This afternoon's edition of SAINTS, to mark Chelsea's visit to St Mary's in the Premier League, features the following extended interview with Mohamed Elyounoussi...
You hear it all the time from footballers. “It’s my dream to play in the Premier League,” they say.
That’s not to say it’s not true, of course. It was, and maybe still is, a dream of ours, too. But there comes a point when the statement carries less meaning, having heard it so many times before.
It’s refreshing, then, to speak to Mohamed Elyounoussi, who grew up in a foreign country where English football is revered, but only a select number of players have flourished on these shores. It ticks all the boxes for the “dream” line.
But for Elyounoussi, it wasn’t.
Born in Morocco, the Norwegian forward moved to Europe aged two and was playing senior football at 15.
All the evidence suggests he must have been infatuated with football from birth, but instead his relationship with the game was unusually distant – initially at least.
“At home, we didn’t really watch football,” he reveals.
“We watched the Euros and the World Cup, but my family were not really into football.
“My friends all had this huge dream to play in the Premier League. I didn’t have that because I didn’t really watch it – I didn’t even think about it at the time, it was just something far away.
“I didn’t get to watch any leagues unless I was at a friend’s house. They would watch the Premier League a lot, Man United especially, which is how I got to know Cristiano Ronaldo and Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
“Otherwise I was outside playing.”
Maybe that’s what served him so well. Rather than sitting inside watching football all day or playing FIFA, “Moi” was out learning how to play the game.
He says he owes that to cousin Tarik, six years his senior, who was the first member of the Elyounoussi family to fall in love with the game.
This is just a small snippet of the full eight-page interview, in which Elyounoussi also opens up about:
- His first-team debut at the age of 15, and playing in the Norwegian top flight at 16
- The story of having to revise for a history test en route to a game he was playing in
- His dad's pizza restaurant, where Elyounoussi would work shifts after games
- His first transfer, to Molde, where he honed his finishing skills with Ole Gunnar Solskjær
- Breaking into the Norway team, and why he turned down Morocco - the country of his birth
- Playing in the Champions League for Basel, and the day he knew he was ready for the Premier League
- The influence of former Sarpsborg coach and ex-Premier League star Brian Deane on his career
- How his distant relationship with football helped him play off instinct, without role models to learn from
- Not that he's made it to the top, have his family finally embraced the beautiful game?
You can pick up your copy of SAINTS from St Mary's this afternoon, or online.