Jeremy Doku is in the process of putting the finishing touches on a £55million move to Manchester City but could instead quite easily have ended up wearing red some 35 miles away.
The 21-year-old winger, who has pace to burn with tricks and a penchant for embarrassing isolated markers in one-on-one situations, is having a medical at the City Football Academy.
Pep Guardiola felt he needed something different out wide, and after looking at Michael Olise at Crystal Palace among a few others, settled on the Belgian from French club Rennes.
Liverpool wanted him first, though. Anderlecht, where Doku made his professional debut at the age of 16, were flooded with scouts from everywhere who arrived in Brussels to watch a raw talent with a big future. Chelsea and Arsenal were interested but Liverpool went the extra mile.
‘I went with my mum and dad, and we were given a tour of the stadium, the training ground, even the school I would go to,’ Doku has said.
Jeremy Doku, the 21-year-old Belgian winger, is closing in on a £55million move to Man City
Doku was given a tour of Liverpool’s stadium as a youngster but remained at Anderlecht
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‘They gave me a signed Mohamed Salah shirt, and I met the players — Simon Mignolet because he was Belgian, Georginio Wijnaldum from Netherlands. I was able to discuss with Jurgen Klopp, Steven Gerrard, too. We looked at some videos and spoke about the development.
‘I talked a lot with Sadio Mane but we didn’t really talk about football. We talked about everything. He told me that I was young, that I still had time… he wasn’t trying to convince me or to say to me, “Come here, you will succeed”.
‘I preferred to be careful. I knew what my trajectory had to be. I knew what route I needed to take and I knew at that moment I needed to stay at Anderlecht.’
So the Liverpool move never happened. Doku, who grew up in the small district of Borgerhout in Antwerp with an older brother and two younger sisters, will think that served him well. After being afforded plenty of opportunities in Anderlecht’s first team, some of which under Vincent Kompany, he ended up moving to Rennes three years ago for more than £20m.
Injuries have been a constant issue — and City will believe they can rectify ongoing muscle problems as they did with Erling Haaland. There must be confidence with that because, even if other new Premier League signings have arrived with much higher price tags, this is still a fair amount of money.
The signs are good, though. Shortly after Doku’s move to France, Roberto Martinez handed him his Belgium debut, against Denmark. The winger then scored in a 5-1 win against Iceland.
‘He is sharp, fast and he can dribble,’ said Belgium captain Kevin De Bruyne. ‘Sure, he makes a mistake sometimes, but who doesn’t? Doku is a diamond in the rough.’
Doku finished last season strongly as he scored five goals in April and May to help Rennes finish in Ligue 1’s European places. He also scored on the opening day of this campaign and is flourishing. Others have always taken notice. Former Belgium No 2 Thierry Henry said: ‘When you’re one-on-one with him, there’s only one thing left to do — pray.’ Kylian Mbappe has talked Doku up publicly, too.
Doku enjoyed a strong finish to last season to help Rennes qualify for European football
He is not a typical City player under Guardiola, a manager obsessed with control and forever mindful of how his midfield are set up to avoid transitional counter attacks. Doku, a maverick, may take some adjusting. But it does open the game back up for the Treble winners.
A pacey right-footed winger is something they have not possessed since Raheem Sterling; and even in his final years, the England man largely cut in from the opposite flank. There is some expectation surrounding Doku because he is, simply, an exciting prospect. Fans love players who glide past others. But he will need to pick his moments for that and this is likely to be a slow integration into Guardiola’s team.
Doku grew up idolising that great Barcelona team via YouTube, and will need to recall those clips for his next big challenge.
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