Emmanuel Mayuka is looking to make up for lost time after returning home earlier than planned from the African Cup Of Nations.
During the past month or so, the 22 year-old forward had been hoping to defend Zambia’s title in South Africa, but his nation’s campaign came to an abrupt end. Having struggled to deal with difficult playing surfaces, Zambia drew all three of their group-stage fixtures and were knocked out at the first hurdle.
It has been a similar story of frustration for Mayuka in his debut season with Southampton, as he has yet to string a run of games together in the Barclays Premier League.
Mayuka was an unused substitute in the four Saints matches prior to leaving for Africa, and given that he was in the middle of trying to battle his way into contention at St Mary’s, he admits that a month away from the club might not have been ideal – though the opportunity to play football is something he relished.
“I can see both sides – going away was both a good thing and a bad thing,” the forward tells Saturday’s official matchday programme.
“I really needed game-time and to play football because I hadn’t had much, and to represent your country is the best thing anyone can wish to do.
“I was excited about going to the Africa Cup of Nations and playing games, but I am part of the family here so I felt bad that I was leaving them behind.”
Little did he know that just two days before the Chipolopolo’s opening game against Ethiopia, he was about to receive the news of a change of manager back in Southampton. While Mauricio Pochettino was meeting his new players, Mayuka was more than 5,000 miles away.
“I didn’t want to think about it too much because we were in the middle of the tournament,” he says, “but it was hard knowing that he was coming in and meeting the players without me there.
“When you hear there is a new manager coming in, it’s just the same as going to a new club. You have to try to show him what you can do and what you can bring to the team.
“It only takes you one-or-two days to make an impression, so I was already looking forward to coming back and getting into training with the new manager.”
Emmanuel was hurt by the fact that the Chipolopolo could not follow up last year’s tournament-winning success, but he can see a silver lining to his team’s early elimination.
“It was horrible to go out, especially without even losing a game – at least if we lost one, it’d be easier to come to terms with,” he says. “We’re disappointed, but the positive for me is that I can come back to Southampton sooner than expected.
“I got back last weekend so I’ve only had a week of training with the new manager, but it’s so far so good. I’m enjoying working with him.”
Read the full interview with Emmanuel Mayuka inside Saturday’s official matchday programme available for £3 inside and around St Mary’s Stadium.