When Olivier Ntcham opened up to L’Equipe in 2019, expressing his disappointment after being denied a move to Champions League regulars FC Porto, it’s hard to imagine he’d have been expecting to play 71 minutes of a goalless draw with Hull City two years later.
“Celtic have given me a lot but (leaving for Portugal) is the best solution for my development,” the one-time Manchester City youngster said at the time.
“With all due respect for my opponents, if the level in front is not high, you do not progress.”
It’s fair to say Ntcham’s comments went down like the proverbial lead balloon in the green half of Glasgow.
But, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see where the Frenchman was coming from.
Did Celtic make an error by allowing Olivier Ntcham to join Swansea?
Moving to Porto would have pushed Ntcham to raise his game against superior opposition while facing the likes of Manchester City and Juventus at the summit of European football.
Who knows, in an alternative universe somewhere Ntcham is starting in tomorrow’s group-stage opener against La Liga champions Atletico Madrid.
But instead of progressing, Ntcham plateaued, his development stalling at Celtic to the point where, three years after rejecting a £13 million bid from Porto, the Hoops had few qualms about cancelling his contract and letting the former France U21 international leave Parkhead on a free transfer (Goal).
But on the evidence of Saturday afternoon, as Ntcham made his Swansea City debut in an otherwise unremarkable second-tier stalemate with Hull, the 25-year-old is back on the right track, albeit strutting his stuff in the Championship rather than the Champions League.
“Brilliant. I thought Olivier was fantastic,” said Swans boss Russell Martin of a man who, should he stay free of injuries, should be a step above most Championship playmakers.
“He probably played a bit more than we had planned. When he gets fitter, stronger and sharper, he’s going to be a really exciting player. I thought he was really good today.”
It will take some time before a club the size and stature of Porto are going to come calling again with an eight-figure offer.
But, for the first time in a while, things are looking up for a 25-year-old with so much time on his side and so much still to offer.