Neil Lennon vows to re-ignite Mohamed Elyounoussi at Celtic
But as he prepares to hand Mohamed Elyounoussi his debut for the Scottish champions, Lennon believes the Norwegian international can recapture the form which persuaded Southampton to pay that fee for him last year.
Elyounoussi struggled to make an impact in the English Premier League following his move from Swiss club Basel, starting only eight games for Southampton and failing to score in a total of 16 appearances.
The 25-year-old will be involved when Celtic resume their Premiership campaign with lunchtime assignment at Hamilton Accies today and Lennon is confident he can make a significant impact during his season-long loan spell.
“He had a stellar career at Basel where he played in the Champions League, was regarded as one of Norway’s best players and went to Southampton for big money,” said Lennon.
“It didn’t work out for him there but that happens. I don’t think you lose the ability. In both him and Moritz Bauer, who we’ve got on loan from Stoke, we have players with pedigree who are hungry to play and hungry to, if not prove a point, then to get back to playing at the level they know they are capable of. It’s up to me to tap into that.”
Attacking midfielder Elyounoussi provided Celtic supporters with a first-hand experience of his potential when he shone for Molde in both of their Europa League victories over the Parkhead men back in 2015.
“Technically, he is a very good player,” added Lennon. “He’s smart and a very fit lad. He will get goals at this level in Scotland. He has experience, too, and he’ll also be okay at Europa League level.
“He can play right, he can play left and he can play off the striker. He’s not blindingly quick but he’s smart and he’s a good mover. He’s quite lithe, he sees a pass and he’s a decent finisher as well. We’re hoping this will be an opportunity for him to get back to where he was maybe a year or two ago.
“All players who maybe don’t play for a while or when it hasn’t worked out for them at a certain club, can go again. This is a different environment at Celtic and you have to deal with the expectations here. But he was playing for a big club in Switzerland, and in the Champions League, and he was a very, very good player for Basel. Maybe this change of scenery and environment might reignite him. That’s what we’re hoping anyway.
“I don’t think we have an option to buy him – I’m not sure we could afford it. Maybe he hasn’t lived up to the price tag at Southampton.
“He played a bit for them in the Premier League but there’s been a change of manager since he signed and it doesn’t look like he’s in Ralph Hasenhuttl’s plans.
“That doesn’t make him a bad player. Having his international team-mate Kris Ajer here is good for him as well, a compatriot who will help him settle. Hopefully we’ll get the best out of him again.”
Defender Ajer has recovered from the injury which forced him to miss Norway’s Euro 2020 qualifiers over the past week, while Australian midfielder Tom Rogic returns to the Celtic squad after a lengthy lay-off.
But Lennon will be without injured trio Jozo Simunovic, Nir Bitton and Mikey Johnston. Israeli international Bitton, whom Lennon wants to tie down on a new contract, has a hamstring issue which could sideline him for the rest of the month.
Lennon has challenged his squad to ensure they pick up where they left off before the international break as they savour the feelgood factor of their 2-0 Old Firm victory at Ibrox two weeks ago.
“It was a tumultuous month in terms of games, recovering from them, injuries, having to balance everything and trying to qualify for European group stage football,” said Lennon.
“Then at the end of it you had a hugely significant game which psychologically has given everyone a lift. So it was nice to have a couple of days to take stock and then plan for another big month.”
Accies defender Sam Stubbs insists his family will not have split loyalties today.
The on-loan Middlesbrough man is the son of Alan Stubbs, who won two league titles and three cups during his five-year spell at Parkhead and he thinks his father will be cheering on the home side.
He said: “He’s going to come up so I think he and the family will be supporting Hamilton.”
Asked if he had received any advice about facing Celtic from his dad, the 20-year-old added: “Not really. I’d like to think hopefully I can do that on my own.”