"Quincy Promes is ready to play in any league in the world," Utrecht coach Erik ten Hag told ESPN FC.
Ten Hag is the best person to talk to about Promes, the Dutch star who is heavily linked to Liverpool ahead of a possible January move from Spartak Moscow. After all, Promes himself mentions the coach as the man who helped kickstart his career.
Promes was born in Amsterdam and dreamed of playing for Ajax as a child, but his time at their famous academy came to an abrupt end when he was thrown out at the age of 16. Indiscipline was the reason, and in retrospect he acknowledges that the club was right. "I was too busy with other things," he told De Telegraaf. "It's no secret that I had a big mouth. I thought that I knew everything better and struggled with self-criticism."
He was quite unlucky that Haarlem went bankrupt shortly after he joined them following his departure from Ajax. Eventually, he headed west to Enschede and signed for Twente, captaining their youth team to the title when Patrick Kluivert was the coach. And yet, first-team chances never arrived, until he was loaned out to second division Go Ahead Eagles in 2012.
Meeting Ten Hag changed everything. The coach, who worked at Twente as an assistant earlier in his career, took the prodigy under his wing, and Promes was finally able to flourish at the age of 20. Good players usually start playing much earlier in the Netherlands, and little was expected of him at the small club from Deventer, but he led Go Ahead Eagles to sensational promotion, scoring 17 goals in the process. Most of them were breathtaking, and the best came in the crucial playoff fixture against Dordrecht -- an absolutely majestic one-touch finish with outside of his foot.
"The coach was key to the success. He was very hard on me, and at first I didn't understand why, but I came to realise that I needed it," the winger said.
Ten Hag hails the character of his former protege. "Quincy is very strong mentally. He had the will of power to improve," he told ESPN FC. "He had always been skilful on the ball, but wasn't strong enough physically -- so he spent a lot of time in the gym to become an athlete. He is clever and knows how to achieve goals."
Promes' target upon returning to Twente in the summer of 2013 was to cement his place in the starting line-up. "People laughed when they heard him saying that, but he did become an integral part of the team and had a superb season," Voetbal International journalist Marco Timmer told ESPN FC.
Even the most sceptical fans fell in love with the tricky player, who is wonderfully two-footed and has a keen eye for goal. Quincy scored 11 times in his only full season in Enschede, mostly playing on the right wing rather than centrally as before, helping the club to finish third ahead of PSV Eindhoven. Soon afterwards, however, he was hastily sold to Russia.
Some blamed Promes for being greedy when he signed a four-year contract with Spartak in the summer of 2014, and the player himself didn't help his cause by uploading some unwise YouTube videos that showed him counting banknotes while driving, but in reality it wasn't his decision. Twente were in desperate need of money and simply couldn't refuse the offer of €11 million. The Dutchman was off almost against his will. And yet, even if he might have been a bit disappointed, that didn't show in the slightest.
Spartak fans are notoriously critical of foreign stars and hard to satisfy, but Promes was loved almost immediately. He won hearts with his wide smile, positive attitude, dedication and hard work. The Muscovites enjoyed discovering that his second name is Anton, which sounds very Russian -- and it became his adopted first name.
The club were hardly stable and successful in his first two seasons, but he excelled and was voted Spartak's player of the season both in 2014 and 2015 when he scored 13 goals under defensive-minded coach Murat Yakin and last season when he improved to 18 goals under Dmitry Alenichev. Both coaches not only used him on the flanks, but sometimes gave him a free role behind the striker, like in the good old days at Go Ahead Eagles, and the Dutchman enjoyed it. He also improved his dead ball skills, and was universally considered one of the best performers in the league.
That form wasn't really shown for the national team, however, and Promes was unfortunate enough to be on the losing side in his first six games for Netherlands, leading some fans to suggest that he might be bringing bad luck. The coach Danny Blind even had to defend calling him up as recently as September, insisting: "He is playing well every week, but people don't watch Russian football." Promes kept believing in himself, and finally scored twice in the 4-1 win over Belarus in October.
That was true to his character. "Quincy is not afraid of challenges, and always made steps to the next level almost seamlessly," De Telegraaf journalist Jeroen Kapteijns told ESPN FC. "He is able to perform under pressure and rises to occasion."
Therefore, it is not illogical to suggest that Promes could be a success at Liverpool, but there are significant reservations to consider.
Firstly, Promes is quite similar in style to Memphis Depay, who failed to deliver at Manchester United. They are good friends too and celebrated Christmas together. Just like Depay, Promes is a talented rapper -- that's the most important thing in his life after family and football.
A photo posted by Quincy Promes (@qpromes) on
Ten Hag, who coached Depay when working as an assistant coach at PSV, thinks that both players can make it in the Premier League. "Both have good technical skills, but Memphis is more physical, while Quincy's game between the lines is based on movement and he excels in combining with teammates," he says.
Would Promes need time to adjust to the Premier League like his fellow countryman? The answer is probably yes, especially when you take into account that football is much slower in Russia -- the tempo cannot even be compared to England.
Secondly, Spartak might be top of the table under Massimo Carrera, but Promes had actually experienced his worst spell in Russia so far, failing to score in for nearly three months. When he finally found the net against Rubin Kazan in December, he was also sent off for an outrageously needless foul. Having not played for a month since, he is hardly in top form -- and yet immediate contribution would be needed at Anfield to replace African Nations Cup-bound Sadio Mane.
Thirdly, the financial offer would need to be insanely high for the Russians to sell their star in January. Spartak haven't won the championship title since 2001 and are trophyless since 2003. Liverpool fans should understand only too well how their supporters feel. Letting the most important player go when the team is leading the table by five points from Zenit St Petersburg at the winter break would be considered unacceptable, and the Spartak faithful would never forgive the under-fire owner Leonid Fedun if they lose out on long-awaited triumph because of that.
Therefore, it might be better for all involved for the deal to go through in the summer. If Promes is given enough time to settle, Ten Hag's optimistic prediction could be correct.