EIGHTEEN games was all it took for Dynel Simeu to develop cult status at Carlisle United. 

Really though, it didn’t take nearly that long. 

In just Simeu’s fourth appearance for the Cumbrian club, striker Tobi Sho-Silva notched a late equaliser against relegation rivals Colchester United and the Saints loanee reacted with the unbridled joy of a young player taking his first steps into the professional game - and loving every moment of it.

READ MORE: Enjoy the Daily Echo and Saintplus free for 30 days in our subscription deal

The open-mouthed roar of delight became his trademark over four months that will live long in the memory of Carlisle fans and leave Simeu with credit in the bank as he returns to Southampton ahead of the 2022/23 campaign.

“That’s the big thing from him in his time with us - his personality is just fantastic,” Carlisle United manager Paul Simpson told the Daily Echo. 

Daily Echo: Simeu celebrates for Carlisle United. Image by: Richard ParkesSimeu celebrates for Carlisle United. Image by: Richard Parkes

“A real good guy and the fans loved him. The way he celebrated with the fans whenever anything positive happened, they really took to him. It was a positive experience for us and hopefully for him as well.

“He threw himself into it. There were quite a few occasions when he was asked to do stuff in the community with the community programme, different appearances and he happily obliged. He was really good.”

But it wasn’t always plain sailing as the first loan of Simeu’s fledgling career started with a rude awakening. Brought in as one of nine new signings in the January window, Simeu’s new club were firmly entrenched in the League Two relegation battle and in the midst of their joint-worst losing run of the season.

READ MORE: From Dublin to Manchester and the South Coast - the rise of new Saints goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu

Three days prior to his arrival, Carlisle were beaten 3-0 by Forest Green Rovers and the week ended with the Blues slumped to 20th in the table with a 2-0 defeat to Sutton United. Simeu’s new side lost four of their first five games and the loanee was a target of criticism as he struggled to get to grips with men’s football.

Slowly though, he started to grow in confidence and a first clean sheet on February 26th in a 1-0 victory at Leyton Orient began a run of six wins in seven. The success also happened to be Simpson’s first game in charge after replacing Keith Millen, the man who brought Simeu to Brunton Park.

“It’s a big development for young players in terms of them growing up, it’s not just about the footballing side, they’re growing up as a person as well,” Simpson says. 

Daily Echo: Simeu made Hasenhuttl's matchday squad three times before heading out on loan. Image by: Stuart MartinSimeu made Hasenhuttl's matchday squad three times before heading out on loan. Image by: Stuart Martin

“I think Dynel certainly did that. I only joined for the last 15 games but I was told he had a little bit of a tough time in the early days in terms of his performance. But I’ve got to say, in the 15 games I was there, he didn’t let me down.

“It was a tough baptism of fire for him. He came into a team that was scrapping around trying to get results and they were really struggling. I think when Keith Millen lost his job they’d gone something like eight games without a victory and it was looking a little bit ominous. So the sort of experiences Dynel had, he would have never had with Chelsea or with Southampton’s B team. Being involved in a relegation scrap, being involved in games where the results really did matter."

Born in Cameroon and raised in the Southampton area, Simeu joined Chelsea at U13 level before returning home last summer. He played 17 times for Southampton's B Team while making Ralph Hasenhuttl's Premier League squad on three occassions before heading north - 300 miles north - in late January.

“It was his first loan, his first time in senior football so it was a real big test for him," Simpson continues. "I spoke to him and said ‘all your academy football education can’t fully prepare you for this. Just throw yourself into it and keep nice and calm, try not to let the nervousness around affect you.’ And I’ve got to say he didn’t. He seemed to thrive on it and did really well.”

Daily Echo: Simeu warms up for Saints before appearing on the bench. Image by: Stuart MartinSimeu warms up for Saints before appearing on the bench. Image by: Stuart Martin

Following Simpson’s arrival, Carlisle won eight games, two more than they’d managed the entire season leading up to it. Central to the resurgence was a defensive backbone that saw Carlisle concede more than one goal just five times in their final 15 matches.

Under Millen, Carlisle largely utilised a back four system that occasionally left Simeu slightly exposed but Simpson altered to a 3-4-3 and on the right side of the back three the Saints youngster thrived.

“When I came in I changed it straight away to a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2 and he was playing right side of the three and he seemed comfortable doing that,” Simpson explains. “He was athletic enough to get out into wide areas, to cover the right-wing-back, and as he went on through the run of games he got much better with his aerial challenges, much calmer on the ball as well, had a little bit more calmness in the way he was delivering passes and playing the ball into players in front of him."

Below are two passages of play - the first from Simeu’s debut defeat to Sutton United in a back four and the second from April with a back five.

The first example sees Simeu step out of position and fail to win the ball as Sutton attack the space he vacates before eventually scoring.

Daily Echo: Simeu steps out and is punished. Image by: WyscoutSimeu steps out and is punished. Image by: Wyscout

The second sees Simeu cover for his full-back as Simpson hoped before waiting for his moment to clear the ball prior to the attack truly developing into something dangerous.

Daily Echo: Simeu waits for his moment and clears the ball. Image by: WyscoutSimeu waits for his moment and clears the ball. Image by: Wyscout

But it would be grossly unfair to suggest that it was just the formation change or the new manager that saw Simeu flourish - Simpson himself believes that isn’t giving the player nearly enough credit.

“I think the big thing that impressed me was how he developed in his football over the run of time I was there,” Simpson explains. “He played in my first 13 games and he certainly improved. A few of the things the club was asking was for him to be much calmer in possession, show more control and he certainly did that. 

“At times early on, he was thrashing at the ball and making mistakes but he calmed himself down and was more assured on it, stepping into midfield. In terms of football, he showed that he can learn and he showed that he was a willing learner. And he improved over the run of games he had with us.”

Simeu picked up a total of eight yellow cards in his 18 League Two starts, owed in part to his aggressive nature and occasionally rash decision-making. 

An example of that can be seen below as he takes a heavy touch and clears out the attacker after the ball runs away.

Daily Echo: A heavy touch and late tackle sees Simeu miss the ball. Image by: WyscoutA heavy touch and late tackle sees Simeu miss the ball. Image by: Wyscout

But the bookings and occasional mistake was a worthwhile trade for Simeu’s aggression and determination, attributes that impressed Carlisle fans, players and coaches.

And despite the error above, on the ball, Simeu improved greatly - Simpson points out - and by the end of the campaign he was starting to display much more of a passing range and ability to carry the ball out of defence.

Below is one example from Carlisle’s 2-1 victory at Barrow in mid-March. Simeu receives the ball from his goalkeeper before driving forward and lifting a pass over the Barrow defence where Carlisle striker Kristian Dennis pokes it over the line.

Daily Echo: Simeu receives the ball from his keeper and passes over the top for his striker to score. Image by: WyscoutSimeu receives the ball from his keeper and passes over the top for his striker to score. Image by: Wyscout

Here’s another example from ten days later. Simeu receives the ball and immediately picks up his head, finding a teammate on the opposite flank - showing composure and ability that defied his early shakiness.

Daily Echo: Simeu receives the ball and plays it deep to the other side of the pitch. Image by: WyscoutSimeu receives the ball and plays it deep to the other side of the pitch. Image by: Wyscout

The increased calmness also applied to his defending as well, displayed in this example as he deals with a potentially tough situation with ease, marshalling the ball back to his goalkeeper.

Daily Echo: Simeu ushers the ball back to his goalkeeper. Image by: WyscoutSimeu ushers the ball back to his goalkeeper. Image by: Wyscout

“I’ve learned how to deal with situations and with pressure, I’ve been exposed to the real men’s game, and I’ve picked up some new tricks," Simeu told the official Carlisle website.

“It’s about dealing with different strikers that you come up against and the way you deal with different games. It’s all been really good for me because it’s the total opposite of what I was dealing with before.

“I was used to being bigger than everybody else at 23s level, so being out of my comfort zone has really helped.

“To develop properly you need to be tested, and I wasn’t going to lie and say I knew what to do if I came up against a 6ft tall striker, but now I can say it because I’ve done it and I know what to do.

“I know I have to respect the player but also that I have to play my game, and not rely so much on my strength and power, which was fine in the under-23 team.”

"He’s a player I'd seen when he was playing for Chelsea’s U23s and U18s when I was working with the FA," Simpson says. "So I was aware he’s a player with huge potential and then working with him I can see he’s got the attitude to succeed. That’s the first thing you have to have, you have to have a desire to improve and succeed and Dynel certainly has that.

"The challenge for him now is to keep working his way up the levels. The way I used to speak to him when we were going through any sort of clips or doing any sort of analysis was that I was speaking to him in terms of what he needed to play at the highest levvel - to be able to be considered for Southampton, he needed to show certain parts of his game. 

"It’s not for me to say where I think he could play and where he should be going, I’m sure Southampton have a very clear plan of what they see for him. The pleasing thing for me is that he threw himself into the club, he did everything we asked of him - and more - and I was really pleased with his contribution while I was at the club."

Still just 20-years old and with only five months of professional experience under his belt, Simeu's opportunity at Southampton may not arrive just yet. 

"I’ve spoken to the guys at Southampton about what’s next and no one knows at the moment," he said in May.

“That’s what is so exciting about football, it’s always about what’s next. It’s almost like when I was coming here, I found out within a few days and it was really exciting.

“It’s another adventure, another challenge, so I’m just open to whatever is best for me and my career in the long-term, and not being too focused on the now. It’s about what will benefit me.”

A message from the Editor

Thank you for reading this article - we appreciate your support in reading the Daily Echo.

Subscribing to the Echo means you have unrestricted access to the latest news, features and Saints coverage - all with an advertising-light website.

You will also have full access to Saintsplus, your new home for Southampton FC tactical analysis, features and much, much more.

Don't take my word for it - subscribe here to see for yourself.

Follow the latest breaking news in the Southampton area by joining our Facebook group - Southampton News - Breaking News and Incidents

Follow the latest court and crime news on our dedicated Facebook group - Hampshire Court and Crime News