Watch Cardiff vs Bristol City live on Sky Sports Football from 11.30am on Sunday; Kick-off at 12pm
Sunday 10 November 2019 17:07, UK
How did a teenager marked as one of Monaco's brightest prospects end up wearing a Bristol City shirt within six months?
When Han-Noah Massengo stood on the sidelines, his nerves burning under his Monaco shirt as he waited to become the youngest ever Frenchman to play in the Champions League, he may have taken a moment to wonder if this was the start of something special.
Manager Thierry Henry had turned to youth, given the wretched form his senior players had produced, and Massengo, the latest graduate from the same academy that had produced Kylian Mbappe only a couple of years prior, was one of those to profit.
The 18-year-old impressed enough to earn starts in Monaco's next two European games, against Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid, where he proved one of few positives and was soon finding himself talked about as one of their most exciting prospects.
If he did stand and contemplate his future on the night of his debut, he would have done well to foresee himself walking out in the Sky Bet Championship in a Bristol City shirt within a year, as one of the surprise coups of that summer's transfer window across the league.
Back in reality, with Henry sacked and Leonardo Jardim restored to the manager's hotseat at the Stade Louis II, chances quickly dried up for Massengo in Ligue 1. He did not make a single Monaco squad for the rest of the season and, despite lingering expectation he would eventually go onto big things, he was already restless to begin proving himself.
The significance of his move to Ashton Gate, when it came, was felt on both sides of the Channel. "He is a future champion," lamented one Monaco fan in response to Massengo's farewell tweet. "Selling him is a massive mistake!" added another, taking the move slightly more to heart.
Amid fanfare in the south west, Bristol City manager Lee Johnson was sure to play down expectation the arrival of a player tipped for the top. "If he keeps the current path and attitude, just turned 18, I haven't seen many better," he said.
He did add one caveat though: "It's an unbelievable coup for us to get a kid like this, but he is a kid."
A kid he might be, but with pedigree like this one question needed answering... Why? Why turn your back on Ligue 1, training alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko, Wissam Ben Yedder and co to move to the Championship? And, even with a decent progression through the league over the past few years, why Bristol City?
The Robins have stepped up their recruitment in recent seasons, turning Adam Webster from a £4m signing to a club-record £20m sale in 12 months, but this was on another level. Few signings in City history had turned heads like this.
"I believe this is a real sign of our reputation spreading," Johnson told the club website when Massengo joined. Of course, he was always going to say that. But their summer business may have proven his point, with Bologna midfielder Adam Nagy following the next week and so too Pedro Pereira, a Benfica right-back who had also spent the previous season in Serie A with Genoa.
On Johnson and, more crucially, CEO Mark Ashton's watch City have expanded their reach eastwards across the continent. Regulars including Swedish winger Niclas Eliasson and Italian Eros Pisano have impressed, but foreign investment hasn't been perfect; French forward Loic Diony, who described himself as a 'bull' on arrival, looked more like a rabbit in the headlights on the pitch.
Massengo himself was won over by the ambition City sold him, looking to build on four years of gradual progression in the Championship - cutting the gap to the play-off spots to four points in 2018/19 - with the Premier League dream proving the same huge lure as it does for so many young players.
"It's simple why I left," he recently told RMC Sport. "I did not think I was going to play and then Bristol City arrived, and I immediately wanted to join the project they had for me. I wanted to play, back-to-back games, get experience.
"It can be surprising; people do not know the Championship, but it is a competitive league and everyone now can see my choice was considered, not made on a whim. The project is to play in the Premier League with Bristol City. When I look at how it has gone so far, I have no regrets."
Any regrets would have been a surprise given Massengo's smooth adaptation to life overseas, and City's early-season form.
He certainly did not pay attention to Johnson's tempering of expectation; within a fortnight the midfielder forced his way into Bristol City's starting line-up against QPR, earning rave reviews, and has not left since. Three months down the line, he has already got his own chant and afro wig sales in Bristol are enjoying something of a renaissance.
His strengths belie defensive metrics to a degree. His reading of the game and his boundless energy set him apart from other midfielders at Ashton Gate in recent seasons, but he does not top many of the traditional charts.
Of the few passes he has made, more than 50 per cent have been in his own half, but he is near enough in line with captain and midfield partner Josh Brownhill in terms of ball recoveries so far this season. Few children grow up dreaming of one day becoming a defensive midfielder, but Massengo clearly relishes the position and has thrived in it.
Arsenal are already said to be monitoring his progress with a view to a move next summer, but they will not be the only ones if City miss out on promotion.
Sat eighth with the chance to go fifth and back within three points of the automatic spots, you can see them - and Massengo - for yourself in an always tasty Severnside derby against Cardiff live on Sky Sports Football from 11.30am; Kick-off at 12pm.