The Republic of Congo isn’t the first country which comes to mind when thinking of football. A country which is more used to fighting poverty doesn’t have much time to produce quality sportsmen, but if they didn’t have any to be proud of before, they certainly do now. Christopher Samba may have been born in France, but his roots are purely Congolese, and he has gone on to make a name for himself at the highest of levels.
The 28 year old commanding centre back has steadily made the rise to the top level from the very bottom of the football pyramid, and with ambitious Anzhi Makhackala, he is re affirming his status as a rock solid defender with a handy eye for goal. After starring for then English Premier League side Blackburn Rovers for 5 years, in February 2012 he made the step up in his career that many had been waiting for. But Anzhi wasn’t the destination that many predicted for him.
While Anzhi have been transformed almost overnight from a lowly Russian yoyo side which fluttered between the Premier League and First Division to one of Europe’s super clubs, Samba has joined the fastest growing club on the planet. But after starring for Blackburn consistently for a number of seasons, English fans and the media alike were somewhat taken aback with the move.
More traditional European giants such as Manchester United were even rumoured to be fishing around for his services, but instead of plumping for the easy option, he decided to jump aboard the most exciting footballing project that there is around. Billionaire owner Suleyman Kerimov has been bold in his ambitious for his native Anzhi, and so far, you can’t say that the team are letting him down.
Since the big take over in winter 2011, Anzhi have been propelled from the depths of Russian football to the bright lights of European football, and as well as taking Europe by storm, Anzhi are fast closing in on their maiden Russian title and with it, a coveted Champions League berth. But the Russians were crying out for Samba.
For all of Anzhi’s new found success, a question mark has always been left over their somewhat unreliable back line. While there can be no arguments surrounding their attacking line, which at its best is simply one of the best in the world let alone Europe, silly goals have often been leaked at the back, and not just infrequently. But with their acquisition of Samba, they finally have someone they can truly rely on.
Standing at a lofty 6 ft 4 inches, as well as being heavily built, he has proven an instant hit. His physical presence has helped him cope with the physicality of Russian football, as well as having the technical ability to help the cause. And he hasn’t just been a help in the defence either. With Blackburn, he became a fans favourite with often scoring important headed goals, and it’s not hard to understand why.
In the penalty box at both ends he is almost unplayable at times with his intimidating physical presence, and he’s used it to good effect, using his aerial prowess to crash home many thumping headers from set pieces, and for Blackburn, you would more often than not find him being deployed as an emergency centre forward when needed at the tail end of games.
Samba has had to work for his success however. While he may be now experiencing the glittering lights of top class football, it hasn’t always been that way. Instead of having the luxury of joining a famed youth academy, Samba had to rely on just himself and hard graft to get to where he is now. After joining local unknown club D’Issy-les-Moulineaux in just 1997, he made a quick step up, albeit small step up, to FC Rouen, a club which has found itself floundering around the dark and murky depths of French football.
After a couple of years scouts from more fashionable club Sedan picked up him, and that’s just where everything started to get moving. Despite making just a mere 3 appearances for the first team, German giants Hertha Berlin felt the urge to take a gamble on Samba, and give him his first taste of top level football. But once again, just like at Sedan, first team opportunities were few and far between. Just a mere total 20 appearances was his reward for a 3 year stint in the German capital, but had done enough to impress ex English champions Blackburn Rovers that he was worth a punt.
It proved a simply inspired purchase. Samba, with his robust style of play at the back while often turning into a hero with a late saving goal at the other end, became a cult figure in local parts, and it’s no coincidence that following his departure Blackburn’s fortunes have dipped even further. But that won’t bother Samba himself, he‘s too busy making his own headlines in Russia. All the headlines surrounding him haven’t always been good however.
Last year in a game against Lokomotiv, he was the victim of a racist attack in Moscow after a Lokomotiv fan threw a banana at him, an incident which Samba himself admitted almost brought him to tears. Putting that aside, you won’t find many negative headlines surrounding the Congolese powerhouse, as he has noticeably helped shore up Anzhi’s previously weak defensive line to good effect.
The most important months of all are awaiting Anzhi and Samba, however. With the Europa League knockout stages being little over a month away, and the final stage of a marathon Russian season coming up in March, the real moments of truth awaits. With Samba’s defensive power Anzhi shouldn’t have much to worry about going backwards, and with the likes of Samuel Eto’o to call upon in the attacking third, all is looking rosy for the Russian champions elect.
Taking for granted that Samba can avoid any more mindless racist attacks, all he has to do is carry on producing the goods.
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow him on Twitter @zenitfan93
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