Cherno Samba: Championship Manager legend on hero status

Cherno Samba
On Championship Manager, Cherno Samba was one of the best young players on earth

Cherno Samba - an unknown name to many but a legend to tens of thousands of people across the world who have never seen him play.

On Monday, the former England Under-20 international announced his retirement from professional football after failing to recover from injury.

"I hope people remember me in terms of my playing career," the 29-year-old told BBC World Service Sport.

Unfortunately for Samba, they won't. He came to fame after being popularised in the Championship Manager computer game, namely the 2001-02 edition. His potential stats made him a world beater in the game.

'I've never played the game'

Cherno Samba
Cherno Samba has one England Under-20 cap, but made many appearances for the full England side on Championship Manager

Having started at Millwall in 2000, Samba's career took him to obscure clubs around Europe, including Haka in Finland, Panetolikos in Greece and Tonsberg of Norway, the club where he suffered his career-ending injury.

He also had spells at Plymouth and Wrexham as well as winning four senior caps for The Gambia.

"Funnily enough, I have never played Championship Manager myself," he said. "I wouldn't say it hindered my career, it is only a computer game.

"It is up to the individual. Sometimes it can affect a person, sometimes it can't. I am a strong person and I don't think it affected me in any way.

"It can have that impact on kids, though. We just need to be careful with people hyping them up."

That hype surrounded another Championship Manager legend, Freddy Adu. He failed to realise his early potential.

Signed by Nike in 2002 at the age 13, the American has now signed for his 13th professional club at the age of just 26.

'Cherno Samba? The one from CM?'

Samba's popularity made him a cult hero. Gamers spent hours on their PCs and laptops as virtual Samba fired in the goals to lead clubs to Premier League or Champions League glory.

His reputation was such that it was summed up in a phone call to a mobile phone company.

"I had to order a new phone from my network provider," he says. "I rang them up to get it ordered and was told to wait two to three months for it to arrive. I thought: 'No problem'.

"The guy then asked my name and I said: 'Cherno Samba'. With surprise, he asked: 'The one from Championship Manager? You'll get it the next day'."

Asked which achievement he wished he had experienced in real life, he said: "To win the World Cup for England. That would be the ultimate."

Samba's own modest career may not be remembered, but his exploits on a computer screen will never be forgotten.

You can hear more from Samba by listening to his interview on BBC Sportshour

Your memories of Samba - virtual and real

Andy Price: "He was the only player I wouldn't fine for not turning up to training because I felt it was his right to have a day off for being Cherno Samba."

Scott Moule: "I played against him, Anton Ferdinand and Kieron Richardson in the London Boroughs' Ketchup Cup final at The Den 2000/2001, Blackheath v Tower Hamlets & Hackney. We lost 2-1. He scored both for them, if my memory serves me right!"

Curtis Westcott: "What's that coming over the hill, it's Cherno Samba, Cherno Sambaaaaa. Never forget his goal in my first ever away Argyle game, scoring a last-minute goal against Coventry at the Ricoh."

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