“This is not THE Samba I know, it’s Mike Tyson” – Trabzonspor Manager, Shota Arveladze,
By Dan Williams
When Chris Samba finally put pen to paper for Aston Villa, he had been on trial with the club for no less than five months. He arrived with a chequered CV: tales of guts and glory have more recently turned into tales of money and injury.
Having been touted by Harry Redknapp, Sam Allardyce and an assortment of ‘hoof it’ English managers, as the best defender outside the top four in the Premier League, the Congolese defender’s recent past has left us with more questions than answers.
Namely, why on Earth did a man who was once a £100k-per-week player end up on the doorstep of Bodymoor Heath for a trial?
Although his signing isn’t a risk financially for Villa, it’s safe to say that Samba’s stock as a professional has fallen considerably since his heyday, so do we have a hero or a zero on our hands?
No Pain, No Gain
In recent years, Samba’s career has been blighted by injury. It wasn’t so much a case of disappearing off the radar as it was disappearing to the treatment room.
Having missed just nine matches through injury in a five-year spell at Blackburn, Samba has missed a whopping forty-one matches through injury in the five years since then. That’s three-hundred-and-twenty-six days out of action.
From 2014, Samba spent two seasons out in colder climes at Dynamo Moscow. Despite being a mainstay in the side in his first season, a herniated disc saw the defender’s following season bypass him, almost in its entirety.
Perhaps more worryingly, injuries plagued his recent stint at Greece’s second club, Panathinaikos, to such an extent that his contract was mutually terminated in January of this year.
A herniated disc, muscle strains, abdominal influenza – this was Top Trumps: Injury Edition.
The good news for Villa fans is none of these issues were recurring. It’s not a persistently dodgy knee or ankle. For now at least, they’re one-offs.
Chewing the Fat
In the summer of 2015, Samba had just spent a season chewing up strikers for Dynamo Moscow, but all was not well. The club were in breach of financial fair play, so the future looked bleak for their highest paid players.
Samba, not being cash-shy, looked to be first out the door, with our very own claret-and-blue counterparts in Turkey, Trabzonspor, showing a keen interest. The deal looked to be a formality, until the Turkish club pulled out at the last minute.
Their manager at the time, former Rangers striker, Shota Arveladze, pulled no punches: “This is not the Samba I know, it’s Mike Tyson,” he said, in reference to Samba piling on the pounds in the off-season.
We all have a little too much junk in the trunk – that, I can understand – but this is a professional athlete. Letting him off for being overweight is a little bit like letting a carpenter off for building a table with no legs. It’s kind of his job.
Since joining Villa on trial, he does look a little leaner in comparison to some of his colleagues this summer – *cough* Micah Richards *cough* – but it remains to be seen if those fitness levels will hold-up through a busy winter schedule.
“This [Chris Samba] is an unbelievable signing.” – Harry Redknapp, QPR manager, 2013
Harry Redknapp was almost giddy with joy signing Christ Samba for QPR in a last ditch attempt to avoid relegation in the 2012/13 season.
Back in 2013, Chris Samba returned from counting his money on the coast of the Caspian Sea to join ‘Arry’s QPR. Redknapp was forthcoming about Samba’s generosity in taking a pay cut, reportedly worth around £20k-per-week, to join the club: just the £100k-per-week to get by on then…
Allegedly, Samba came back to the UK to be closer to his family. Although his motives in signing for cash-rich-success-poor Anzhi (and leaving his family behind in the first place) were probably money-related, it doesn’t wash that his reasons for coming back were.
Plus, let’s face it, if anyone loves to leave a club’s finances looking like the remnants of a nuclear war, it’s old ‘Arry – you can hardly blame Samba.
A few months later, and out of a job, Redknapp soon changed his tune.
“He [Christopher Samba] proved a terrible disappointment and we sold him back to Russia,” summarised the Blues current boss, back in 2013, after his Loftus Road sacking.
Trial and Error
At one point in their relationship, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Sam Allardyce and Chris Samba were in a remake of Notting Hill. Allardyce as Hugh Grant, Samba as Julia Roberts.
“Chris Samba is one of our major assets. No only as a defender, but in getting us opportunities to score goals,” gushed Big Sam, while manager of Blackburn. Loved up. Allardyce couldn’t get enough of him.
With that in mind, you’d have thought that when Samba later rocked up for a trial at Allardyce’s Crystal Palace in January this year, it would be a foregone conclusion.
Here you had a team struggling in a relegation scrap offering a trial to a man who’d win pretty much any scrap he was involved in, and yet he was never offered a permanent contract.
The word doing the rounds on social media was that, as was the case with Trabzonspor, Samba simply wasn’t fit enough.
‘A herniated disc, muscle strains, abdominal influenza – this was Top Trumps: Injury Edition.’
Time for Alarm Bells?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried after the recent injury problems Samba’s had, particularly recently at Panathinaikos. The bad news is he’s collected every injury under the Sun; the good news is that none of those injuries seem to be recurring, yet.
His general fitness doesn’t seem to be a worry. Steve Bruce has already laid into the previous regimes approach to pre-season training, so it’s unlikely that him and Samba will be off to Yummy’s Kebab Land together anytime soon. It sounds like his weight is back in-check for the first time in a long time.
When it comes to money, it’s hard to believe that a 33-year-old man who’s been without a club for half a year would be able to command a large contract. Besides, the general trend to Villa’s transfer business over the last month or so, has been reigning in the spending, not the ‘Who fancies a big, fat contract to sit on the bench and occasionally hug Hercules the Lion?” of yesteryear.
Though he’s only featured in a few friendlies against the best Berlin, Walsall and Telford have to offer, he’s already earned himself somewhat of a cult following. We had to stomach a year of Joleon Lescott, so that’s no surprise.
Although the arrival of John Terry was plastered across the back pages of newspapers, the signing of Chris Samba could prove to be equally astute.
If injuries prevail again, he’ll be no more than a fringe player, but if the Samba of old makes himself seen again, we could be looking at something much, much better than a third choice defender. At the very least, he’ll be a comprehensive insurance policy to cover Terry.
It could be a masterstroke Championship signing by Bruce, after the wasted money on Villa centre-backs in recent seasons.
Written by Dan Williams, follow him on Twitter here – @WanDilliams