Southampton’s newest debutant admits there was a time he feared the day would never come.
Nathan Tella has been named in Saints’ matchday squad for all three games since the Premier League restart, coming on to make his senior bow in the first of those at Norwich.
The 20-year-old forward has now put pen to paper on a three-year contract at St Mary’s, but only after overcoming an injury nightmare that threatened to dash his dreams.
Tella missed 10 months of football after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament playing for the Under-23s last April – a setback he felt could derail his Saints ambitions.
“There was a little thought in my head, especially at the start, but I spoke to a lot of the coaches and the physios, and they just assured me I would be back to my normal self,” he reflected.
“Obviously now I’ve had the opportunity and I’ve been able to do it, so I’m just happy and grateful to them as well.
“It’s a great feeling to know the club have shown faith in me through a time when I’ve been injured.”
Soon after returning to action in February, the Academy season was cut short due to COVID-19, but Tella’s dedication shone through during lockdown, and his fitness levels impressed first-team manager Ralph Hasenhüttl when Saints were given the all-clear to train again in May.
“It (lockdown) allowed me to get fitter, because when I was at home I was working out every day, running and trying to get my body back into great shape,” he explained.
“I felt like when I eventually came back into training, the running wasn’t too hard for me, and it’s helped me now.
“With the way the first team like to play – high intensity, high pressing – the fact I’ve been able to come back and do those things has helped me a lot.”
the manager will play you if he thinks you’re good enough and if you work hard enough, so i think that’s a huge motivation for everyone.
Tella’s introduction from the bench at Carrow Road completed a personal turnaround from the lowest point in his young career to a new high, leaving the youngster determined to seize more opportunities in the future.
“It was an amazing feeling – something I dreamed of as a boy,” he said of his debut. “I’ve been working at it for 15 years now, so, even though it was only a short time on the pitch, it’s a memory that will live with me forever.
“Playing in the Premier League is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. To be able to do it in front of my family and friends, who were watching on TV, was just a great feeling – especially after everything that’s happened to me this year.
“I’m always looking to learn. I think that’s one of the things that’s helped me, especially with the manager as well. The manager will play you if he thinks you’re good enough and if you work hard enough, so I think it’s a huge motivation for everyone.”