LIBREVILLE • Eighteen months ago, Christian Bassogog was a teenager 10,000km from home playing third-division football on a last-place team before crowds of 2,500 on Cape Fear in North Carolina.
A week ago, the Cameroonian winger was basking in the global glow of winning the African championship and being named the top player in the tournament.
From Wilmington Hammerhead to Indomitable Lion, Bassogog followed an unlikely trail to football fame and positioned himself for a greater leap in the months to come.
Bolstered by the unknown right wing, Cameroon completed an implausible dash to the Africa Cup of Nations trophy by defeating Egypt, 2-1 in Libreville, Gabon - their first title in 15 years and fifth since the competition began in 1957.
Bassogog started all six matches and created havoc with speed, athletic ability and improved touch.
CREATING AN IMMEDIATE IMPRESSION
I didn't know him... I went to see him and I saw his level, his qualities. I said, 'Okay, the next game he has to be with us.'
HUGO BROOS, Cameroon coach, on the first time he caught a glimpse of Christian Bassogog's talent.
In the semi-final, the 21-year-old scored a late breakaway goal in a 2-0 surprise against Ghana.
His journey began outside of Douala, Cameroon's largest city, where he featured for Rainbow FC, a second-tier side. In November 2014, he was among about 40 players invited to a scouting combine arranged by the Rainbow organisation for Wilmington Hammerheads General Manager Jason Arnold and US agent Leo Cullen. Both are former University of Maryland players, separated by six years.
Bassogog and Brian Anunga caught Arnold's eye. He proceeded to sign them for the Hammerheads, a 20-year-old club struggling to survive in the United Soccer League's (USL) smallest market.
Bassogog appeared in 14 league matches with five starts and, serving as more of a facilitator than scorer, did not record a goal. Late in the season, the Hammerheads followed through on their ambition to mould players and sell them, arranging through a Spanish player agency for Bassogog to go on trial with Danish club Aalborg.
Major League Soccer might have become an option but, Arnold said, Bassogog's ambition was always Europe.
Fluent in Danish after spending teenage years in Viborg's youth academy, Arnold accompanied Bassogog to the workouts. After 10 days, Aalborg tendered an offer. The transfer fee - small by global standards - was not disclosed.
At first, that financial connection did not offer much promise. In his first season, Bassogog made nine league appearances (one start) totalling 244 minutes. His fortunes began to turn last year, starting 20 of 21 matches and scoring four goals.
Cameroon summoned him to the national team for the first time last November for a World Cup qualifier against Zambia. He then made the Africa Cup of Nations squad.
"If you asked me this question five months ago, 'You know Bassogog?' I'd say, 'Who?' " Cameroon Coach Hugo Broos told reporters in Gabon. "I didn't know him. We were looking for players. I had some friends, old players for me in Denmark, so I phoned them. I said, 'I see there's this guy, Bassogog, what kind of player is he?' I went to see him and I saw his level, his qualities. I said, 'Okay, the next game he has to be with us.' "
No one in international football is saying "Who?" any more.
"I'm incredibly proud of him, where he came from in Cameroon to the USL and sticking with the process," said Arnold.
Capelli Sport, represented by Arnold, are seeking suitors in Germany and serving as a facilitator for a possible move this summer. Ultimately, Aalborg would have the final say on any formal offers.
One possible scenario would have a Bundesliga club purchase him from Aalborg and loan him to a lower-division team.
Bassogog is scheduled to rejoin Aalborg soon for the resumption of league play on Sunday. He will return as a champion.