Talk about a L of a turnaround.
In Southampton, Mohamed Elyunussi was so far in the cold that he was at risk of frostbite.
Yet after two seasons on loan at Celtic, the Norwegian is now surprisingly back under Ralph Hasenhutl and become one of its key players.
Elyounoussi helped Saints secure their first league win of the season after beating Leeds 1-0 last weekend.
Astonishingly, it was the playmaker’s first win at St Mary’s, 1,205 days after his first signing for the club.
When informed of the staggering figures by SunSport, Elyounoussi replied: “Wow, I didn’t know that. Please don’t make this a headline!
“If you look at the number of days, obviously I didn’t play much and I wasn’t here (when on loan at Celtic).
“You always go into the game thinking you’re going to win. Nice to win.
“But maybe it’s even better when you put it like that – or worse, I don’t know!”
Elyounoussi joined the Saints on a five-year deal on June 29, 2018 for £16million.
But he got injured, damaged his ankle in his final game for Basel, and wore strapping during his medical.
He missed most of the pre-season and then felt his hamstrings go when getting up for an aerial duel during his debut at home at Burnley – the same fixture he is set to start on Saturday.
This kept him out for a few matches and Elyounoussi felt it “set the tone” for his first season at Saints, where he began picking up injuries for the first time in his career.
The ball didn’t go into the net when he played – he hit the woodwork twice – and then when Hasenhuttle replaced Mark Hughes in December 2018, the luckless Elyounoussi’s days seemed numbered.
This was largely due to the Austrian playing a back-three system without wingers, while the new boss also did not rate Widemann’s work-rate.
This left the ex-Molde star off to training, knowing that whatever she did, it wouldn’t happen over the weekend.
When you score in an empty stadium it is like scoring in the garden. It’s very quiet and you don’t really feel anything. That was my only regret.
27-year-old Alunci reflected: “I had to think not only weeks, months, but years ahead.
“Even though things were going against me and I was not playing, I knew better times were coming and I needed to be ready for it.
“I could train all week and I knew it would be the same result (of not getting selected).
“I still used to go to the gym and do extra work for myself. I would play for the national team and take a few minutes, come back and that was exactly the situation.
“It didn’t matter, I still went for it. If the manager isn’t giving me 100 percent, he can use it against me.
“I don’t think there’s a manager who can say that there was no work ethic or that he didn’t care.
“I’m really glad I went through something like this. It just made me stronger.”
‘Like now or never’
In the summer of 2019, Elyounoussi knew he would have to leave, at least temporarily.
He wanted to stay in the UK and chose Celtic because the physicality of the Scottish division would help him adapt to England, get game-time and play in Europe.
Elyounoussi knew that if he struggled north of the border his chances of turning back on the Saints would be gone.
Thankfully, he helped Bhoyas land a home treble in his short campaign due to Covid.
The loan was extended for another season and although Celtic struggled, Elyounoussi scored 17 goals, including one in an Old Firm derby which was played without any fans.
On that achievement, he said: “When you score in an empty stadium, it’s like scoring in a garden. It’s very quiet and you don’t really feel anything. That was my only regret. “
Hasenhutl brought him back this summer after impressing with his running stats in the pre-season and most notably by his performance in an inter-squad friendly in which Aloynusi scored one and scored another.
Yet the Moroccan-born star still did not have confidence in the future of his Saints and believed that the second half of a League Cup game in Newport, his first appearance of the season, was crucial.
He said: “It was almost like now or never, really. I remember I went to half-time, we were 3-0 up and I was thinking ‘I haven’t scored yet. ‘
“I thought ‘I really have 45 minutes to step up’ so in the second half I was straight and just going for the goal.”
He scored a hat-trick in the second half and got two assists in an 8–0 victory and has not looked back since.
But with all she’s endured since arriving in Southampton, Elyounoussi might not be thinking she’s made it to the south coast yet.