Holding back the tears has become far from easy to do as Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba bids farewell to the City Ground, in an emotional message put out on social media today, the popular Congolese goalkeeper said his ‘thank you’s’ to those that have supported him during his three year tenure in this of ‘his’ now newly adopted English city, that he’ll be forever welcomed back home in.
A play-off semi-final of perhaps the greatest goalkeeping performance seen at the City Ground is a last memory of him in NG2, slowly trudging off at Wembley Stadium with just a few minutes to go in the Playoff final verses Huddersfield Town, the last time he appeared for Forest, before that smile as wide as the Trent, eclipsed the celebrations of promotion and the party that lasted for seemingly weeks after.
It never seemed in doubt, the star goalkeeper was one to stay, Reds fans would be literally placing him down as first name on the team sheet in their new look Premier League era eleven, but when whilst on holiday in Saint-Tropez, his agent provoked the club to request a deserved wage hike written into Samba’s contract as a clause ‘if’ and ‘when’ the club gained promotion to the Premier League, the answer wasn’t one that player or negotiator, expected.
Forest ‘refused’ to increase Samba’s wages, instead intrigued themselves by the possibility of upgrading in personnel, the Reds transfer panel confidently setting sights on Manchester United’s Dean Henderson all be it on loan, an England international and arguable upgrade for Samba, but an even more expensive one at that.
In truth, no Forest fan would argue that Henderson, a man who kept out David de Gea for the majority of the 2020/21 season, is not a better, safer option of goalkeeper to play Premier League football, but not many Forest fans will be dry eyed either on a Cult Hero leaving, a man who came and left with a smile, instantaneously adored by the City Ground faithful, for his performances, the way in which he played, conducted himself, and enjoyed his time, as a self-proclaimed sh*t house.
Stating in his emotional Instagram post “To the fans, to my partners, to my coaches, to the staff, to the people at the club. Anyone that I have met and that have helped me on my time here. Thank you for everything. I’ll keep all those memories close to my heart, I’ve never felt nothing like this before. Forever Forest.”
Samba will head back to France, where he’s played the majority of his career, and he will join Racing Club Lens on a five year deal, whilst Nottingham Forest will get €5m for selling his services. A lot more than which Sabri Lamouchi would pay for him back in 2019 after signing from Caen.
Under Lamouchi, shortly after signing, Samba would break into the Forest team, capitalising on a disastrous start to life on loan by Arijanet Muric, to debut in a 2-1 win at Fulham, and by the end of September he would easily be cemented Reds number one as they topped the table after a thrilling win at Stoke City.
From there, the Reds remained competitive in the Championship and enjoyed wins over promotion bound Brentford and Leeds United amongst others to be in a real good position going into the final weeks of the 2019/20 season, but when COVID struck, it all went sour.
Forest, I hate to remind, failed to win any of their final six games of the season to miss out on the playoffs by goal difference, a month into the new campaign Sabri Lamouchi was sacked after losing his first four matches. Chris Hughton took over and Samba played a huge part in the Reds recovery to avoid the drop during a whole campaign played inside empty stadiums.
Last season however, upon the return of fans, it didn’t start well. Forest failed to win any of their opening six games, and by the time Chris Hughton was relieved of his duties, Samba was dropped as number one, but regained his place immediately under Steve Cooper (initially at Huddersfield under Caretaker Coach Steven Reid) and played part in the historical promotion winning campaign, pivotal in the play-off semi-final especially, with two important saves in the second leg against Sheffield United, before three penalty shootout saves sent Forest to Wembley for the first time since 1992.
What Samba achieved in his time at Forest, no goalkeeper has experienced this side of the Millennium, a Wembley winner and a fine footballer, above all, now praised amongst the best in between sticks since Shilton, with the likes of van Breukelen, Sutton, Crossley, to name a few.
In some ways, the fact that Samba’s stay was so short, leaving whilst still so adored, with some unfinished business perhaps still to do, is one that captivates the love even more, but it feels right to let him go, for too often footballers linger past their sell by date, with Samba, our memories of him leaving on a high at Wembley Stadium, after helping the club achieve Premier League football for the first time in over 20 years, well it just seems right.
It’s time to get behind the new guy, and everyone is excited to have a goalkeeper of Dean Henderson’s quality at the club, but no one, no one ever in the history of Nottingham Forest Football Club, who is/was alive to see the promotion winning team of 2022, will ever forget the legend that is the loveable Brice Samba, and his leaving on good terms, with a tear in all those eyes involved, will be one that reminisces with me, for a very long time indeed.
Thank you for being a true modern day legend Brice, and we hope to see you back here soon, in the city of Nottingham, where you’ll never have to buy another drink again!!
*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).
*Main image @NFFC Brice Samba celebrates after what was his last Forest game