Tanzanian international striker Mbawana Samatta hopes that his career can prove to be a source of inspiration and that many of his countrymen will follow him into the English Premier League.
The 27-year-old joined Aston Villa from Belgian Jupiler League side Genk on a four-and-a-half-year deal worth £10 million in January, becoming the first Tanzanian to play in the English Premier League following a scoring debut for Villa in a 2-1 loss to Bournemouth on February 1 2020.
“When I was starting my professional career, the ultimate goal I set myself was to play in England,” he said in a recent interview. “But more than a goal achieved, coming here was, above all, the realization of a dream. It’s a dream that a great many Tanzanian players pursue but one that had never been achieved before. I realize therefore how fortunate I am!”
“It’s a source of great personal pride, but I hope it can serve to help others,” he continued. “If I can succeed, then other Tanzanians can too. And if I can help them believe in themselves, so much the better!”
For Samatta, self-belief has been a key aspect of his success. His journey to the big stage of European football has not been without its obstacles, requiring him to show patience, perseverance and, above all, self-confidence. “Faith in God and faith in myself were the keys to my success,” he confirmed. “As well as that, there’s a lot of sacrifice, hard work, determination and discipline.”
The 27-year-old is already something of a legend in his homeland, having racked up 21 goals in 57 international appearances and playing a starring role in qualifying the Taifa Stars for the 2019 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, after a near 40-year absence.
“Qualifying for that tournament is certainly the best memory of my career to date, and there’ve been some wonderful ones,” he said, before adding: “It really was something special both for me and my country.”
However, Tanzania received a rude reintroduction to continental football at the finals in Egypt, where they suffered a first-round exit on the back of defeats to Senegal (2-0), Kenya (3-2) and Algeria (3-0). As captain, Samatta subsequently apologized to the fans and public on behalf of the team for letting them down. “I don’t want to dwell on that anymore. It’s behind us now and I’d rather look to the future,” he insisted, vowing, “we’ll make amends!”
The Taifa Stars have an immediate chance to redeem themselves. Not only are they in contention in the race to qualify for the AFCON 2021 in Cameroon (currently second in Group J behind Tunisia), they are very optimistic about a maiden FIFA World Cup™ appearance in 2022. After overcoming Burundi in the first round, they now find themselves alongside Congo DR, Benin and Madagascar in the group stage.
“If you look at where the national team was five years ago, this is not the same Taifa Stars. Enormous progress has been made. We’re developing slowly but surely,” he insisted. “I’m daring to believe that the rate of progress can be the same for the next five years with the best yet to come for the team.”
Would the ideal culmination of that progress be participation at Qatar 2022? “Yes, that would be the ultimate and would complete my footballing journey. There’d be nothing left after that but to retire,” he concluded with a laugh.
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