Believe it or not, once upon a time, Josh McEachran was English football's next best thing.
The young midfielder rose through the youth teams of England and Chelsea, even taming Paul Pogba on the way to winning the European Under-17 Championships in 2010. Some rather optimistic supporters even dubbed him the 'English Xavi.'
Now, though, the 24-year-old is collecting dust at mid-table Championship side Brentford - his first permanent destination after the collapse of his Chelsea career.
The move emerged after half a decade of thoroughly mediocre loan spells to the likes of Swansea City and Vitesse Arnhem. McEachran seems to have found some well-needed stability now and has accumulated 51 appearances for the Bees.
It's hard to ignore just how far the Englishman has fallen, however.
Carlo Ancelotti had greatly invested in the midfielder in 2010-11, handing him 17 outings, but his departure from the club saw the never-ending loan spells roll in.
Rewind even further and McEachran had the world at his feet with offers from Manchester United and Real Madrid rolling in at just age 16.
The Brentford man recalled: “I was 16, at Chelsea, and my agent at the time said: ‘Real Madrid want you’. It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? At that age."
Digest the achievement by considering this was the summer Los Blancos procured Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Kaka in a record-breaking spending spree only recently usurped.
It begs the question as to whether McEachran would have fared better in the Spanish capital. Perhaps the opportunities at Real Madrid Castilla may have suited him better than Chelsea's constant pandering to loans.
Of course, we'll never get to know but the 24-year-old's reasoning for rebuffing Real makes the situation all the more painful.
He reminisced: "I was 16. I'd just signed my scholarship at Chelsea but Real came in with a five-year deal," per the Gazette.
"They wanted me to sign and offered to move all my family over there.
"The thing was, I was so close to making my debut and nobody (from the Academy) had done that since John Terry."
In other words, the looming possibility of a Chelsea debut and the history behind it convinced McEachran he was on the brink of making it at Stamford Bridge.
At least he can take pride in the fact he did follow in John Terry's footsteps. McEachran made history when he turned out for Chelsea against MSK Zilina in 2010 but deputising that day wasn't the key to success he perhaps thought it was.
Football can be a cruel, cruel game sometimes.
Do you think McEachran would have been better off signing for Real Madrid? Have your say in the comments section below.News Now - Sport News