Arsenal were reportedly set to sign £20m striker; now he’s in relegation battle instead

Back in March 2021, young Tiago Tomas hit the winner for Sporting Lisbon in a 1-0 victory over Tondela, and thus scrubbed Cristiano Ronaldo’s name out of the history books.

With his sixth of an impressive breakthrough campaign at the Portuguese giants, Tomas became the most prolific teenager in a single campaign for the Leoes since the 1980s, bettering Ronaldo’s tally of five from the 2002/03 campaign.

“We see enormous potential,” former Sporting coach Joao Vargas said of Tomas at the time.

“He works hard for the team and creates problems (for opposition players) due to his courage and the speed he manages to put into his actions. He is always a difficult player to stop.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO TIAGO TOMAS AFTER THOSE ARSENAL LINKS?

Now 20 years of age, however, many a Bundesliga defender has found a way to do just that in recent months. To ‘stop’ Tiago Tomas.

The Sun reported in February of last year that Arsenal were ‘close’ to securing a £20 million deal for the Sporting academy graduate ahead of the summer of 2021. Technical director Edu Gaspar, they wrote, had been in negotiations with opposite number Hugo Viana; Arsenal desperate to avoid missing out on a leading Portuguese talent nearly two decades after a toothy, fluffy-haired Ronaldo had slipped through their fingers.

Miss out they did, however. Not that Tomas has done much since then to suggest that Ronaldo’s status as arguably the greatest player ever to emerge from one of Europe’s most prosperous academies is under any immediate threat.

FROM LEAGUE CHAMPION TO RELEGATION BATTLER

Since joining Stuttgart on loan in January, Tomas has scored just five goals in 22 games. He’s had his moments. An 85th minute winner against Augsburg. A goal in a 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich. But the Portugal U21 international has to shoulder at least some portion of the blame for Stuttgart’s current predicament.

They are second-bottom, winless in nine games; Sunday’s 1-0 home defeat to high-flying Union Berlin the final straw for departing head coach Pellegrino Matarazzo.

“(Tomas is an) important player for the team,” Matarazzo said a couple of weeks ago. “We know what we have in him. But he can play football differently. He can act with more intensity and win more duels.”

Tomas is still only 20, of course, and no one should expect him to be the finished article at this stage of his career. But after firing Sporting to their first Primeira Liga title in two decades, after finding himself in Arsenal’s crosshairs, Tomas’ current trajectory is only heading in one direction. And it’s not upwards.