Former Blackburn defender Chris Samba returns to England hoping Anzhi Makhachkala can continue run of form against Liverpool
Christopher Samba makes a return to England tonight with the former Blackburn Rovers defender lining up with new club Anzhi Makhachkala at Anfield to play Liverpool in the Europa League.
Having left Ewood Park in January for a fee of £12.3m, Samba has made the 1,600 mile flight from Moscow to Merseyside to play in England for the first time since his departure.
There'll be no fears of jetlag, despite the long journey, as Anzhi are used to travelling long distances to home games. Players live and train in the Russian capital Moscow as Makhachkala, based in the Republic of Dagestan, is deemed too dangerous.
Despite these obvious concerns, Samba is enjoying life in Russia and appreciates the fans' commitment to the team.
"The people who live in Makhachkala have a warm heart, they come to the stadium and give their support and are behind us. They watch us for the joy we can bring them. We are not in Makhachkala a lot of the time but we enjoy the time we do spend there. The weather in Russia is a bit colder than in England but it's going great."
Despite the trouble which goes on daily in the city of Makhachkala, located on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, a plethora of football superstars have been persuaded to turn out for the 'Wild Division' as Anzhi's fans are nicknamed.
Bankrolled by successful Russian businessman Suleyman Kerimov and currently managed by Guus Hiddink, the club first persuaded Brazil legend Roberto Carlos to join the club in 2011. It was a real coup and many other big names followed including Mbark Boussoufa, Yuri Zhirkov and Lassana Diarra.
The biggest star to join Kerimov's revolution is former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto'o, a player Samba describes as "the best".
"For me, he is the best striker. To play with him is great and even though he is a little older, you can see why he is one of the best strikers. It is good to play with him and see the things he does."
Anzhi, who usually play at the Dynamo Stadium, have been forced by Uefa to play their European home games at Lokomotiv Moscow's stadium due to safety fears. Kerimov intends to add to his empire however, with plans to build a brand new 40,000-seater stadium which the club hopes will meet all Uefa requirements.
"The chairman sees the team, he is behind us. He comes to the games, he enjoys the games. He really is a part of what he has built" says Samba of the clubs' owner.
Founded in 1991, Anzhi are rubbing shoulders with the Russian Premier League big boys. Remaining at the top of the table after a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Spartak Moscow last Saturday, Samba hopes the team can maintain their excellent form.
"We hope to stay where we are (top of the league). We have a lot of clubs that are behind us; CSKA, Spartak, Zenit. A lot of these clubs invest a lot in players too. It will not be easy but we try to take one game at a time and try to do the best we can in every competition."
Having landed in Liverpool on Wednesday, Anzhi held a special commemoration ceremony for the Hillsborough victims at the memorial site at Anfield. A great gesture by the club and Samba is looking forward to tonight's showdown.
"It will be a good game. You have to do your best and hope for the best result."
The former Hertha Berlin man spent five years in the Premier League with Blackburn and knows exactly what to expect when facing English opposition. Whilst he has given some tips to players he believes his team-mates will focus on their own game.
"We have to concentrate on what we have to do and the way we play. With some players you can give them a bit of an education but everybody knows Liverpool, everybody knows they are a big team" said the French-born centre-back.
Russian football is growing every year, however, racism casts a shadow over the game. English football fans were shocked and appalled by events in Serbia last week when several of the England Under-21 squad were racially abused by sections of the home support. Samba too, has experienced the same kind of mistreatment since moving to Eastern Europe. During a game against Lokomotiv Moscow, just a month into Samba's Anzhi career, a member of the crowd allegedly threw a banana in the defender's direction.
Samba believes that the best way to combat discrimination is to educate and make supporters aware that it is not acceptable.
"We need to educate people. You can punish them but you also need to make people understand about colour, that people are different. People shouldn't be judged or hated just on the colour of their skin. I think it's a little bit silly."
Meanwhile, the ex-Blackburn star has kept an eye on his former club and hopes the supporters continue to back the club despite the sides' relegation last year under the much publicised stewardship of recently sacked coach Steve Kean.
"It's been a tough time. The power is the people. It's difficult if the fans don't believe in you and what you are trying to do for the club. There is a lot of pressure through the adversity. At the end of the day, it's all about the results. The fans have to believe in the manager and team and fight with instead of against the manager. It's already difficult to fight against the position you are in."
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