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Still going strong at 40: Birthday Boy Henri Camara

Henri Camara was enjoyed and endured by British football fans in almost equal measure, a juxtaposition epitomised perfectly by his trademark bright boots, donned in an era when black leather still reigned supreme. They highlighted his exotic flair and the danger he brought to the final third, but they also represented a level of ambition, a determination to stand out and above the parapet, that in the opinions of some bordered upon arrogance.

Never was that more evident than in summer 2004, after the Senegal striker’s first season in English football. He’d ended the campaign with a run of six goals in nine appearances, with some spectacular finishes to boot, but that wasn’t enough to spare Wolves from relegation to the Championship and bottom place in the Premier League.

Citing concerns over his international future, Camara agitated for a departure, turning his back on the club that gave him his big chance in England and replicating his acts twelve months prior when he left Sedan under the same circumstances to move to Molineux. Celtic came knocking and paid a then-British record £1.5million loan fee.

From the start, however, Camara was doomed to fail at Parkhead. He immediately demanded the No.7 shirt that had just been vacated by club legend Henrik Larsson, as if the pressures of filling the iconic Swede’s goalscoring void wasn’t enough on its own, but was refused by Martin O’Neill. Just eight goals in 26 appearances later, Camara’s loan move was terminated six months early. The African attacker had got too big for his bright boots and spent the remainder of 2004/5 on loan at Southampton, a spell only remembered for his role in a 4-3 thriller with Norwich City.

But then came the move Camara is perhaps best famed for, signing for newly-promoted Wigan in summer 2005. He instantly struck a potent partnership with Jason Roberts and the duo fired the Latics to the League Cup final and a 10th place finish in the top flight, netting 20 of their 45 league goals – some of which on Camara’s part were nothing short of sublime. His twisting volley against Sunderland still sticks in the minds of many.

Yet, Camara’s form burned out as brightly as his trademark boots and he quickly fell out of favour at Wigan, ensuing goalless loan spells with Stoke City and West Ham before a permanent move to Sheffield United in the Championship – one that saw him manage just four goals across all competitions before being released in a bid to balance out the wage bill at Bramall Lane.

Since then, Camara’s career has taken a rather different route, one that begs the question of where is he now upon his 40th birthday. Well, the former Celtic and Wigan man is still going strong despite his age, albeit now plying his trade in the third division of Greek football with Ionikos FC, and still scoring spectacular goals – the club’s website describing his opener in a 2-0 win last month as a ‘flared overhead shot’ – typical Camara stuff.

The journey in between has been an unusual one throughout Greek football, spanning from the first to third tiers. It began at Atromitos but after just four goals in his first season, continued with Panetolikos – a team hoping Camara’s goals would solidify them in the top flight after making their way up from the Delta Ethniki (fourth division) eight years prior. Alas, much like during his first and only season at Wolves, a return of seven goals proved to be not enough in 2011/12.

Whereas Camara had bolted following every relegation throughout his career to date, however, he’d seemingly found an unsuspecting home in the Agrinio club, which has one of the biggest attendances in Greek football, and remained there for two more seasons, firing them back to the Superleague and then keeping them there with 21 goals spread across two campaigns.

Not bad for an ageing striker who’d managed a third less during the previous five seasons of his career, but Camara’s association with the club would soon be disrupted by a year elsewhere, first with Kalloni and then Lamia during two ill-fated, half-season spells that produced just four goals.

Camara then returned to his adoptive home of Panetolikos but things were very different. Even though not a single player scored more than ten times for them that season as they finished eleventh, the veteran forward still couldn’t get a look-in. Five appearances in six months after his re-arrival, he moved onto pastures new in a bid to win his 100th Senegal cap – namely a short, six-goal stint with Apollon Symnri as they pushed but ultimately missed out on promotion to the top flight.

He went on to sign for his current employers last summer and is enjoying a fantastic first season at Ionikos, aiding their push for second tier football next term with ten goals in Gamma Ethinki Group D. With two games left to go, second-place Ionikos need to close a one-point gap on Ergotelis to gain promotion, and top scorer Camara will play a crucial role.

It may be a far cry from Champions League nights at Celtic, and that centenary cap for Senegal may have inevitably evaded him at this point in his career. It’s not exactly Henrik Larsson’s swansong at Helsingborg either, but after so many short and frustrating spells in Britain, it feels as if Camara has finally found his place in the world at the age of 40 – scoring spectacular goals in the modest surroundings of Greek third tier football, coloured boots and all.

Happy Birthday Henri, thank you for the memories and good luck for the rest of the season.

Article title: Still going strong at 40: Birthday Boy Henri Camara

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