The 29-year-old Algerian goalkeeper's spell at the MLS club has been riddled with controversy since he arrived last summer.
With Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin confirming that goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi has joined Bolton Wanderers on trial, fans of the MLS club will be crossing their fingers that the move turns into a permanent one.
Arguably one of the worst Designated Player singings in league history, the Algeria international’s 13-month spell at PPL Park has been nothing short of a disaster and set a new benchmark for poor front office management.
Luckily for those responsible, though, the end may finally be in sight.
Speaking at Thursday’s media conference, Curtin acknowledged recent reports that the 29-year-old shot-stopper has headed across the Atlantic to the Macron Stadium, telling reporters: “Yeah, we did allow him to explore that option so he is out on a trial right now.”
M’Bolhi originally joined the Union last July on a free transfer after playing a key role in Algeria’s run to the World Cup round of 16, but even then there were serious questions about his signing.
At the time, the Union had one of the league’s most promising starting keepers in Zac MacMath, who had been in solid form throughout 2014, while the club also traded up to draft Jamaica international Andre Blake No. 1 overall in the MLS SuperDraft just six months earlier.
With the salary caps restrictions, a shot-stopper on a big-money deal has never been considered a wise investment either, but club CEO Nick Sakiewicz was defiant when challenged at the former CSKA Sofia man’s official unveiling over the decision to hand him a £222,958-per-season deal.
“You know, he played in this little tournament in Brazil about a month ago,” he joked in front of the press. “Just a little tournament.”
Little did he know at the time how much his words would come back to bite him.
M’Bolhi ended up having to wait until late-August to make his debut after being involved in a car accident in Paris and running into paperwork issues, but that was just the start of his problems.
The French-born stopper ended up starting just four of the last 10 games of the season due to MacMath’s impressive performances, while his goal-costing blunders in back-to-back matches against D.C. United and the Chicago Fire, respectively, ultimately cost the Union two vital wins and any hopes of a play-off spot.
Nevertheless, Philadelphia kept faith in their high-priced summer addition heading into the off-season and, with MacMath loaned out to the Colorado Rapids, M’Bolhi returned to the club after a solid African Cup of Nations campaign as their undisputed No. 1.
That would not last much longer, though.
The Union began the 2015 season with three defeats and two draws and most agreed that their underperforming keeper was the man to blame, as his constant mistakes, shocking lack of aerial presence and awful distribution made him stand out like a sore thumb.
Coach Curtin eventually decided he had seen enough following April’s 3-2 defeat at Sporting Kansas City, in which M’Bolhi was responsible for all three opposition goals, and, just like that, the struggling veteran was benched and then banished back to his off-season home in France.
“It was my decision and it was based on performance,” Curtin told MLSSoccer.com at the time. “It’s what I think is best now for Rais and the Philadelphia Union moving forward. … [And] it’s best for him and the team that he’s not with the group.
“We win and lose games as a team but as the KC game went on, throw-in after throw-in went into the box, there seemed to be indecision with Rais. I think the confidence is gone in him.”
That wasn’t the end of the saga, though, as things came to a head several weeks later when M’Bolhi returned to PPL Park, much to the surprise of those around MLS, prompting Curtin to stress that the well-travelled custodian would train alone and never feature for the club again.
"He and I have a difference of philosophy right now," the former defender told philly.com. "He's not going to play any more games with us. He has a contract, so he'll be training by himself, separate from the team. We'll arrange for that at our facility, but it will be at a different time from when our team is training [and] he won't have any interaction with the group.
"There's no one incident to point to, it's just a combination of performance on the field, interactions in the locker room with the rest of the group, the whole package.
“I made a decision. I still think he is a talented goalkeeper - there's no denying that. He has proven that on the World Cup stage. But on the club level with the Union right now, we've decided to move on."
The Union have been attempting to ship the disgruntled M’Bolhi out ever since but, so far, potential suitors have been few and far between – until Bolton came along.
Given his international pedigree, perhaps Neil Lennon can manage to motivate him enough to rediscover his World Cup form but, after all that’s happened in Philadelphia since last summer, a potential deal has to be considered a risk – even if he would be behind current first-choice Ben Amos in the pecking order.
Ultimately, the Trotters would be doing the Union an enormous favour by taking M’Bolhi off their hands and, if he were to seal a permanent switch, supporters of the Championship side should hope to high heaven that nothing happens to Amos.