It’s hard to find a Celtic player who defines the term ‘cult hero’ more than Georgios Samaras.
He is a player that split opinion throughout his Parkhead career, but always shared a special bond with the Celtic Park fan base.
A haul of four league titles during his time in Glasgow’s east end doesn’t quite tell the towering 6 ft 4 forward and his enigmatic spell in Scotland.
Samaras was a player that had that special something and would give everything for the Celtic cause whether playing out wide or as the lone striker.
And that’s not to forget his trademark long locks that immediately made him stand out on the park when he picked up pace.
As part of our series on Scottish football cult heroes, Record Sport looks back on what made Samaras so popular and what he’s been up to since.
How did he end up in Scotland?
Before Manchester City were splashing the cash, Samaras was pulling on the light blue jersey.
At the time it was a big money move for the club at around £ 6million from Heerenveen, but the Greek striker courted controversy as City languished in the lower-reaches of the English Premier League.
In his first season he earned the ire of skipper Richard Dunne, who claimed that his performance was impacted by players who didn’t work hard enough – and would go on to name check Samaras.
Samaras would then point the finger at boss Stuart Pearce claiming that the manager’s lack of faith impacted his form, and insisted that his “high transfer fee” had put him in the spotlight.
The next season, Sven Goran Eriksson arrived in Manchester and decided Samaras had no place at City.
After struggling to the end of an 18-month slog in the Eastlands, Celtic offered an olive branch with a loan exit for the striker in the January 2008 window.
Looking back on the move, Samaras said: “When I left Manchester City I needed to go to a place where the club would support and respect me.
“I appreciated the way Celtic brought me into a family atmosphere from the first minute I arrived here. It was like a big hug for me after six months of feeling alone in Manchester. I wanted to leave and go back to the club where I felt wanted. ”
The fans took Samaras to their hearts, and the loan deal was made permanent in the summer.
Why did the fans love him so much?
There is no doubt that Samaras was a player for the big moments.
While his performances could split opinion, he will be fondly remembered for some huge European goals and derby day strikes.
Neil Lennon once admitted about Samaras “he’s the type of player who could get me sacked” due to his inconsistent showings.
In Europe it was hard to argue with his impact as he took on the lone striker role, with two goals in Moscow defining his heroics.
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He scored in injury time of the Champions League third qualifying round tie against Dynamo Moscow in 2009 to secure Celtic’s first away win in six years.
Back in 2012, Samaras headed in an added-time winner to give Celtic their first ever away victory in the Champions League group stages.
How did he earn his cult hero status?
Well, goals against Rangers help for sure.
And Samaras’ stock rose significantly with the support in the key New Year Old Firm derby in which he scored both goals in a 2-0 victory in 2011.
European goals are all well and good but you have to do it on derby day if you’re going to make it in Glasgow.
Aside from his double, the Celtic faithful will probably rank his overall display back in 2011 as his standout showing in green and white.
The magic moment came as he latched on to Joe Ledley’s long ball and sidestepped onrushing Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor to put the ball into the empty net.
He then continued to give the Rangers defense a torrid time, when Madjid Bougherra chopped down the striker after a terrific solo run. Samaras stepped up to convert from the spot.
The scenes of him running into the crowd to celebrate have stuck with fans since that day.
Where did he go after Celtic Park?
After the curtain was brought down on his six-year stint in Glasgow’s east end, Samaras had a nomadic career.
He first made his return to the English Premier League with West Brom, but only managed only eight substitute appearances, all without scoring.
After just six months he was shipped out to Al Hilal in the Middle East. Despite getting off to a blistering start with a goal on his debut, his spell di lui in Saudi Arabia was hampered by a three-month injury layoff with a hip injury.
He would then try his luck in the North American Soccer League with Rayo OKO, but after one season the franchise was shut down. That sparked a brief spell at Real Zaragoza after becoming a free agent once again.
He would round off his career in the Turkish First Division with Samsunspor in 2018.
What is he up to now?
Georgios Samaras retired from playing to take up a role with boyhood club OFI Crete.
Before catching the eye of Heerenveen, the Greek talisman broke into the team with his hometown side.
Now he is looking to repay the club and take them to the pinnacle of the Greek game while working as vice-president of the side.
When he took on the role in 2018, he said: “I retired from football at 33 for two reasons. Firstly, my back has not been 100 per cent for many years and secondly I was working on this project with OFI Crete for two years .
“Crete is my home and my family live here. It’s the only club that would have made me come back to Greece.
“The club was looking for investment and a new structure and we have a plan to bring this club back to the top.”
Since then he has helped ensure the club are a mainstay of the Greek Super League with regular top flight football.