Aston Villa can probably claim close to 60 million extra supporters after the Midlands club made Mbwana Samatta the Premier League's first Tanzanian player in a £10million deal from Belgian Pro League side KRC Genk.
The 27-year-old Taifa Stars captain has signed a four-and-half-year deal at Villa, subject to a work permit and international clearance being granted. The move has even been given the approval of the Tanzania government through the Minister for Information, Culture, Arts, and Sports, Harrison Mwakyembe:
“The government and all Tanzanians are pleased with what Samatta has achieved in his football career,” a statement read.
The Tanzanian Football Federation (TFF) echoed the sentiment, saying: “The federation wishes our national team Taifa Stars captain all the best at his new club.
"TFF believes Samatta has the quality to continue prospering and his latest achievement at the top level will continue to open doors for more Tanzanian players to join foreign teams in Europe and other continents of the world.”
The forward has scored 10 goals for Genk in all competitions this season, including a goal at Anfield against Liverpool in the Champions League.
Samatta, or simply ‘Ally’, is the latest in a long line of success stories from Genk’s scouting system, including such identifiable players as Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Yannick Carrasco, Christian Benteke, Divock Origi and Wilfred Ndidi.
Genk’s Head of Youth Koen Daerden has been in his role since 2015, with Samatta joining him at Genk from TP Mazembe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2016.
“Ally’s main quality is his mentality,” Daerden tells The Sportsman of Samatta.
“He is a very hard worker for the team. This is something we have wanted to achieve with all of the boys in the academy. As a striker, he deserved respect from the fans.
“He’s 27 years old now, he stayed for four years at the club. But with strikers, you never know. Three years ago we didn’t expect him to become a Premier League player, but that’s his quality, he believed in himself. He’s a very positive guy, he’s full of confidence, and that’s allowed him to achieve his dream.”
The striker Christian Benteke followed the very same career path back in 2012 by moving from Genk to Villa, where he enjoyed a very strong period yielding 49 goals in 101 games before a £32.5m move to Liverpool three years later.
“Benteke and Ally have some similar qualities,” says Daerden. “Their heading is very good. Ally isn’t as tall as Benteke but he’s still very good.
All the goals he’s scored in the last year, with the right, the left, the head. It’s not just one thing. It’s not just penalties. It’s from open play.
The Ebony Shoe award has been provided to the best African player in the Belgian Pro League for nearly 30 years. Samatta, the most recent recipient of the accolade, is the third player from Genk to win the award (after Souleymane Oularé in 1999 and Moumouni Dagano in 2002).
Past winners who have gone on to ply their trade in the English Premier League include Michy Batshuayi, Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku.
“When he first came to the club in 2015 there were some doubts and he was initially sitting on the bench. But he worked hard and believed in himself and was very positive,” says Daerden. “Last year he had a top year at the top level. It’s an important individual prize. I think he was honoured to win it.
“From all the players I have spoken to, all the people in the club, Ally is regarded as very gentle, open-minded, nothing is too much for him: if you asked him to do something he would do it.
He is a top person, well-loved throughout the club.
There is the nagging question as to whether Samatta can hit the ground running or will take time to adapt to life in the EPL, with time of the essence as Villa attempt to avoid the drop in the first season back in the top tier. Dean Smith’s side currently sit on 25 points, just two above the drop zone.
“It depends,” says Daeden. “The way Aston Villa are playing at the moment, with the qualities they have, I think it’s a really good club for him.
“When he has some space behind the defenders, he is strong, he can score. Against Liverpool, we saw the level of the Premier League and it’s a level he can achieve. Of course, in the beginning you never know. It’s a wide step to climb but it is a good step, if he can adapt soon he can be in the hearts of the Aston Villa fans as well.”
It is Villa's hope that the signing of Samatta will ease the burden on Smith, who has seen his attack supplemented with a player from an established, recognised breeding ground for talent.
"I'm really pleased we have managed to bring Mbwana to the club," Smith told the Villa website.
"He has scored goals throughout his career and I'm looking forward to working with him."
Samatta added: "I'm so excited. It's a huge step for me in my career. It's a big step for the country too. Everyone was looking for a Tanzanian to play in the Premier League."
However, for Villa, who have played their last three games without a recognised striker after Brazilian forward Wesley was ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, nationality is ultimately irrelevant - just as long as 'Ally' can help them out in the relegation dogfight.