When Mohamed Elyounoussi signed on loan from Southampton at the start of this season, the capturing of his talents on a 12-month deal seemed the perfect try before you buy opportunity. Such an approach had already worked with Odsonne Edouard’s £9million signing from PSG and Celtic are very much seeing the advantage of this approach in the performances of the French striker this season.
I haven’t hid my admiration for Moi’s abilities but with less than three months left on his loan deal are we looking to follow the Edouard route and make this deal permanent or do question marks remain around such a move?
Now we’ve tried, do we buy?
Elyounoussi signed for Southampton in the summer of 2018 from Swiss side FC Basel with the fee reported to be in the region of £16m. That move didn’t work out and this summer after a frustrating time on the South coast Elyounoussi took the decision to ditch the English Premier League and head north.
He clearly bought into his own abilities and having already won titles in both Switzerland and his native Norway, he arrived sounding confident of making an impact when he spoke to Celtic TV on the day he signed:
“This is something I want to achieve at Celtic, scoring goals and creating chances to help the team win games and winning titles. That’s what it’s about. That’s my job as an attacker -to score goals and create chances for the team.”
Moi took a bit of time to get up to speed due to a lack of game time at Southampton but he was soon looking an effective performer in what was the 4-2-3-1 formation before the winter break.
The standout performance came in Celtic’s 5-2 league cup victory over Hibernian at Hampden. Two goals and two assists on the night saw Celtic progress to the League Cup Final and Moi was the Man of the Match. He also showed he has European pedigree, in particular when Celtic defeated Lazio 2-1 in Rome. His movement and link up play that night made light of Southampton’s £16m outlay.
In fact to date his stats when he’s played have made for impressive reading. In 20 appearances Moi has bagged seven goals and added 6 assists, but the stand out stat in all of that is the fact from August to March he has only played in 20 matches.
Injury noticed while training with the Norwegian national team set him back, as did returning far too early in an experiment aborted at half time, in the League Cup Final win over ‘the’ Rangers. It is only now we’re starting to see him get game time once more.
And therein lies the conundrum for Celtic.
Have we seen enough to justify an outlay that even if only half what Southampton paid for the player, would be rich indeed for Celtic. While all transfers are a gamble to an extent, the money flowing through the top leagues in England, Spain and Italy can mean a failed £8million transfer can be offset.
For Celtic such expenditure almost has to come with almost cast-iron guarantees.
The plus points are there for all to see. He’s scores goals and he creates for others. He seems able to cope with the standard of Scottish football and slip into European competition comfortably.
The negatives are Moi took some time to get up to speed and since returning from injury he’s not quite been able to take his chance. It’s a Catch 22 situation of course, he needs games to get match sharp, yet his rustiness since returning from injury has meant Neil Lennon hasn’t been able to give him that extended spell in the side.
There has been too much at stake.
There has also been a big change in tactics since Elyounoussi picked up his injury.
Post Winter break Celtic have predominately played a 3-5-2 formation. For a player who prefers to play as the left side attacker cutting in on his right foot there isn’t really room for Moi. Celtic are already struggling with James Forrest performing admirably but less effectively as a wing back rather than a right sided attacker. While Greg Taylor is only just getting to grips with his new role on the opposite flank.
There doesn’t then seem to be room for Elyounoussi in this system.
Neil Lennon has of course used a few different tactical approaches, often moving between systems during games. It certainly appears the manager is looking to find an approach where he can ensure in most games at least, that there are two strikers on the pitch.
Lennon did throw Moi an opportunity playing just behind Edouard in a 3-5-2 formation at Livingston in last Wednesday’s 2-2 draw. It was the role he’d excelled in against Lazio in Rome. It has to be said Elyounoussi failed to take that chance, he often looked for an extra touch and the physical nature of the opponent seemed to faze him somewhat.
There is still of course time for Moi to break into the side and return to the form we all saw earlier in the season, but for now it certainly looks like the jury would be out on the value to Celtic of a permanent transfer given the outlay, on the evidence so far.
The advantage Elyounoussi does have is Neil Lennon certainly rates his talents. After that Semi Final performance against Hibs, the manager had this to say to BBC Scotland:
“His intelligence on the ball, link-up play and fitness levels are incredible. We’re delighted he’s making us better and we’re delighted we’re making him better.”
There is clearly then admiration for the player’s talents from Neil Lennon. It may however be the sands of time are drifting away when it comes to Lenny making a case to those who hold the purse strings.
While we’ve not quite finished trying, at the moment the buying looks a hard sell. And if Celtic do decide to pursue the deal with Southampton then Peter Lawwell will be using all of the above negatives to talk down the price. At around £5million Elyounoussi would represent decent value for money. Any more than that and you start to go beyond sound judgement.
The Celtic Star of the Decade – 1990-1999 is The Maestro, Paul McStay…see HERE.
CORONAVIRUS AND SCOTTISH FOOTBALL EXPLAINED…
AND ON A SERIOUS MATTER…
You may have missed this from Sunday evening, but it is well worth reading today. Malcolm Rodger, a survivor of child abuse abuse in Scottish football talks us through how he believes that all the survivors can get justice and how this sordid, disgraceful subject can be concluded once and for all. Please read and if you are minded to do so, please support him in trying to reach his target.
Malcolm Rodger’s Campaign to Bring Justice and Peace to Scottish Football’s Victims | The Celtic Star https://t.co/8ijRWJI74F
— The Celtic Star Editor (@CelticStarMag) March 8, 2020
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