Moroccan En-Nesyri has Sevilla on brink of Europa League final
Youssef En-Nesyri could easily have walked away from Sevilla's grim situation in January, but the Moroccan international stayed and his goals have fired the Andalusians to the brink of another Europa League final.
The striker pounced to score against Juventus in the semi-final first leg in Turin last week, before Federico Gatti's last-gasp header left the tie level ahead of Thursday's second leg at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan.
Sevilla were deep in a relegation battle at the start of the year, turfed out of the Champions League, and En-Nesyri had managed just two goals in that competition, and none in La Liga.
The 25-year-old returned from the Qatar World Cup with hero status in Morocco for his fine performances and three goals on the country's incredible run to the semi-finals.
En-Nesyri's soaring header against Portugal in the quarter-final was claimed to have broken Cristiano Ronaldo's record for highest headed goal, and soon Sevilla were on the rise too.
The forward turned down all approaches in the winter transfer window and set to work on a challenge set by then-Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli, that he would reach 20 goals by the end of the season.
"I thank all the clubs that have contacted my agent, but at the moment I just want to keep my mind on Sevilla," said En-Nesyri in a statement put out by his agent in January.
"It's not a question of money. It's a sporting matter, of wanting to help the team in the worst moments."
En-Nesyri netted eight league goals in a 12 game stretch between January and April to pull the team up the table and away from danger, even as Sampaoli was replaced by Jose Luis Mendilibar in March.
The Moroccan netted four goals in the Copa del Rey and four more in the Europa League to reach a total of 18 for the season, just two short of his target of 20, which Mendilibar maintained.
The new coach was wary of En-Nesyri at first but, with advice from sporting director Monchi, slowly began to exchange with him and realised the striker enjoyed a challenge.
"He likes to be picked on, I picked on him, and he was scoring goals before we arrived – 'I'm going to score 20 goals,' I think he said, and he's not far off," explained Mendilibar.
The forward's pace on the break and aerial ability fits the coach's approach nicely and it is paying dividends.
En-Nesyri struck twice against Manchester United in the Europa League quarter-final second leg, propelling Sevilla into the semi-finals of a competition they have won a record six times.
"En-Nesyri, a rebel with a cause," ran a headline in Spanish newspaper AS.
Then the striker provided the cutting edge on a lethal counter attack against Juventus to give Sevilla a deserved lead in Turin, before they were pegged back late on.
"I am very proud of Youssef, Youssef is a great person, and he has principles," his team-mate for club and country, Yassine Bounou, told UEFA.com ahead of the second leg.
"I believe that he can still develop, progress and improve as a player. Personally, I see him as a little brother before seeing him as a player."
There is already some speculation En-Nesyri will depart in the summer, but if he does, he and Sevilla hope it is as a Europa League champion.