Mbwana Samatta may have been good enough for the Premier League – but we’ll never find out.
Words: Andrew Maddox | @MaddoxJourno
Today, Mbwana ‘Ally’ Samatta’s Aston Villa nightmare came to an end with the confirmation of his transfer to Fenerbahçe.
The striker arrived at Villa with a fair amount of hype behind him, much of it from his native Tanzania, who adore him so much. Even aside from the Tanzanian hype, ‘Samagoal’ had scored 44 goals in 81 league games for KRC Genk in the Jupiler Pro League, the top flight of Belgian football. He had also netted past Liverpool in the Champions League, which did little to quell the excitement.
Seeing the high regard both Tanzanians and Genk fans held Samatta in, Villa fans were understandably excited by his arrival. Although how much of this was because of Samatta and how much of it was because Villa had zero fit strikers at the time, we will never know. Regardless, he came in and impressed Villa fans with his power and his aerial ability. As Dean Smith had drawn criticism for hoofing crosses into Wesley, who prefers the ball at his feet, a striker who was capable of burying those headers was an appealing prospect.
Both of his goals, against Bournemouth and Manchester City, were from headers. On both occasions, he showed a bravery to get to the ball and fire home before anyone else. He even bullied Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld into scoring an own goal when the two met at Villa Park. Big things were expected of him in a Villa shirt, until the lockdown hit.
The three month gap between the games against Leicester City and Sheffield United did numbers to Samatta’s fitness and confidence. He was already having to get accustomed to a new country, a new language and a new culture, but now he was having to do it practically alone. There was no face-to-face training for weeks and due to social distancing, he couldn’t go out anywhere to meet new people and settle in. This is why he never quite looked at home in a Villa shirt.
Different players dealt with lockdown in different ways. Douglas Luiz spent it learning English and Pepe Reina made TikTok’s, but these players were already used to England. Samatta never had that luxury due to the unfortunate timing of his arrival. This is all too familiar to Villa fans as strikers have had promising starts extinguished before.
Libor Kozak signed from Lazio in September 2013 and provided crucial backup to Christian Benteke for Paul Lambert’s side. He had a decent first half of the 2013-14 season, scoring four goals and being a generally popular figure before breaking his leg in January. After this, he picked up injury after injury, never getting his berth in the team back and leaving for free in 2017. The long period out with minimal contact, combined with his other injuries, ruined his time in Birmingham.
However, the comparison with Kozak gives Samatta hope for his future career in Turkey. Kozak rebuilt his reputation at Bari and later Livorno back in Italy before returning home to the Czech Republic with Sparta Prague. He even returned to the Czech national team in 2019 after six years out of the picture. Therefore, Samatta shouldn’t feel as if his career is over. This is simply a stumbling block for him to continue having a glittering career elsewhere in Europe.
Even after all this, he is still held up as a hero in Tanzania. In the words of Kenyan journalist Grace Mwelu:
“He is a hero to many in Tanzania as he is the first Tanzanian to play in the Premier League.
“He is an inspiration to many young players in Tanzania, evidenced by how many areas of the country came to a standstill when Villa played.”
You only need to look at the comments on any of Villa’s recent Twitter posts to see this. They are filled with Tanzanian football fans wishing relegation on Villa simply for selling their captain.
Regardless of his hiccup in England, he will always have the unconditional love of his country and the respect of Villa fans for his exemplary attitude as we all wonder what could have been for Samagoal.