Norwegian winger Mohamed Elyounoussi’s has fought his way back from the brink at Southampton.
The 27-year-old was a forgotten man at St Mary's after back-to-back seasons on loan at Celtic — but an impressive 2020-21 campaign north of the border reignited manager Ralph Hasenhuttl’s interest.
He returned to the South Coast rejuvenated this summer and Southampton are now reaping the rewards of biding their time with the former Molde star.
Ahead of today's clash with Wolves, here is why patience is a virtue when it comes to the Saints' attacker.
Failing to make the grade
Elyounoussi first arrived in Hampshire in 2018, joining from Basel for £16million and penning a five-year contract.
He was recruited as a replacement for Ajax-bound Dusan Tadic, who had become a cult hero among the St Mary’s faithful after four successful seasons which saw the club go from mid-table mediocrity to Europa League challengers.
It was always going to be a tough ask for the Moroccan-born Norway international, but he fell well short of expectations in his debut season.
Having scored 14 goals in 45 appearances in his last season in Switzerland, Elyounoussi failed to find the back of the net in any of his 19 appearances across all competitions.
With no assists to his name either, the writing seemed to be on the wall, especially given that the manager who had signed him, Mark Hughes, was replaced mid-season by Hasenhuttl.
Chance to shine
Elyounoussi was shipped out on loan to Neil Lennon’s Celtic with playing time looking highly unlikely on the South Coast.
In a season that was ultimately curtailed by Covid-19, the Norwegian got vital minutes and — more importantly — goals.
He found the scoresheet on eight occasions across his 21 appearances in all competitions, as the Glasgow giants completed an unprecedented 'quadruple treble'.
It was enough to convince the Bhoys to bring him back for a second season, and this time a full campaign with no interruptions caused by the pandemic.
Elyounoussi proved to be one of the few shining lights in an otherwise dark season for Celtic, notching 17 goals and eight assists in his 45 appearances.
That prompted Hasenhuttl to give him a shot at Southampton going into 2021-22, leaving the 35-cap international to post an emotional farewell message to the Celtic fans that had taken to him.
He said on social media: “I would like to thank everyone at Celtic for the two seasons I was there.
“Thanks to all the coaching & background staff, the players and everyone who is working at this historic club.
“I have shared a dressing room with a fantastic group of players and made friends for life.”
Elyounoussi returned to the Hampshire coast with a point to prove.
Succeed and a Premier League career would surely follow — but fail and any future in England looked hard to envisage.
His first competitive opportunity came away at Newport County in the Carabao Cup, a side who have been synonymous with cup shocks in recent years.
That was not to be the case on this occasion, as Southampton cruised to an 8-0 victory, with Elyounoussi netting a hat-trick.
That earned him a first Premier League start in over two years in the following game away at Newcastle and Southampton's No24 was in the right place at the right time to score the Saints' first equaliser in a 2-2 draw.
Since that match in the North East, Elyounoussi has started both of the 0-0 draws with West Ham and Manchester City that have followed.
Finding a spot
The Norwegian has no doubt benefitted from Hasenhuttl’s decision to change the team's shape.
In 2020-21, the Austrian regularly deployed his favoured 4-2-2-2 formation — a narrow system that requires the use of attacking midfielders as opposed to wingers.
This campaign, he has evolved to match his own team’s progression and now opts for 4-1-4-1 set-up, where Elyounoussi has made the right flank his own in recent matches.
The man from Al Hoceima is fully aware that this change has been the catalyst for him to seize on his second chance at St Mary's.
He said: "The club and his (Hasenhuttl's) way of playing football has developed since he came to us.
"I remember he changed the system and I didn't really have a place in the team and it was about securing the position in the league and fighting for points.
“We didn't play too much football and that wasn't my strength.
"I think I needed time and I needed to play football to get back the confidence, and that was good for me.
"And now, we play much more possession-orientated football, we want the ball more and want to create more chances and have players in the right pockets, between the lines, and that is the type of player I am."
Pleasing the boss
Hasenhuttl took a gamble on reigniting Elyounoussi's Southampton career, and his punt has paid off.
He could easily have washed his hands of the Norwegian, having seen his initial Saints performances, and looked to move him on.
Instead, he allowed him to battle for his place, which has delighted the 54-year-old coach.
He said: "He has shown that he definitely helps us, I am so glad that he is here.
"I know that he is a fantastic footballer and we play a little more football now, which helps him to be a part of this team.
"When I arrived here we had less of the ball but now we have come so far in our development with it.
"His best qualities are with the ball, this is why we need him."