Christopher Samba's stint at the billionaire-funded Anzhi Makhachkala club in the poor Russian province of Dagestan has made headlines here mainly for the outbreaks of racist abuse which have spattered his experience there. Returning to Russia now, after a winter break spent in England and doing charitable work in his native Congo, the former Blackburn Rovers captain speaks out powerfully against racism, but is otherwise very positive about his life within the strange, extravagant Anzhi project.
"Some Zenit St Petersburg fans have made bad statements about not wanting black players in their team, and I was a victim of the racist incident at Lokomotiv Moscow," Samba recalls of the banana thrown on to the pitch when he played there in March.
"Football is the beautiful game which should unite all people; in Dagestan our fans are very good to us, but this racism comes from small groups who have the wrong intentions. It is the nasty side of the game."
He says he is a good friend of Kevin-Prince Boateng, a former team-mate at Hertha Berlin, who led a walk-off by Milan players amid monkey noises from fans in the friendly at the Italian fourth division club Pro Patria on 3 January: "I admire his club and team-mates who supported him," Samba says.
"Those chants were disgraceful; it is sad to see this – it is killing the game. I understand we cannot walk off the pitch every time, but when you are picked on continuously for your colour, for who you are, for your family, your community, you can feel you have had enough.
"It is very difficult for players to know what to do. Playing on shows strength in a way, but it can also seem like we are avoiding the problem. What example does it give your kids if you have been insulted, but you do nothing? Sometimes as players we feel so powerless. The authorities, and players, must do all they can to eradicate this."
Yet, apart from these pockmarks of racism, Samba says he is enjoying his new life, playing for "genius" coach Guus Hiddink, with "fantastic" superstar professionals Samuel Eto'o, Roberto Carlos and other exciting players attracted to Anzhi by, Samba acknowledges, very good money.
He has viewed with sadness Blackburn's misadventures since he left in February after expressing bewilderment with the owner, Venky's, peremptorily sacking Sam Allardyce, and it is fair to say he does not regret his move.
Samba speaks of Anzhi with the professional footballer's focused preoccupations, not judging the socio-economics of a billionaire owner, Suleiman Kerimov, funding millionaire wages for top players to entertain the people of Dagestan, a province blighted by poverty and, in October, floods which killed seven people.
Kerimov, who took over Anzhi in 2011, made his billions after originally investing in a bank, Fedprombank, a formerly state-owned oil trading company, and Vnukovo airlines, from the early 1990s after communism in Russia collapsed.
Samba, who speaks with quiet determination, concentrates instead on how well Kerimov caters for the players, providing the very best, to ensure the all-star team performs well. "The owner is doing everything for us to be happy," Samba says. "He listens to any problem, he is very kind, he has a big heart. Dagestan is a region which has not been spared by disasters; some bad things have happened there. The owner is trying to give the people some joy creating this football team."
The players live in Moscow, a city Samba appreciates and where he lives in an apartment, while his young family has stayed in England. The squad trains with Hiddink at a "top-class" complex Kerimov has had built an hour's drive from the capital. Then, for home matches, they take a two-hour flight to Dagestan, play their game in front of the appreciative Anzhi fans, and fly straight back to Moscow. Samba describes it all principally as a good footballing move for a 28-year-old who has worked and fought hard to become a top footballer in Europe.
"When I reached the crossroads and decided to leave Blackburn, they put a high valuation on my head. Only Anzhi decided I was good enough. It was a big decision, but when I saw the players being signed, and a coach like Guus Hiddink, then I understood the project is real."
Kerimov's money and wherewithal to spring Anzhi, who have reached the last 32 of the Europa League after beating Liverpool in the group stage, into major European football's upper strata has lured Roberto Carlos, Eto'o, Lassana Diarra and several bright talents, among whom Samba particularly picks out his fellow central defender, the Brazilian, João Carlos, and the Russian midfielder Yuri Zhirkov.
"It is a pleasure to play together," he says. "Guus Hiddink believes in a solid defence, a quite attractive style where we have freedom to express ourselves, and he stresses we should be effective, make the most of all opportunities to score goals."
He describes Hiddink as a genius because of the coach's "remarkable" undiminished passion for football at 66, and his grasp of the players' motivation. "He knows what each of us needs, he knows us very deeply after only a short time, he can get the best out of each of us. He is there at every training session – it is an honour for me to work with this manager."
He speaks highly of Allardyce too. Recalling him as a manager who "gets the job done", for whom the players at Blackburn worked hard, proud to be a formidable Premier League team at a small town club. Venky's, he says, did not even tell the players Allardyce had been sacked, and Samba found out when he saw it at home on television. "It was a shock; we all gave our loyalty to him," he recalls of the turmoil. "I was a bit of a voice, saying what I was thinking then."
Samba does not criticise Steve Kean, the first-team coach appointed by Venky's with no prior management experience, but lays the blame with Venky's for failing to bring in new players to enable the more attractive style of play they charged Kean with implementing. He has followed Rovers' slide since he left for the different world of Anzhi.
"Blackburn is still in my heart; it was a big part of my life. I am sorry where they are now. It was very difficult, but then Steve Kean was doing quite well in the Championship and they sacked him. Now they have sacked Henning Berg. The main thing: I am sorry for the fans. We had a good identity together, and now they have lost a bit of that identity."
Contemplating his return to Anzhi, after a holiday here and time spent in Congo where his Chris Samba Foundation is seeking to establish a football school, he reflects: "It will be very cold in Russia – last year I was amazed snow could actually last that long. But it is a good time to be in Russian football. I feel it was my destiny to play for Anzhi. It is paying me back well, and I am very grateful for it."
Follow Chris Samba, and the work of his foundation, on Twitter: @cs4christsamba1