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Jlloyd Samuel (Aston Villa vs Leicester City)

If you’re a football fan who lives in Trinidad and Tobago you have two options for a sporting hero; you either look up to Dwight Yorke or Jlloyd Samuel. Who you look up to is determined by what you think is the main aim of football; do you score goals or stop them; in the first of a two-part Trinidad and Tobago special, we take the approach that you stop them first.

Having moved from his native Trinidad at an early age, Samuel’s football career started on the playground at St Joseph’s academy in London. The former grammar school also produced the talents of Football Manager icon Cherno Samba; Charlton and Bolton defender Anthony Burgess, and Rugby League international Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook.

Samuel’s talents on the playing fields of the Blackheath school were soon noticed by Charlton Athletic, who snapped up the player on an apprentice contract.

As a youngster, the defender was also on the books at West Ham and was released the same day as Paul Konchesky, Lee Bowyer, and Bobby Zamora; unlike the following free though Samuel’s career would take his attention away from London.

It was at the Addicks that he was noticed by John Gregory, who caused a legal dispute to sign the young player. Before the world of Bosman rulings and transfer windows, tribunals to settle legal issues surrounding transfers were quite common.

However, it was quite rare for academy players to be the center of a case, due to the fact that more often than not the purchasing team had to prove the player in question added a significant value to the club or addressed a specific need.

What made the case controversial was that John Gregory wanted the player, yet didn’t want to start him; making his transition north more unique at the time.

In the end, Gregory did put some faith in his new man early on, having started nine games in his debut season, however, was shipped back to the South East on loan at Gillingham. A spell that saw him make just eight appearances for the Gills. It was under Graham Taylor though, where the West-Indies born defender shone.

It was under Taylor were Samuel gained a strong reputation for being a good tackler and set piece defender during the noughties yo-yo years, Samuel’s defensive prowess as a full back also garnered the attention of the England selectors, who called him up for the U-21’s in 2001. However, he was only considered once for the senior side of his adopted home; in 2004 during the height of O’Leary’s time with the club.

During that time, he was credited as part of a strong chemistry with fellow Villa defender Olof Mellberg, and the two still share a good relationship to this day.

Despite not playing for England, Samuel did enjoy a short international career at Trinidad and Tobago in 2009. Although he wanted to play for his native home a lot sooner, yet a legal issue surrounding his internationally declared status meant this was blocked.

Even though he had dual nationality, Samuel couldn’t represent his home because of his England call-up in 2004; even though he never kicked a ball in anger.

The whole issue screams unfair, since if he had gone to Germany with Trinidad and Tobago he would have made a massive addition to a team that was relying on an aging Dwight Yorke; in short the full back had almost his entire international career robbed by a FIFA technicality.

The issue rubbed sorely with Samuel who after the ruling stated: “I’ve played for the England Under-21s and I’m sure some people will accuse me of jumping on the bandwagon, but I feel Trinidadian and want to play for them, I was born in Trinidad and it would make me proud to play for them.”

That World Cup was also significant for his club career, since, after the World Cup, Samuel would find chances under Martin O’Neill hard to come by. Samuel eventually revealed on his personal website (this was before the age of Twitter) that he would leave Villa to pursue first team opportunities.

Those opportunities came at Bolton, were under Gary Megson he would rekindle his form as a rock solid full-back. After a competent couple of seasons, Samuel was finally given his wish of playing for his native Trinidad and Tobago, after an impressive start, the Soca Warriors campaign had stalled.

Manager Russell Latapy hoped that Samuel and Bobby Zamora would be able to get them over the line and qualify for the World Cup, yet an injury prevented the latter from playing, and a defeat to Honduras meant the island national had no hope of qualification. The disappointments’ of 2009 didn’t end there. As under Megson’s tenure Bolton were in decline, and the defender took a share of the blame.

Samuel’s last action in the England would be teaming up with Craig Bellamy in 2011 to aid Cardiff City in their promotion charge, alas the Bluebirds failed in their first real attempt to get to the promised land causing him to seek a new challenge.

Jlloyd Samuel definitely put the “new” in new challenge when he signed for Iranian side Esteghlal F.C. The full-back has picked up a Hazfi Cup and Iranian Pro League since switching to the Persian nation. Indeed, Iran is still a place he calls home having made the move to then recently promoted Paykan in 2014. Samuel left the Crown of Asia after a dispute over unpaid wages.

Perhaps if football on and off the field was fairer, the Caribbean-born defender would have played at two World Cups. Yet with his Iranian adventure, Jlloyd represents a bit of a footballing colonist. The easier option would have been the MLS or the A-league, however, there’s no sense of discovery with a move to L.A Galaxy of Perth Glory later on in your career.

Indeed, Samuel desired deepened knowledge of the world and a new culture. He certainly got that when he witness his new team-mates sacrifice a ship for good luck. However, despite the sacrificial side to Iranian club football, he can now boast to have played for a club who, during his time at the Tehran outfit, had an average attendance of 80,000.

So if the conversation ever transpires in your local about what Jlloyd Samuel has achieved, you can say he’s played in front of almost as many people as Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo.