AT 18 he was playing Premier League football in front of 75,000 people at Old Trafford and turning out for Wales in a World Cup qualifier but Declan John posed with a Bolton shirt in an empty stadium yesterday looking to find himself once again.

It is hard to know which is a more surprising fact about the 25-year-old defender, that he has failed to play a single competitive game in the last 12 months, or that there was not a club higher up the football pyramid than Wanderers who were looking to take a gamble when it became clear his time at Swansea City was at an end.

That he comes to Bolton with a point to prove could work out well for player and club. Ian Evatt most certainly needs some balance on the left side of his team and John can reinvigorate his once-promising career with a short-term deal which sees him become a free agent once again in the summer.

John's pedigree is clear. He has seven caps for Wales, the latest of which was nearly two years ago in a friendly against Trinidad. At the time, Ryan Giggs' decision to bring him back into the international fold was surprising as he was struggling to get back into Swansea's team, now playing with a flat back four.

Ironically, that recall would signal the start of a hellish 20 months. Used even more sparingly by his club, John got loaned out to Sunderland last January and ignored again. But why did his career stall, and how did John end up looking forward to playing Exeter City on a Tuesday night, rather than fighting for a place in the top flight with the Swans.

"I think he has been a bit unlucky, really," said Ian Mitchelmore, who covered his time at the Liberty Stadium for Wales Online. "Swansea had paid a bit of money for him and dropped out of the Premier League so Graham Potter was looking for players who were ready to play in the Championship. But for various reasons he hasn't had a chance.

"I think the main one was competition. Jake Bidwell has come through to be the main man and before that there was Martin Olsson, who was a Sweden international and played in a World Cup.

"At one point you thought he had a chance because of a couple of injuries but they chose to play right-backs instead of a natural left sider like him and he was packed off to Sunderland."

Again, it was hoped a move to Wearside would be a catalyst. Phil Parkinson's side were competing at the top end of League One but - much to the amazement of onlookers at the Stadium of Light - John remained completely unused.

"We thought he would be a great addition," said Richard Mennear, the football club editor at the Sunderland Echo. "But in the end the fans were left wondering 'what if?'

"The season was cut short but during the time Declan was with Sunderland Denver Hume never really looked like giving up the shirt.

"Phil Parkinson isn't really someone who changes a side for changing's sake, so he didn't even get in the matchday squad. And we were a bit baffled, to be honest.

"Parky said he was a terrific lad and that he had trained well, was good with the group, but that chance never came.

"Hopefully he can get a run at Bolton because he has definitely got the pedigree and you'd think he would handle League Two football without a problem."

Where John sits in Evatt's grand scheme is the next big question for Bolton fans.

The manager has hinted at a shift towards a back four, having seen it work well within the course of a game, but more of John's recent appearances have been made as a wing-back alongside three central defenders.

"From what we saw of him, he was more of a wing-back," Mitchelmore admitted. "When Graham Potter came in and moved to 4-2-3-1 it didn't really seem to suit him and Olsson was much better in the position.

"On the last day of his first season they got a 2-2 draw against Blackburn Rovers with a back three and he looked really capable.

"But then Potter went, Steve Cooper came in, and Bidwell was preferred. There wasn't even a hint that Declan John would get back in.

"He was involved in a real scratch team at QPR in the FA Cup but that was the last we'd seen of him in a Swansea shirt.

"It's a shame but maybe the chance to go to Bolton and - with due respect - play a level of football he should be very comfortable in will help his career, even as a left-back rather than a wing-back.

"He's a way off the Wales set-up now but he has definitely got youth on his side, so I think there will be plenty of folk down here wishing him well."