Cherno Samba is often used as an example of a Championship Manager wonderkid who wasn’t as good in real life – but the man himself doesn’t see it that way at all and certainly doesn’t begrudge being rated so highly on the game.
Samba is well known as one of the best players to ever appear on either Championship Manager or Football Manager, but it only happened because of his incredible achievements as a young player in real life.
He had been signed by Millwall on the back of 132 goals in 32 games for his school team, had been tipped to win the World Cup for England, and was wanted by the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United, such was his talent.
So although Samba admits he would sometimes find himself trying to live up to his stats in real life, he doesn’t believe the people behind the game made a mistake.
As a guest on our new podcast, The Broken Metatarsal, which celebrates the best of 2000s football, we asked Samba whether he believed his stats were a fair reflection of his abilities at the time, he said: “Yeah, absolutely!
“I was very confident in my own ability. When it was time for me to score now I’d go and get the ball, beat a few defenders and score.
“At that time (of the game), I was bursting into the limelight. They would just predict what would happen in the future.
“I think most of the stats they got right. I was very explosive, my speed was my strength, and I always used to come deep to get the ball, turn and attack defenders.
“But the heading ability (20), I don’t know where they got that from because that was my worst.”
And Samba certainly doesn’t blame the game for the fact that he didn’t, in fact, win the World Cup for England in 2006. Instead, he regrets the way he handled himself at a time when he really was one of the best players around for age.
“There are certain people in the game that weren’t happy with the fact that [they were brilliant on the game], they always blamed the game that their career went a certain way, for example, Freddy Adu.
“But I disagree with that. As a human being, whatever you set out to do, you have to have the belief to go out and do it. So there was no game that stopped you doing what you wanted to.
“So for me, you should be privileged to be ranked among those, and you’ve got to deliver.
“But people weren’t necessarily telling me what was best for me. All the people around me were telling me what I wanted to hear, which didn’t help because I was only young.
“So I was a little bit cocky. I was better than everyone else and I didn’t want to work hard enough. If it was time to do an hour in the gym I’d probably do 10 minutes and walk off because I was always scoring goals and people were telling me what I want to hear.
“I wish in hindsight they were telling me, ‘you are the best, however, you’ve got to put the hours in, you’ve got to work harder.”
Samba believes things may actually have turned out better for him had he not been standing out so much when he was young, but that’s not to say he has any regrets about his career in the end.
“I always tell people I wish I was one of those kids who walked from the back door, not the front door,” he says.
“I wish I was one of those kids who no one knew what I was doing, I’d get on with my work really quietly and then burst.
“But I burst very quickly and with that it brings pressure. Maybe I would have prolonged my career and played at the highest level.
“But how many people can say they’ve achieved their goals? My goal was to be a professional footballer and play for England or Gambia at senior level, and I did all that.
“It’s just the expectation that was put on me that it looks like a failed career, but I played in the Championship, I played in Spain, how many people can say that?
“I’m happy with how my career turned out.”
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And now Samba is in the early throes of a new career as a coach and has been passing on his experiences to young players of today to help stress the need for even the wonderkids to put the hard work in.
“I’ve been there, done it, got the t-shirt,” Samba says. “There’s nothing in life that you can’t do, but you have to put the effort in. If you put the effort in you’ll get to where you want to get to.
“You have to believe and work hard. If you take short cuts, people will catch up on you. One of the reasons why I didn’t get to the highest level was because I was taking short cuts because I was better than everyone else. I didn’t feel like I wanted to work hard enough.
“So when I tell these kids they can see where I’m coming from and I’m glad that they listen. Hopefully, they’ll get to the top.”
Listen to the full episode of The Broken Metatarsal with Samba below in which he also discusses struggling with depression, receiving a phone call from Michael Owen on the school bus, signing himself on the game, and being so good on the game that it led to a divorce.