Mohamed Elyounoussi: Never say never over Fraser Forster

Winger says deal for keeper is still possible
Thumbs-up for Mohamed Elyounoussi.Thumbs-up for Mohamed Elyounoussi.
Thumbs-up for Mohamed Elyounoussi.

There is no suggestion that Mohamed Elyounoussi is anyone at Celtic’s idea of a consolation prize. It is fair to say, though, that the winger is the second player from Southampton the club’s support had pinned their hopes on being on their books for the 10-in-a-row chase in the forthcoming campaign.

The agreement reached with the Norwegian international to spend another season on loan in Glasgow was overshadowed by Fraser 
Forster’s apparent change of heart on activating a similar agreement.

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The hulking English keeper has opted to remain with English Premier League club and fight for his place following talks with manager Ralph Hasenhüttl. The move represents an unexpected turn of events when the backdrop to Forster’s return to Celtic last season is considered. The 32-year-old’s sparkling loan spell with the Scottish champions was precipitated by the 6ft 7in English international dropping to third in the goalkeeping pecking order at Southampton.

However, despite the fact that Celtic’s attentions for a keeper have now turned to Wigan’s David Marshall and former England international Joe Hart, Elyounoussi suggests that Forster’s situation may not be done and dusted. And that he could yet line-up alongside him in Scotland in the coming season.

The timings would hardly seem helpful for that scenario, it must be said. The Scottish Premiership season begins in the first week of August. Meanwhile, the current English top flight campaign – which Forster, pictured right, is not eligible to play in, naturally – ends in a month with the new season not kicking off until mid-September. It may be at this the point that Forster has to consider whether he becomes a Celtic player for a third time, but Elyounoussi doesn’t want to divulge too much about his team-mate’s thinking.

“I cannot talk on Fraser’s behalf,” the attacker said. “He mentioned to me what could happen but that’s between me and him. All we can do is wait and see what’s going to happen. But I still hope he’s going to come back.

“We know what he’s capable of, he’s an amazing goalkeeper. If it doesn’t work out then it doesn’t work out. I want the best for him as he’s a great lad as well as being a great goalkeeper. I’m sure it’s not easy for him because Southampton have to finish their season first before he gets a chance there or not.

“I think he should get that chance, but you never know. Then he maybe needs to see what his options are. There is still plenty of time for him to come back here. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.”

Elyounoussi declined an offer from Real Betis to return to Celtic and the motivation for his decision seems not merely the drive for 10-in-a-row in titles, but also for such a run of games. Injuries prevented the 25-year-old, who cost Southampton a reported £16m from Basel two years ago, putting together a sustained sequence. His seven goals came in only 16 starts anf four substitute appearances, but a stress fracture last November halted his progress just as he had hit a rich vein of form. He feels then he has unfinished business in Glasgow, both professionally and personally.

“I feel with injury and the coronavirus situation, I didn’t show my best last season,” he said. I hope now with a full pre season with the team and without injury I can finally do what I’m here for. It’s a big season ahead with 10 in a row and we want to do well in Europe as well. That’s why I wanted to stay. [And] of course I’d like to celebrate a title properly here. Football without fans is nothing. I know that 10 in a row never happened before. I got to know yesterday that Rangers as well have done nine but never 10. So I’m sure all the teams are going to do everything possible to stop us this season. That’s why we’ll be even more motivated and sharper in training to make sure we can hopefully win the 10th

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“Hopefully we can get to playing in front of our fans as soon as possible and we can finish it off with a great party. I think the coaching staff can improve me. I have every chance of becoming a better player here.”

No one more than manager Neil Lennon, the Norwegian believes. “He showed a lot of confidence in me. Even in the [League Cup final v Rangers [in December] I wasn’t 100 per cent but he wanted me to play in that game.

“It didn’t work well for me that day but it showed he had a lot of confidence in me. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to come here for another year. I feel like I have more to give. Now that game is gone, I’m just happy that we won the cup. At the time, it was frustrating with injury and I had a set back after that which put me out of action for a couple of months. But now that’s all gone and I’m just focusing on the new season, to prepare as well as possible and hope it’s going to be successful.

“The manager is a very good mentor. He knows the qualities of each player. He knows what to say to each player. I think that’s the difference between some managers and the good ones. They know what to say to you or to him or what not to say. He knows how to motivate us, to keep its on our toes, so we give everything. That’s what I like and it’s why I enjoy working with him. He’s just told me to be myself. He knows what I’m capable of. He doesn’t demand too much. No one can put more pressure on me than I put on myself.”

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