Newcastle United‘s recent 4-1 triumph over newly-promoted Fulham saw the Magpies come up against a familiar face in the form of defender Kevin Mbabu, with the Switzerland nternational having left St James’ Park five years ago.
While it proved a difficult afternoon for the 27-year-old at Craven Cottage as his side were simply put to the sword by Eddie Howe’s rampant outfit, the Tynesiders have largely been left to rue his departure from the club in recent times.
The dynamic full-back had originally been signed from Servette as a teenager back in January 2013 following a successful trial at the club, eventually going on to make his first-team bow at the start of the 2015/16 season under Steve McClaren.
The departure of the former England boss and the subsequent arrival of Rafa Benitez ultimately saw that early momentum halted as the right-back swiftly found himself cast out by the Spaniard, eventually making just five appearances in all competitions for the club.
The 6-foot machine has since pointed to one game, in particular, that sparked his desire to leave the northeast side after being oddly overlooked by Benitez against Crystal Palace back in April 2016, stating: “I knew it wasn’t going to work with the new manager (Rafa Benitez).
“When I really understood it was going to be difficult for me was when Vurnon Anita got injured (against Crystal Palace in April 2016) and I was the only full-back on the bench. An assistant said, ‘He’s injured, you’re coming on’. Then Benitez said, ‘No’. Instead, Jonjo Shelvey came on and Moussa Sissoko played right-back.
“That really hurt me. I felt really sad and disappointed. If the coach decides, then you have to accept it but, as a young player, it was tough to take.”
Mbabu was subsequently loaned out to BSC Young Boys in the summer of 2016, before joining the club the following year on a permanent deal, with Benitez sanctioning his departure for a reported fee of just £108k, as per Transfermarkt.
That decision has gone on to appear a real dismal piece of business for Newcastle since then, with the player going on to rack up 21 goal contributions in 106 games during his time at Young Boys, before adding a further nine goal involvements in 82 games at Bundesliga side Wolfsburg.
The 22-cap gem’s form in Germany subsequently led to his recent return to England to join Marco Silva’s side, with the Cottagers forking out a fee of around £6.4m for his signature – a huge increase of 5825% on what he was initially sold for in 2017.
Such an asking price has been warranted for his form over the past year as he has showcased his attacking quality in contrast to those in his position across Europe’s top five leagues, notably ranking in the top 1% for dribbles completed, with current Newcastle hero Kieran Trippier ranking in just the bottom 7% in the same metric, for instance.
A player who could clearly have been an asset to Howe at present, particularly with Emil Krafth on the treatment table, it looks as if Mbabu – who has one assist in five league games already this season – truly was one that got away for the club.