to lose, that’s for sure. We’ve not come to Italy to lose. Last year we didn’t go to Barcelona to lose. We want to go into these games to really enjoy them, express ourselves and try to win. If we can’t do that we’ll try not to lose. But we definitely don’t come here with the mentality that we’re playing against a big club we must fear. At the moment we feel really good about ourselves and we’ll go there and try and play our game.”
Samaras has played some of his best games for Celtic on the road in Europe these past 12 months.
The player may not be noted for putting the ball in the net consistently but that is precisely what he has done in continental competition in unfamiliar territory, scoring in six of Celtic’s last nine away European encounters.
It isn’t the scoring run that matters to him, though. “I feel good that my club and my team are in the group stages,” he went on. “Whether I score or how many I really don’t care about. I don’t play for the numbers or the statistics. When I stop playing football or retire nobody will remember how many games I played or how many goals I scored. They will just remember the big wins. I am proud for myself that I played in the game against Barcelona, because people will remember that game for years. Hopefully I can now create more memories for the fans this year. And the year after next.”