Alloa's Ahmed Aloulou makes jump from futsal to football
When Ahmed Aloulou came off the bench for Alloa Athletic at Dundee United on Saturday, the Tunisian became the first player to graduate from Scotland's futsal set-up to 11-a-side senior football.
It completed a circuitous route to the professional game that began in the Tunisian city of Sfax and has taken the 22-year-old to Recreation Park via Aberdeen, Romania and Dundee.
Aloulou had long planned a career in senior football but delayed his move for four years while attending university, playing for Dundee Futsal and turning out five times for Scotland's national futsal team.
Within weeks of graduating this summer, he won a one-year contract with Alloa, freshly promoted to the Scottish Championship, after standing out in trials against seasoned professionals.
Now he is hoping to emulate players such as Celtic's Tom Rogic in making the transition from the five-a-side game played on indoor hard courts to the top of the sport - and inspire others in Scotland to do so.
From Tunisia to Scotland caps
Aloulou had a nomadic childhood because of his father's engineering contracts and started playing football during eight years spent in Aberdeen.
But it wasn't until the family moved to Romania in 2010 that he started to think he might be good enough to play professionally.
"I thought the best plan was to get my degree first, just in case things didn't pan out," he told BBC Scotland.
Aloulou chose a mechanical engineering degree in Dundee while developing his futsal skills, culminating in a Scotland call-up as he helped his side finish fifth in the new Scottish Futsal Super League.
He continued to dream of a football career and Faissal El Bakhtaoui, the striker currently on loan to Dunfermline Athletic from Dundee, was among those to help in his progress.
"I read an interview he did on the BBC about his transition from futsal in France and got in touch," Aloulou explained. "He has Moroccan French roots and I speak French from my Tunisian roots.
"He gave me a few tips and pointers and, when you see someone who has done it, it gives you that motivation and belief that it is doable."
From futsal to professional football
Having graduated this summer, Aloulou set his sights on professional football "now that I've got something to fall back on".
It wasn't long before he caught the eye of Alloa manager Jim Goodwin.
"I managed to get myself an exit trial in Largs for people looking for a contract," Aloulou recalled. "I trained there for a week then played against St Mirren and got recommended for trials at Alloa.
"I made a couple of half-hour substitute appearances against Berwick Rangers and Falkirk, and the next day the manager called me and said he would like to give me a contract."
An ankle injury picked up in that final trial game delayed his debut, but his wait ended when he was sent on after 74 minutes at Tannadice as the part-time Wasps knocked Championship rivals Dundee United out of the Challenge Cup after a penalty shoot-out.
Pivot to all-round player
Aloulou is optimistic about his ability to adapt to the 11-a-side game, citing the fact Rogic and Sevilla striker Wissam Ben Yedder both came from futsal backgrounds.
He played as a "pivot" - essentially a target man - in his five-man futsal teams and says that grounding can enable him to be a better footballer.
"For me, the hardest thing is the training, because futsal is more directed towards short sprints, being able to give your all within five minutes, getting a breather, then coming back on.
"Whereas in 11-a-side, if you are on for 90 minutes, you've got to be able to manage your stamina and endurance for the whole game."
Having closely watched El Bakhtaoui, Aloulou believes its is apparent how futsal has helped the Pars striker offer "something different" with his ball control and skills.
"His message was 'you just need to put the work in and believe in yourself'," he added.
"I'm in this to see how far I can progress and, if I didn't think I could do well, I wouldn't have put my mechanical engineering career to the side."
Raising futsal's profile
Aloulou's debut came days after Denmark called up players from their futsal squad for their 3-0 defeat by Slovakia, after senior players were embroiled in a commercial rights dispute.
Scottish Futsal League chairman Martin Myers thinks Aloulou's rise to Scotland's second tier will provide further good publicity for "the fastest growing indoor sport in the world".
Scotland has had a futsal league based around Perth since 1997, but four years ago it came under the wing of the Scottish FA and expanded to a 10-team Super League set-up with regional leagues below two years later.
"It is a unique situation," Myers said of Aloulou. "A number of players have come from professional football back into futsal, but Ahmed is the first to have come through our regional and national leagues and then signed a professional football contract.
"He is a good player and has a great attitude and was one of the best players in the Scotland squad.
"Unlike Spain, Portugal and Russia, we are an amateur sport in Scotland, so to make an impact at a team in the second tier of Scottish football, coming from training maybe once a week, is excellent."
The Scottish Futsal League is holding a "come and try" open day at the Peak at Stirling Sports Village on Sunday, 16 September.