On 17th May 2008 a young Mexican started alongside Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o, Lionel Messi and a whole host of other global stars as Barcelona took on Murcia.
It was the final game of the season. A cause for celebration after a disappointing season. The youngster in question was 19-year-old Giovani Dos Santos.
While Messi was the boy wonder everyone flocked to see, it was Dos Santos who stole the show.
A 33-minute hat-trick sealed victory for Barcelona and ensured the eyes of the world were on the boy from Monterrey.
Barcelona had found an heir to Ronaldinho.
You’d be hard pressed to pick a better set of mentors for Dos Santos than Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Deco, Yaya Toure and Ronaldinho, not to mention his fellow countryman Rafael Marquez.
Few things in football are certain, but this felt like a sure bet.
Fast forward barely more than a year. The date was 14 March 2009. The venue was Reading’s Madjeski Stadium.
Among the journeyman and youngsters on Ipswich’s bench was one player who looked particularly out of place.
Here re-enters our fallen hero.
After deciding that his path to footballing glory would be better served at Spurs than Barcelona, Dos Santos made the brave choice to move to north London in the summer of 2008.
But his hat-trick in what turned out to be his final game for Barcelona seemed like a distant memory by the time the Premier League season rolled around.
After just 12 appearances- a handful in meaningless domestic and European cup competitions- Dos Santos was sent to Ipswich to continue his footballing education.
Nineteen minutes off the bench against Reading gave the Mexican his first taste of the Championship.
Then it was time for a start.
Dos Santos partnered Jon Stead and Kevin Lisbie- two lower league stalwarts- in front of 18,745 fans at Portman Road.
As if to confirm that everything was a bit below his level, Dos Santos scored for Ipswich with a trademark swat of his left foot.
Around the same time Messi, who was quickly becoming the darling of the Nou Camp, was scoring in a 6-0 win against Malaga.
Dos Santos played a further six games, scoring three goals, as Ipswich finished ninth in England’s second tier.
But there was no fairy tale return to Spurs. Or Barcelona, for that matter.
More loan spells at Galatasaray and Racing Santander followed before Dos Santos returned to Spain, signing permanently with Mallorca in the summer of 2012.
Despite racking up 95 caps for Mexico and going on to play for Villarreal and LA Galaxy, it’s difficult to shake the feeling of talent wasted.
Dos Santos still claims that he left Barcelona for sporting reasons.
Trying to find your way in an attack containing Eto’o, Messi, Henry and Iniesta would have been daunting for any player.
But with his precocious talent, and Barcelona’s willingness to give youngsters a try, you wouldn’t have bet against him making it.
You only need to look at the flash of pace and drop of the shoulder- leaving £31million Victor Lindelof on the floor– before his goal against Man United recently to see the ability.
Would he make the same decision if he had his time again?