Sam Shaban is a 23-year-old striker from London who last year decided to take his football career abroad. He had previously played for a professional academy and also at a high level in non-league as well as spending three months training with Turkish side İstanbul Başakşehir growing up.
Last year, he had the opportunity to play in Lithuania for second-tier side Dainava where he was a big hit, scoring 13 goals in 12 games. His form saw him nearly have the chance to join top flight side Atlantas but off field matters prevented him from turning out for the side.
Last year in Lithuania, another English based player also featured in the country. Thailand-born winger Kler Heh (who has a very interesting story having being born in a refugee camp) also played for Dainava, like Shaban. This year, both Heh and another player, Fahad Ishmail, featured for top flight side FK Jonava.
This season, Shaban is playing for Cypriot third-tier side Ethnikos Assias. Despite his side making a slow start to the season, he has already scored seven goals, over half his team’s goals. I caught up with the forward to see how life abroad is treating him.
English Players Abroad: Who did you play football for in the UK growing up?
Sam Shaban: I played for Borehamwood youth and Watford as a youngster and then played for Enfield Town and Farnborough at non-league level.
EPA: How did the move to Lithuania come about and what convinced you to join Dainava?
SS: I was playing for Farnborough at the time and I got offered a chance to go on trial to Dainava. I was interested straight away as I wanted to experience playing football abroad full-time.
EPA: Did you find it easy to settle in Lithuania? Where were you living and was there much of a language barrier?
SS: I settled in straight away. I was living in a flat with another player and at first it was difficult but the other players and managers all spoke English so it was a lot easier than I thought.
EPA:What was the standard of football like in Lithuania and how does the style of play compare to the UK?
SS: The standard was okay. It is very different to England as it is a lot less physical. It’s more tactical and technical.
EPA: What was it like actually living in Lithuania? Was there much to do and see in your spare time?
SS: I lived in a small town called Alytus. There wasn’t much to do there so it was a bit boring.
EPA: You nearly had the chance to play in the top division with Atlantas, how disappointed were you to not get the chance to show what you could do?
SS: Of course I was disappointed but I think I made the right choice by not signing.
EPA: You’re now playing in Cyprus, how did the move come about and how are you settling in there?
SS: My agent told me a couple teams in Cyprus were interested in me and coming here was the best decision for myself and my career. I’ve settled in really well and have so far got five goals in seven games but most importantly I’m enjoying my football [he now has seven goals in eight games].
EPA: What are your ambitions for the future in terms of your football career?
SS: My ambitions for the future are to keep working hard and improving as a player to move up and play at the highest level one day.