It was 11-and-a-half years ago now, on the eve of Stoke City’s first game in the Premier League, that Tony Pulis sealed a £2.25m deal for Abdoulaye Faye.
It would prove one of his most important in the best part of a decade at the club. Thank goodness they got to the head of the queue past Everton, West Brom, Blackburn Rovers and Wigan.
Faye had only been at Newcastle for 12 months – and a goalless draw in the FA Cup at Stoke had been one of his 24 appearances.
Pulis said: “Anyone who saw him that day will know why he’s attracted us. He’s a big lad who has plenty of experience at Premier League level in such an important area of the pitch. He wants to move back to the North West and that has been a help in trying to get him here.”
Stoke didn’t manage to get a work permit in time for him to play on opening day against Bolton – who had let him join his old boss Sam Allardyce for £2m in 2007. But it did land in time for the first home game, against Aston Villa, and that set the tone for what was to follow over the next few months.
He was just extraordinary.
Martin Spinks looked back on his contribution.
“SO how good was Abdoulaye Faye, daddy?”
“Good enough to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the great Sir Stanley Matthews.
“In fact son, for a good 12 months after winning promotion to the Premier League, HE was the daddy.”
Such could be the conversation with future generations whenever the big fella’s name should crop up.
And thanks to those two giant murals draped from the facade of the Britannia Stadium, Faye really did stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Sir Stan for a short period in the club’s history.
Faye remains one of the more iconic figures from the golden period of Stoke’s first few steps back into the big time in 2008/09. Along with Rory Delap’s throw, James Beattie’s finishing and Ricardo Fuller’s periodic brilliance, he is up there among the best.
And for that first season in the Premier League he was recognised officially as the very best of a pretty good bunch after rightly and unanimously being voted Stoke’s player-of-the-year.
His was a simply gargantuan and reassuring presence at the heart of a Stoke defence that would eventually combine with events at the other end of the pitch to ward off the relegation many had been predicting for that first-ever Premier League campaign.
Forget Paddy Power, here was Daddy Power.
Faye soon became a cult figure which, notwithstanding that ill-fitting high voice of his, would endure for much of his three years at the Britannia.
Faye was magnificent on the pitch as City established themselves in the Premier League, wrote Mike Baggaley.
He was also a fearsome character whose stare alone could turn strikers to stone. If anything, the fact he had a high-pitched giggle only made him more terrifying.
Yet when Stoke were hammered 7-0 at Chelsea, Glenn Whelan chose to point out that Faye had set the tone for a lackadaisical performance by warming up in flip-flops.
Whelan somehow survived, but I’m not sure the fixtures and fittings in the Chelsea dressing room did.
Every other sentence during his rare interviews would be illuminated by the words “Yes, I am very happy” – regardless of the question – as the Senegal international settled neatly and affectionately into a genuine home from home here in the Potteries following his £2m move from Newcastle.
Faye was adored and respected in equal measure by a crowd eager to embrace such a colossus for their passionate pursuit of Premier League safety.
His sheer physical power was an adequate reflection of his sickeningly muscular physique, while his sense of anticipation, composure on the ball and evident will-to-win were the hallmarks of a critical contribution to the cause.
How our hearts would jump as he dummied a striker or dinked a dangerously square ball, but no-one, not even his manager maybe, possessed the courage to complain.
Faye would pull his considerable weight at the other end, too, forgivably losing his head when pouncing for a last-gasp equaliser at old club Newcastle in the December of that first season.
His debut campaign was an impossible act to follow, of course, and so it proved as time waits for no man mountain in this game.
Ryan Shawcross could only think of one thing that got the better of Abdoulaye Faye – and it wasn’t a forward.
“For six to eight months in Abdoulaye’s first season he was up there with Nemanja Vidic as the best centre-back in the Premier League, he was unreal,” he said.
“Some of the displays he put in that year were sensational. He was almost single-handedly keeping us up.
“Then he went away that summer … and found food! He came back about 10kg heavier. He was never quite the same. We quickly got Robert Huth in and he was great but I will never forget how good Abdy was in that first season we were in the top flight.”
His performances were becoming a little ragged and mistakes crept in, while his fitness record was becoming an increasing cause for concern during his second season in 2009/10 after failing to finish five of his final 12 league appearances during January and April.
The last of these withdrawals would come inside the first 10 minutes of a trip to Chelsea and, given that Stoke would eventually lose 7-0 that dreadful day in west London, his early departure was keenly felt by dubious colleagues.
Any harsh glances as he left the field were later explained when news leaked out that he and Glenn Whelan – during something of a Little and Large confrontation for sure – had clashed pre-match in the dressing room when the giant defender allegedly undertook a limbering-up routine in his flip-flops.
Such reports generated the suspicion that Faye’s dedication was waning, a suspicion seemingly confirmed during last summer’s pre-season training when his fitness, like the man himself, was a mile behind the rest.
Whether the explanation be laziness or the ageing process, it was a sad sight for those of us preferring to cherish the memory of his earlier exploits.
And so his final campaign, notwithstanding a goalscoring start at Wolves on the opening day last August, was destined to end in unrest and anti-climax.
The stats tell the story of his rise and fall.
He started and finished 36 league games in his first season, 24 in his second and a mere 12 in his third.
At least we were treated to one final reminder of Abdoulaye Faye (circa 2008/09) when he stepped off the bench to play his part in the 3-1 win over Arsenal at the Britannia just before the FA Cup final.
And for that first season, especially, we remain eternally grateful to the big fella.