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Jorge de Frutos intercepted an under-hit cross on the edge of his own penalty area and started to run. He breezed down the right-hand flank, legs-a-blur, before peering into the distance at empty net.

Jan Oblak was nowhere to be seen, having gone up for a corner at the other end in search of a late equaliser. 

De Frutos slowed down, if only for a split second, before wrapping his instep around the ball. It bounced, one, two, three, seven times before ambling over the line.

De Frutos had just scored a goal from 60 yards, sealing a famous 2-0 triumph for Levante away from home against an Atletico Madrid side who would be crowned La Liga champions three months later. 

Little did he know that Levante would only win two more games between February 20th and November 19th – and none at all in their last 22 La Liga matches.  

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De Frutos, like the rest of a talented and drastically underperforming Levante squad, have looked a shadow of their true selves since that famous win at the Wanda Metropolitano.  

The Spanish top-flight’s breakthrough star from 2020/21 would have been hoping to disprove those who dared to label him a one-season-wonder, a spring-heeled flash-in-the-pan.

But it is no coincidence that, with just one goal and two assists under his belt from 12 games this term, reports of a potential move to the Premier League have dried up. 

The Mirror reported back in February, just eight days after De Frutos’ moment of Metropolitano magic, that Southampton were in talks to bring the one-time Real Madrid youngster to St Mary’s.

At the time, it seemed inevitable that De Frutos would be on his way out of Levante with some suggesting that a return to Real Madrid – a la Lucas Vazquez – could be on the cards. 

Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

“If Madrid come and sign him, it will show a good job has been done by our sports management. But it would be a shame not to be able to count on him next year,” Levante president Manolo Salvador said last summer. 

“Levante will not negotiate with anyone for De Frutos. Whoever comes will have to pay the (release) clause. Levante will receive 15 million euros (£14 million).” 

With the January transfer window approaching, Levante are nailed to the bottom of the La Liga table, picking up just seven points from their 14 games. Relegation, as things stand, is starting to look like an inevitability. 

De Frutos’ dramatic stoppage-time wonderstrike away at Atletico Madrid was supposed to be something of a breakthrough moment for him and Levante.  

Instead, it now feels like a cruel reminder of how far he – and his club – have fallen in the space of nine months.

Photo by Manuel Queimadelos/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

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