Newcastle United fans may have a new heroic right-back in town in Kieran Trippier, but had things panned out slightly differently a few years ago, they may well have been watching Kevin Mbabu maraud down the flank at St James’ Park instead.
The Magpies signed the Switzerland international back in 2013 when Alan Pardew was boss, giving him a three-year deal after seeing him impress in a trial.
At the time, reserve team manager, Willie Donachie said: “Kevin is strong, confident, skilful and a very good prospect.”
But after making just five appearances for the first-team, Mbabu was sent out on loan, before completing a permanent move back home to Switzerland to BSC Young Boys for just over £100k.
Mbabu himself meanwhile has gone on record to say that his departure from St James’ Park has fuelled his desire to showcase his talents, saying just last year: “I had an offer from Young Boys and I didn’t want to go back to Switzerland, but then I thought: ‘OK, go back, get back on track. Take a little step back but maybe one day, you’ll get rewarded for that’. So I just did it.
“When I left Newcastle, I had it in my head that, ‘I’m going to prove them all wrong, to show them it was a mistake to let me go’. That’s what I’ve been trying to do this whole time.”
His problems with injuries of course didn’t help his cause, but his fine performance against Chelsea back in 2015 showcased the kind of potential he had.
The Independent gave him a seven match rating, and said that he enjoyed “an impressive starting debut”, praising him for his “series of threatening runs down the flank”.
But, if Mbabu thought the display would lead to bigger and better things, then he was sadly mistaken following the arrival of Rafa Benitez as manager.
He said: “I knew it wasn’t going to work with the new manager. 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.”
While Mbabu has certainly followed through with his own personal desire of proving the Magpies wrong since his exit, Newcastle perhaps have finally managed to solve that problem position this past January with the arrival of Trippier.
But, had the Magpies stuck with Mbabu, they may not have even ended up signing the England international now, such has been the fine rise the Swiss flier has enjoyed in his time away from Tyneside.
When you look at the fact the Magpies have mixed and matched with the likes of Emil Krafth, Javier Manquillo and DeAndre Yedlin in recent years for the starting right-back slot, it’s a painful reminder of how if they had just kept the faith and ridden out the bad times, they could have had a star in the making in Mbabu.