We travel to St Mary’s on Saturday lunchtime, some 16 months after our last visit to that enclosure when, during the second half of our eventual 3-2 victory, central midfielder Nabil went on in place of Mousa Dembele for his Premier League debut.
And, since his graduation from our Development Squad, it’s fair to say he hasn’t looked back!
Now a regular feature in our side, Nabil represented Algeria at last summer’s World Cup finals and the Africa Cup of Nations tournament earlier this year, while also helping us to key wins against the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal in the Premier League in 2015.
In addition, the 20-year-old had the distinction of lining up for us in the Capital One Cup Final at Wembley at the start of last month.
Voted Man of the Match by supporters in Sunday’s 3-1 win at Newcastle, Nabil confirmed he’s looking forward to returning to the ground where it all began when he sat down with us this week...
What memories will stir when we return to St Mary’s on Saturday?
Nabil: “Great memories. That’s where my dreams started to come true. I can remember it like it was yesterday. Even warming-up was fantastic! Then I had the chance to go on, it went well, we won, perfect!”
You looked like you were completely unfazed that day. Did you feel like that?
Nabil: “I was really nervous but I was told to stay calm and play my normal game, just to go out there and play like I’d played in training and for the Development Squad. That’s all I focused on and as soon as I had my first touch I just felt full of confidence. I’d trained with the first team but the game is where it really matters. I played well and I knew at that time it was only the beginning. Even now it’s only the beginning.”
Players always say it’s hard to get in the team when you are young but even harder to stay in it. Do you agree?
Nabil: “You know what? William Gallas told me exactly that. He spoke wise words to me and I thank him for that. I was only 16 when I first met him and he always gave me advice and the benefit of his experience. All the players help me, people like Hugo and Younes tell me little things to be aware of and you listen to their words and to their experience because they have been playing at the very top level for a long time.”
The players have described a real family feel to the squad at the moment…
Nabil: “Yes, certainly. We all get on well and we have this lovely Training Centre where we can all stay together after training and talk. We all get on and you can see how we fight for each other. We all take responsibility.”
Do you think you are maturing as a player?
Nabil: “Yes, I’ve taken a lot on board and put it all in my little backpack! I still have a lot to learn but I feel I’ve stepped up from last season. That was the start for me, now I’m playing more and more, getting confidence and that maturity. I feel I’m growing as a player, especially in the middle of the pitch. You have responsibility in there at both ends of the pitch. It’s a key position.”
You’ve started many games as the two in midfield alongside Ryan Mason in our 4-2-3-1 system– what has it been like to play with so many players who you came up through the Academy with?
Nabil: “It’s unbelievable really. I played with Ryan, Harry and Andros in the Development Squad. We never thought we would all break through together, perhaps one or two, but not four of five at the same time. It just underlines the quality of the coaching at the club and once you show the ability and the desire, you certainly have the chance to be part of the first team.”
It’s Southampton next in the Premier League on Saturday – what are your thoughts on the game?
Nabil: “This is a big match and we have to be up for the fight. We know what to expect from them and they will know what to expect from us. We have to be focused, strong and I’m sure it will be a good game. Hopefully we’ll come back with the points.”
What have you made of Southampton?
Nabil: “They’ve had a really good season. They are tough to play against but we relish these challenges. As a footballer, you want to play in these matches and play with that pressure.”
Finally, what about your season? You are very modest, but you must be happy. Have you got everything you want out of the season?
Nabil: “To be honest, no. I need goals, assists and to be stronger in every part of my game. I know I can do that. I can be better in my passing and my defending.”
Well, apart from that everything seems to be going well!
Nabil: “It’s been a positive season because I’m improving, but I’m not at the level I want to be yet. For instance, I really should have scored with my header at Newcastle. It’s situations like that where I know I need to improve but I’ve learned many things. If I want to get better, I know I can’t sleep on what I’ve done so far, I can’t stand still. The best players always want more, they push themselves all the time. I’m confident, I want to learn and the gaffer will help me progress. I’m only at the beginning and I can push further.”