GEORGIOS Samaras was at his brooding, compelling, enigmatic best when he made a welcome return to media duties at Lennoxtown yesterday.
Ostensibly, the purpose of his appearance was to promote the launch of an official Celtic channel on YouTube and to preview tonight's match at Hearts. Happily he soon slalomed off in more interesting directions.
Some unspecified displeasure with the media meant he had kept reporters at arm's length recently but a mixture of intelligence and candour makes Samaras one of the most interesting footballers in Scotland when he's in the mood. He never cracked a smile yesterday and met some questions with a barely-concealed exasperation, but he was terrific value.
Two topics got him animated. Firstly, the suggestion that Celtic had dropped 17 out of 42 available Clydesdale Bank Premier League points because their mentality wasn't quite right before and after Champions League matches (each of their defeats or draws in the league has come either side of a European tie). Secondly, he bristled at the idea that he might be happier or contributing more to the team now than he was a year ago, when Neil Lennon had praised him at Celtic's annual general meeting but added that his inconsistency meant he was "a player who could ultimately get me the sack".
First up, the players' mentality. No sooner were the words out than Samaras seized on them, going to some length to clarify what he saw as the clear distinction between having the right mentality and the right psychology. "It's nothing to do with mentality," he began. "To be honest, I hate that word. I don't agree that the mentality isn't right, or agree with that word. I know it is difficult to go from Champions League to SPL but that's the reason we're professionals. We need to switch on and be more focused and try to play our game.
"Psychology is a totally different thing from mentality. People might use mentality as an excuse. I'm not a believer in that but psychology is something else. When you're psychologically high, you're feeling good about yourself and feeling positive. That's a totally different thing from your mentality. You can't compare them or put them in the same cup. Of course we need to be in good psychological condition to do well and I think we are. But I don't believe we have a problem regarding mentality.
"It's normal to have ups and downs. I think what we've done during this period [the European campaign] has been like that. We've not been consistent and that's our problem. But we're always thinking positively. Hopefully after the Champions League game, I think we're going to find our form and open a gap between us and the other teams in the SPL."
Samaras scored the goal when Celtic beat Hearts 1-0 at Parkhead in October. Curiously it is the only domestic goal he has managed all season yet he has six in total, having scored once against all five of the clubs Celtic have faced in the Champions League qualifiers and group stage. It has been one of the most impressive spells of his near five-year career at the club. Or to outsiders it has been, at least.
The Greek himself remained utterly unmoved when it was put to him that his popularity had never been higher. "I just play my game. If people like me: good. If they don't like me: again, it's good. I don't care. I play because I love football, nothing else. Nothing has changed. I'm here for five years and I hear the same things every time I sit in this chair [to do interviews]: you're leaving the club, you're on the transfer list, other clubs want you, you're staying, you're going, you're playing well, you're not playing well. I just ignore it all and play my game. Nothing has changed."
But surely this was a more rewarding spell than a year ago? "Nothing at all has changed."
Didn't the manager say there had been a heart-to-heart discussion? "It's like all the players with the manager: I had a chat. I asked him for something and he did it and that was it. I said to him I needed a run of games to find a rhythm, nothing else. Not be in and out of the team. For a period it was normal; I was in and out of the team because I was really tired after the World Cup [in 2010]. But we had a chat and I had a good rest last summer. It was a normal thing between a player and the manager, nothing more. It's not that I did anything special, or he did something special. We just sit round the table and talk about what was good for the club."
It couldn't have been an easy time? "It was really easy, trust me."
Even when supporters booed during last season's home game against Sion? "I don't care. They can do whatever they want. If they want to close their eyes when I have the ball, fine. If I score a goal and they don't celebrate, fine. I just play for Celtic. That's my club and I've proved that by committing to the club for five years. I think I've proved a lot of things regarding my attitude, just by being here."
If Celtic want their YouTube project to be a hit, they should fill it with Samaras's best interviews.