It was a display of such virtuosity, of such elegant and artful scheming, that it approached an act of beauty, but also something surely terrifying. In the space of 42 minutes, he was at the gleaming centre of a performance that stripped Motherwell to nothing more than a sense of ruin.

By the interval, Gordon Strachan’s team were 4-0 up, Samaras having combined with Shaun Maloney and Scott McDonald in an eruption of intent, their fluid interplay bringing a kind of devastation to bear on the home defence. In his first touch, control, movement and the absolute certainty of his finishing, Samaras seemed like the complete striker, somebody able to reach for a higher form of effectiveness, as though anything might be possible.

The game, in September 2008, eventually finished 4-2 but it still felt like evidence of a moment of recognition in Samaras, that he had come to understand the true extent of his influence. 
He even scored four goals in his next three games, and a career that was considered so promising that his £6m move to Manchester City in 2006 made him the club’s then second costliest signing, behind Nicolas Anelka – and the most expensive Greek footballer – looked to be finding its definition.

But then, intermittent flashes of accomplishment litter his past, and the essence of Samaras seems to be not so much a striker of pure, authentic technique, but rather an irresolution. He will, no doubt, be central to Celtic when they travel to Fir Park on Saturday, a ground where he has scored three times in four visits. And, again, he looks to be in the midst of a rush of form, having scored four goals in his last three games, all of which Celtic won.

There is a sharp awareness to Samaras and an urge to be somewhere near the focus of everything that is significant, but also an instability. It is as if a fracture occasionally reveals itself, so that his game loses validity and he is prone to running, with his head down, into knots of trouble.

“When you gain experience, you learn how to play in tight situations,” says Craig Brewster, who played in Greece with Ionikos. “That’s when he needs to play simple passes and stay on the move all the time, but that comes with learning how to be clever, using your brain in different situations. He’s probably not a natural goalscorer, he likes freedom to play and when he has that, he performs to his best.”

We can recognise in him a figure of complexity, capable of the run and finish of such exquisite assurance that delivered the winning goal in Russia when Celtic knocked Dinamo Moscow out of the Champions League qualifiers last August, but also of fading into obscurity in games, when an expression of incredulity creases his sallow features and the ball seems like a traitor to him. Perhaps, at 24, he is still trying to make sense of his gifts.

Samaras moved to Holland from Crete when he was 16, and made his debut for Heerenveen at 17, scoring three times in his first four appearances as a substitute. During his 88 games, and 25 goals, he was understudy to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and moved himself, to Manchester City, soon after the Dutchman left for Ajax.

So it was in England, where the size of his fee brought its own obligations, where Samaras was first exposed to the true weight of expectation. “We have spent [£6m] on a 20-year-old,” said Stuart Pearce, then the City manager. “When his contract is renegotiated, he might be worth £12m.”

In the end, he scored eight times in 55 appearances and his departure felt like an act of mercy. Injury curtailed some of last season for Samaras, and diminished so much of his form that the suggestion of growing stature in recent weeks cannot be relied upon.

There is, though, in his gliding motion, and the flares of expertise, something alluring. “He represents the post-Euro 2004 generation of Greek football,” says George Georgakopoulos, a sports writer for the Kathimerini newspaper. “He was idolised last month as his perfect 40m forward pass to Dimitris Salpigidis set up Greek’s goal in the World Cup play-off with Ukraine. He has grown into an indispensable figure.”

Samaras is 6ft 4in and there is a power to his frame, but mostly it is the finery of his game that catches the eye. Consistency, or at least a greater reliability, remains his most elusive trait.