“Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville rated him as one of the best attacking fullback football will ever see.” What happened to Sadiq El Fitouri, Manchester United’s most unusual January signing.

Like thousands of youngsters who suffered from release that year, a teenage Sadiq El Fitouri was heartbroken when Premier League side Manchester City decided to let him go in 2013.City were, in all honesty, unconvinced by El Fitouri’s progress in their youth team. An insider at Manchester City would soon deliver some no-nonsense feedback about the defender’s ability following his departure.“Without wanting to sound nasty, they remembered him as someone who could cope physically but wasn’t the greatest with other aspects of the game,” they told the Daily Mail.”A late developer, he spent around a year with the club before he was released more than a year ago and never got anywhere near the first-team squad.”

El Fitouri, born in Libya and raised near Old Trafford, was starting to fall out of love with the thought of playing at the very highest level, especially after such a debilitating experience.The attacking full-back would, however, continue to play for fun at a local level and clearly, he started to believe in himself more and more.Nine months after being released by City, El Fitouri got in touch with then-Northern Premier League side Salford City through their website to ask for a trial.

He wanted to try and prove himself in the seventh tier, and the youngster did exactly that, when he impressed owners Phil Neville and Paul Scholes during December’s dreaded bleep test.“I thought: ‘Wow, this boy can run!’,” Neville recalled during a 2015 interview with the Manchester Evening News.“I was even more surprised when he told us his background story. After being released by City he’d fallen out of love with football until contacting us.”El Fitouri would continue to make an impression. In an 11vs11 practice game, he strolled past a player like Johan Cruyff, according to Neville, before showcasing his passing ability.

Soon, he was thrust into the first-team for a clash against Kendal Town. “Within 35 minutes we’d both seen enough for him to show us that he was far too good for this level,” Neville said.The former Inter Miami manager was convinced by El Fitouri’s talents, as was fellow Salford owner Paul Scholes, so they decided to get in touch with Manchester United under-21’s manager Warren Joyce.Joyce was, according to Neville, the best judge of young talent and ability in the country, so a trial was quickly arranged. The rejuvenated full-back was desperate to make a statement.

After being handed some minutes in a game between the U21’s and a fringe first-team XI that included Adnan Januzaj, Darren Fletcher and Victor Valdes, he is said to have “stolen the show”.Joyce was clearly impressed. Three weeks after requesting a trial via the Salford City website, El Fitouri had done enough to win an 18-month contract at one of the biggest clubs in world football.After the deal was announced at the end of January 2015, Gary Neville gave his thoughts on the signing. “Incredible story on @SalfordCityFC on Sadiq El Fitouri,” he wrote on Twitter. “Well done to Phil and Scholesy for showing belief in a lad who was out of the game!”El Fitouri would later call the move “a dream come true” but his career at Manchester United was hardly a fairytale.

Louis van Gaal, who kept a close eye on El Fitouri’s progress, was unimpressed by the defender. In fact, El Fitouri was “never considered” for the first-team by the Dutch manager, according to reports.That being said, the full-back earned a contract extension at Old Trafford and was named in Jose Mourinho’s 25-man squad for the 2016/17 Premier League campaign.

Sadly though, El Fitouri failed to make a single first-team appearance for United. After never making a matchday squad, he was released midway through that season.He would eventually end up at League One side Chesterfield but that spell was cut short after he failed to report back to the club after being given some time off for personal reasons.Two appearances later and, after Chesterfield suffered relegated, El Fitouri was released.El Fitouri soon returned to the country of his birth in 2017, when he joined reigning Libyan Premier League champions Al-Ahli Tripoli, although that spell lasted just six months.

Exactly three years after signing for Manchester United on the final day of the January transfer window, he would pen a deal with Romanian side Politehnica Iasi.But in another unfortunate turn, a serious injury prevented him from picking up first-team minutes and his contract at theEmil Alexandrescu Stadium was terminated on March 28, just two months after joining.

El Fitouri would spent almost an entire year away from football but Sudanese club Al-Hilal Omdurman would eventually take a punt, offering the defender a two-year deal.There is no record of the El Fitouri playing for Al-Hilal Omdurman, however, and three years later, aged 28, he turned up at North West Counties Football League Division One South club Maine Road.According to records, he has made one appearance for Maine Road before appearing to join Manchester-based Sunday League side Future City FC.”Future City are delighted to announce the signing of Manchester United’s Sadiq El Fitouri,” they said in February last year. “Sadiq will bring experience and quality to the team.”