Monday 14 September 2020, 07:31

Samatta: My English breakthrough can inspire other Tanzanians

  • Mbwana Samatta is captain of the Tanzanian national team

  • Striker fired the Taifa Stars to the 2019 AFCON after a four-decade absence

  • Samatta is also the first Tanzanian to play in the English Premier League

For several seasons now, the likes of Egypt's Mohamed Salah, Gabon's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Senegal's Sadio Mane and Algeria's Riyad Mahrez have been proudly flying the flag for African football. Their well-documented exploits on English soil has naturally whetted the appetite of other players from the Mother Continent, which provided 50 players to Premier League squads last season. One of those was Mbwana Samatta.

"When I was starting my professional career, the ultimate goal I set myself was to play in England,” the Tanzanian marksman, who joined Aston Villa from KRC Genk in February 2020, told “But more than a goal achieved, coming here was, above all, the realisation of a dream. It’s a dream that a great many Tanzanian players pursue but one that had never been achieved before. I realise therefore how fortunate I am!"

Historic goal and achievement

Mbawana also cherishes his personal accomplishments in the game. Not only is he the first Tanzanian player to compete in the English top-flight, he is also the first to score a goal in the Premier League – a feat he achieved on 1 February 2020 against Bournemouth. "It’s a source of great personal pride, but I hope it can serve to help others," he said. "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 upper levels 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."

It is clearly a combination that has paid off. While Samatta is only starting to make a name for himself in England with the Villains, the 27-year-old is already something of a legend in his homeland, having racked up 21 goals in 57 international appearances and been instrumental 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."

The dream turned somewhat sour, however, 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 apologised 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!"

Aly Mbwana Samatta 

Setting course for Cameroon and Qatar

Tanzania do have an immediate chance to redeem themselves. Not only are they in contention in the race to qualify for the AFCON 2021 in Cameroon (they are currently second in Group J behind Tunisia), but they have grounds for optimism 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.