“I was preparing for my holiday”, he said, “I’d already booked to go away - but it’s certainly nicer to be flying with the team.”
Whether he was even going to represent die Nationalmannschaft was doubtful. Sam was born to a Nigerian father and a German mother in Kiel, northern Germany on 31 January 1988 and began playing football with TuS Mettenhof, before moving to Holstein Kiel.
Like many a talented northern youngster, the winger's abilities were spotted in 2006 by regional giants Hamburger SV, and he signed professional terms soon after, turning out for the club’s second team with great success between 2006 and 2008. Footballing maturity was elusive, though, in spite of Sam's clear talent, and at 20 he was sent out to 1. FC Kaiserslautern to gain experience.
Stick or twist?
While stuck in the second team at Hamburg, Sam was completing the requisite apprenticeship for any budding international – picking up caps for Germany’s U-19, U-20 and U-21 teams. The season of his last appearance with the U-21s was the same season as his breakthrough. In 2009/10 the pacy attacker played a total of 35 times for Kaiserslautern in the Bundesliga 2, managing to find the net 11 times. Hamburg however, still didn’t seem to take note, and allowed Sam to sign a five-year deal ahead of the 2010/11 campaign with Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
At Leverkusen he made his mark on Germany’s top flight, hitting seven goals in 30 appearances in his maiden Werkself season. International recognition still remained hard to come by, and Sam admitted to flirting with Nigeria, who he could represent due to his father.
Die Nationalmannschaft beckons
Two more impressive goalscoring seasons followed, and Sam’s link-up with Stefan Kießling, similarly overlooked by the national side, was becoming more intuitive with each passing game. The pair hit 50 goals between them between 2011 and 2013, and eventually the sheer weight of goals proved too much to ignore and international recognition arrived for Sam.
Joachim Löw called him up to the squad for the friendlies against Ecuador and the USA in summer 2013. For Sam, there have been two key factors in his rise to the international stage. “I’m fit again, and it’s important that the manager trusts me,” he said after Bayer’s impressive start to 2013/14, which saw him sign a pre-contract agreement with FC Schalke 04 in January 2014. However, for now, Sam's priority remains performing at a top level and if he maintains his current form, he would be wise to refrain from booking any holidays for the near future.