I've always been of the belief that without his injuries Mark Davies could have been a top Premier League midfielder, but unfortunately his remains a tale of what might have been.
Davies, still just 29, is an undoubtedly gifted footballer who was once linked to a potential international call-up and multi-million pound return to the Premier League. However, his career has sadly been curtailed by a series of serious injuries that hindered his potential and led to him being released by Bolton Wanderers yesterday, following their promotion to The Championship.
Davies is one of those players that, on his day, every football fan pays money to go and watch every Saturday afternoon. He's exactly the kind of player that our current side lacks - an attacking midfielder who loves to get the ball down and dictate the play, run at players and has the ability to pick out a pass and score the occasional great goal. What's not to love about that?
An early career of promise
Davies joined Bolton as a 21-year-old on transfer deadline day in January 2009 after requesting a transfer from hometown club Wolverhampton Wanderers, where he was talked about as being the club's best prospect since Robbie Keane.
This was seen as a huge coup for Bolton, having joined for just £1 million - albeit with an apparently hefty sell-on clause - despite being a player with huge potential. He had represented England at Under-16, Under-17 and Under-19 levels - including scoring twice at the Under-17 European Championships in 2004.
He made his Bolton debut two days after signing as a substitute in a 2-2 draw at Blackburn Rovers, then three days later made his full debut in a 3-2 home victory over Tottenham Hotspur - thanks to goals from Sebastian Puygrenier (really) and a brace from Kevin Davies.
He notched his first goal for the club in the League Cup third round tie at the start of the next season - a goal that showcased his ability to start attacks, then break from midfield and finish the move off himself. Three months later he scored his first league goal for the club, by finishing off a superb team move against Blackpool with aplomb - for which he later earned Bolton's goal of the 2010/11 season.
This form saw Davies called up to the England Under-21 squad to face Ecuador in February 2010, but had to pull out due to picking up an ankle injury against Arsenal. He was again called up a year later, only to again pick up an injury, and a third call up ahead of the Under-21 European Championships saw him again have to pull out with the same injury - which saw him replaced by Liverpool player and future teammate Jay Spearing. Those unfortunate episodes pretty much sum up his career.
Davies was never a prolific, free-scoring midfield player, but he did manage to score four times as Bolton were relegated from the Premier League in 2011/12 - a season that saw him notch a career-high 35 league appearances. He scored the opener at Blackburn, which will always please Bolton fans, showed true quality with a superb effort on the way to a 3-1 home win over Liverpool, then an absolute screamer of a half-volley against another local rival Wigan Athletic, and a slightly more lucky goal as Bolton suffered relegation with a 2-2 draw at Stoke City on the final day of the season.
Upon Bolton's relegation there was talk of a big money move to Premier League clubs, including Swansea City, but Davies stayed at the Reebok despite the rumours. He scored six goals in 24 appearances in The Championship, including undoubtedly one of his personal highlights scoring a last minute equaliser against former club Wolves, taking the ball down on his chest and sending an excellent left-footed half volley flying into the top corner.
Six months later, in February 2013, Davies' fine form led to him signing a new four-year deal with Bolton, but just two days later he suffered a serious knee injury that kept him sidelined for some ten months. This, in hindsight, was the beginning of the end for the midfielder, playing just 53 league games in the three seasons that have followed - meaning he missed at least 85 league games in that time.
Had he stayed fit through the remainder of that first season back in The Championship we could well have gone one step further and reached the play-offs, but it wasn't to be and the injuries began to stunt his form upon his return.
But this season Davies started in good form, creating two goals in his six appearances - a figure only surpassed by four of his teammates all campaign. I was at the game at Charlton Athletic back in August, and as soon as I saw him go down right in front of us I knew that both his season and his time at Bolton were unfortunately over.
Davies played for Wanderers for eight-and-a-half seasons, and should have been racking up well more than 300 appearances for the club but unfortunately injuries have curtailed that to just 208, in which he scored 16 goals. He'll remain one of my favourite players to watch in a Bolton shirt, I wish him all the best in his recovery from injury and hope we'll one day see him put them behind him and get back to playing football.
There was a nice touch from Bolton yesterday, posting a video on YouTube of all Davies' goals for the club and there's some absolute crackers in there. Check them all out below:
Following Davies out of the club are Dean Moxey and Lawrie Wilson, who join previously announced departures Liam Trotter, Reece Wabara, William Jaaskelainen, Lewis Buxton and Tom Walker - leaving Bolton with just 12 senior players ahead of the new season.