What Giorgios Samaras told Vasilis Barkas to sell him on Celtic
Celtic supporters were hardly universally supportive of what Georgios Samaras contributed to the club’s cause across a wildly fluctuating seven-year stint in Scotland. But after crying out for a pedigree keeper as it became apparent there was to be no return for Fraser Forster, they can thank Samaras for answering the call.
The call in question was the one that Vasilis Barkas put into the big forward, now retired and vice-president at OFI Crete. It proved decisive in the 26-year-old Greek international deciding to commit himself to a four-year deal with the Scottish champions, his £5 million move from AEK Athens finalised yesterday. Now, Barkas wants to enjoy the highs Samaras did following his move to Glasgow in 2007; the steepest proving the pivotal role he played in the club’s run to the last 16 of the Champions League in 2012.
“I was able to speak to him because one of my very good friends plays for OFI, and has a very good relationship with him,” said Barkas.
“He just said ‘go, don’t even think about it.’
“He told me how Celtic was a very big team and the fans loved the team so much and were crazy about the team. That made my decision easier.
“But I already knew Celtic were a very big team and club with great fans and a great stadium which has a good atmosphere. I think all the players want to play for Celtic but it was good to speak to Samaras. I know that before me, he is the only Greek player to play for Celtic so I hope to have the same career here that he did because I know he was successful. I want to become a big player here like he was.
“I remember he played in the last 16 of the Champions League with Celtic and I’m ready to do the same. I want to help take Celtic as far as possible in the Champions League.”
Barkas, who remembers the Parkhead atmosphere as “something very special” from when he was part of the AEK side which stymied Celtic’s attempts to reach the group stages two years ago, believes that all his career aspirations can be served in Glasgow. Even when he is aiming for pre-eminence in his field.
“I want to stay here a long time, a lot of years, and to become the best goalkeeper,” he added.
“When you are the best goalkeeper at Celtic you are automatically one of the best in Europe and in the world.
“It’s one of the biggest teams in the world so you become one of the biggest goalkeepers in my opinion.”
Barkas began his career with “a small club in Athens and then I played 11 years for Atromitos. Then AEK bought me and I had four years there I won one championship. And now I am here to win another championship.”
Not just any championship but an historic tenth straight title. That pursuit of the unprecedented will put him under no extra pressure, he says, since the obligation is to win the league every year at the club.
Barkas considers he will be ready to take his place between the uprights for the club’s Premiership opener at home to Hamilton Accies “with one or two training sessions”.
He may show more than his handling abilities in those since he has a penchant for demonstrating his ball skills outfield. “I like playing other positions. I like being a goalkeeper, but I also like playing with my feet, so I wouldn’t have a problem playing left-back or midfielder or something like that… I always played as goalkeeper but as the years have passed I have liked to play outfield as in modern football goalkeepers need to be able to play.”
His inspiration in the day job is German World Cup winner Manuel Neuer, and not because the Bayern Munich No 1 is far from averse to joining in the play with his feet, charging up the pitch when the occasion allows or demands. The pair encountered one another when Barkas excelled for AEK across their Champions League group stage defeats by the Bavarians in 2018.
These proved precious occasions for the now Celtic keeper, who said: “He is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, both with feet and with hands.
“For a goalkeeper confidence is everything. It’s his job to give confidence to his team-mates and the character he shows is crucial to the team. I don’t know yet if the coach will be happy with me running to the halfway line like Neuer. But if I save one goal doing it then why not?’
“It was special for me to play against him. It was a dream actually. I was able to take his shirt. That’s what football is all about. When you see your idol up close and play against him. Those were two of my best games, I made two good games against Bayern.
“After the game he said to me I did good and told me to keep going. When your idol speaks with you and says you did good you feel fantastic. And maybe I will meet him again playing in the Champions League with Celtic.”
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