Think back four years.
It looked like Newcastle United had unearthed a real talent.
That talent was Rolando Aarons.
In a pre-season game at the impressive Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Aarons had put in an equally impressive performance.
Aarons, then 18, took the ball on the left. He burst down the wing, beating his man, and floated a cross-cum-shot over Schalke goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann which went into the net off the far post.
The winger said he meant it after the game.
Aarons’ performances in pre-season made then-manager Alan Pardew take notice.
“The real highlight of pre-season has been Rolando,” Pardew told the Gazette at the time. “He was terrific again.
“It’s nice to see a young player really pushing, and I thought he caused real problems for Schalke – long may that continue.”
By the end of the month he had scored a Premier League goal against Crystal Palace – another strike followed against Manchester City in the League Cup – and by the end of the year he had turned down a new contract.
“He’s a young player who has a contract here, and we’re trying to negotiate with his team,” said Pardew.
“Somewhere along the line, I do think some sense will come into those negotiations.”
Those negotiations eventually came to fruition a couple of years later, when he signed a five-year deal at the club.
Fast forward to today, and Aarons – whose career at Newcastle has been punctuated by a series of injuries – is further away than ever from first-team football, despite being fully fit.
The 22-year-old was left out of United’s 25-man Premier League by manager Rafa Benitez and won’t be able to play a competitive first-team game until the New Year, when the transfer window reopens.
So what happened? Why is one of the club’s most talented players training with the Under-23 squad?
Injuries, certainly, have played a part.
Aarons has had hamstring, thigh and calf problems. He also ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament two years ago.
The former England Under-20 international hasn’t been able to mount a sustained challenge for a first-team place.
Benitez, clearly, is not convinced by Aarons, who was given a 10-month jail term, suspended for 12 months, and ordered him to carry out 100 hours community service after pleading guilty to affray in May.
Had Benitez seen enough from him on the training pitch?
Aarons was loaned out to Hellas Verona in the second half of last season, but he didn’t start every week.
What Aarons, under contract at 2021, needs more than anything is games, but he didn’t secure a loan away from the club before last month’s transfer deadline.
Why didn’t a club take a chance on him? Did it come down to money? Or wages? Football must come first for Aarons, who just needs to play.
Aarons, it’s clear, needs a fresh start away from United.