Nigerian striker Moses Simon making his name at Slovakian side AS Trencin
It is fair to say that Slovakia's AS Trencin are not the most fashionable of European clubs. Indeed, many supporters (perhaps with the exception of Hull City fans) would not even be aware of their existence.
Yet, the small club that only won promotion from the second division in 2011 have been attracting a lot of attention of late. Guided by owner and former Ajax player Tschen La Ling they have lofty ambitions and, as part of those plans, have developed a player recruitment strategy aimed at buying emerging talents from African and South American markets. Their investment in detailed scouting is already beginning to pay off.
Trencin's track record of producing players is not bad in its own right, with Liverpool's Martin Skrtel and Besiktas' Filip Holosko among their most famous graduates. However, the club's status as relative unknowns may not last long.
Having impressed in the Europa League qualifiers, they now top the Slovakian Super Liga and could potentially earn a Champions League spot in 2015-16. With no league titles in their history and a stadium holding just 4,500 people, it would be a tremendous achievement if they can pull it off. Perhaps even more profitable for the club, though, will surely increase the prospect of impending sales of their brightest young assets -- principally Nigerian striker Moses Simon.
Per reports earlier this season, Simon is already being tracked by Tottenham, Liverpool and Europa League opponents Hull City among others, while links with Ajax are inevitable given Trencin's ownership.
AS Trencin head coach Martin Sevela admitted this summer that the 19-year-old "has outgrown the Slovakian league already" and Simon has only continued that form in league action since the beginning of the campaign, scoring six goals in 15 matches from his regular berth on either of the two flanks.
Simon was first linked with Europe's elite back in early 2013 when still playing in Nigeria at the GBS Academy in Jos. Speaking to Supersport at the time, academy manager Ibrahim Ahmed said of his prospect: "It has been a long time since I saw an incredibly gifted, young player like Moses. He doesn't only have acceleration and great pace but he is also a special talent because of his football intelligence. He is just always doing something special, intimidating defenders and scoring fantastic goals."
The then 17-year-old attended the prestigious Toulon Tournament with his country that same summer before joining Ajax for preseason training, at which point it was decided he would be best served developing with the club's partner side in Slovakia. Trencin were, of course, grateful recipients and have already benefited immensely from his presence, with the Nigerian hitting seven goals as the club finished in a record-high second position.
"As a coach, I would like to have him for a long time, but if he decides to change clubs at some point we won't stop him," Sevela confirmed in July, with the club doubtless already bracing for his departure.
Players with Simon's blend of close control and athleticism are rare at any level of the game and it is clear he is bound for better things than the Fortuna Liga. The Premier League may be the most frequently linked destination, but logic would suggest a return to Ajax is a more than likely next step. Adaptation, too, would be relatively straightforward given the Slovakian club's shared ideologies with their Dutch partners.
Simon bore early comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo in his homeland, but there is little in common between the two bar position and speed. The Nigerian stands at just 5-foot-7 tall and is nowhere near as powerful as the Portuguese -- one of Ronaldo's defining characteristics.
Instead, his size is an asset, allowing him to change direction quickly with the ball at his feet. Countryman Ahmed Musa may be a better comparison for those unfamiliar with Simon given their similar backgrounds and build, with Musa also a product of the same academy.
However, fortunately perhaps, the feeling is that Simon possesses greater decision making skills than his compatriot who can often be wasteful when in good positions. Musa is a highly effective weapon on the right wing for CSKA Moscow, utilising his great pace on the flanks to great effect as he showed in the second half against Manchester City last week. If he if he could just add a more consistent end product, he could be a real threat at the highest level. That, now, must be the hope and ambition for Simon for the years ahead.
How far in the game Simon can go, though, is difficult for scouts to project, yet his speed, dribbling abilities and willingness to work hard mean that he will be undoubtedly be useful to sides at higher levels.
However, it is whether he can adapt to the increase in tempo and quality to maintain his high output levels which will determine whether he is able to go on to be a true star in a bigger league.
Clubs are understandably cautious given that he will not be moving for a bargain basement price, yet he is doing more than enough to keep the scouts coming back on a regular basis. It would be a major surprise if he should not move on within the next 12 months, the only question now is where he will next end up and, then, just how far he can go from there.