Mohamed Elyounoussi is in form of his life - but can Celtic buy him from Southampton?
The 26-year-old forward has blown hot and cold this season, like so many of his team-mates, but when the Norwegian turns the temperature up, he is far too hot for most opponents in this country. Including the freshly-crowned champions from Govan.
On loan from Southampton for the second consecutive season, Elyounoussi scored for Celtic in last month’s 1-1 league draw against Rangers and was one of their most potent attacking outlets. Against Livingston last weekend, he was unplayable, a human wrecking ball tearing through the Lions’ defence. Interim manager John Kennedy knows the importance of another strong performance at Ibrox if they are to make their way into the Scottish Cup quarter-finals.
Form of his life
“He’s in top form and has got more confident with each passing game,” said Kennedy of Elyounoussi. “When he gets a few goals that’s always good for that. There have been difficult moments in the group this season, but certainly when he finds his groove and he’s on top form he’s a very important player for us and he’s shown that recently. Certainly he was a threat in our previous game against Rangers and hopefully he can continue his form going into that game on Sunday.”
Such has been Elyounoussi’s form that the clamour has begun for his stay to be made permanent. Out of the picture under Ralph Hasenhuttl at St Mary’s, Kennedy admits that he expects Celtic to at least try to sign him if the south-coast club are willing to enter talks.
“I think he’s the calibre of player you want to try to attract to your club,” Kennedy continued. “Knowing the quality he’s got and when you’ve worked with a player you get to see them up close and what you really like. His character and his levels in terms of training, he’s first-class in everything he does. He’s one of the best professionals I’ve worked with. He really looks after his body, he commits to training and every drill you do each day. When he’s on form he’s a very good player. We’ll have to address that in the summer if it’s a possibility – and if it is a possibility I’m pretty sure the club will look closely at that.
Is money the issue?
The biggest sticking point appears to be finance. Elyounoussi is on a Premiership wage and Southampton paid the best part of £16million to Basel three years ago to buy him. While that fee is relative small-fry in the world of the English Premiership, Celtic would likely have to dig very deep into their pockets to procure him. The Saints won’t let him go for pennies.
“It depends on the situation,” said Kennedy. “When players are bought it doesn’t always mean that’s what they’re valued at going forwards. The discussion between the clubs isn’t one I’d go into and say put a value on it. The club will look at what they’ve have in the squad, what’s available and whether a deal can be done. It probably won’t take place till the summer so we will focus on making the most of having him and getting the most out of him we can.”
Elyounoussi’s own view
And what of Elyounoussi himself. The 31-times capped Norway internationalist, when asked about his situation, was typically coy, saying that he has barely given next season a moment’s thought.
“I will give you my honest answer on that,” replied Elyounoussi when asked about what his career will look like beyond the summer. “I haven’t thought much about what my future is going to be.
“We still have a few games left to play this season and my main focus is here on Celtic.
“I want to do my best for the club and then after the season ends, I will have a think about what I’m going to do and what is best for my own career.
“But at the moment, I really haven’t thought about it.”
Getting hands on silverware
His focus is on taking the last chance for a winner’s medal this term. The Scottish Cup is now Celtic’s sole priority, with the double prize of usurping their great Glasgow rivals and making the last eight up for grabs at Ibrox. Beating Livingston 6-0 last weekend and scoring twice means Elyounoussi’s morale is high.
“Both myself and the team are going into this game with a high degree of confidence, especially after the last game against Livingston,” Elyounoussi said. “We have been working hard and the training this week has been superb.
“You could see a result like the one we had at Livingston was coming, you could see it over the last few games. You could see it during the training sessions we had and the only thing which was missing was taking our chances in front of goal.
“We had been creating a lot of chances but we couldn’t finish them off. Things weren’t going our way in front of goal but we knew that would change sooner rather than later.
“It changed against Livingston, not only were we good in front of our opponents goal, but we were good in front of our own.
“We need to create the chances and be ruthless. We also need to stop them from having chances against us. It’s all about what’s going to happen in the two boxes.
“It’s important to win the trophy, in recent games against Rangers we have been the better team.
“In the end it comes down to what we do out on the pitch, we need to make sure we win it.
“It may be like any other game, but in the back of our minds it’s about the cup and the trophy.”