From the very beginning, Lewis Holtby's venture into the Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur has proven an unwise gamble. When the German-born midfielder of English paternity left Schalke for Spurs a year ago, the German club stood fifth in the Bundesliga table, while the North London outfit had recently advanced to fourth in the Premier League.
Momentum at the time was with Spurs and against Schalke finishing in the top four of their respective leagues and thus claiming a spot in the following season's Champions League playoff. But Holtby's departure proved insignificant for S04 as the club pipped Frankfurt and Mainz to fourth place.
His addition was not enough for a Tottenham side that ended the season one point adrift of local rivals Arsenal in fifth. In retrospect, he'd given up Champions League football in return for a chance to fulfill what he described as a "dream" (via The Independent) in moving to the Premier League.
Holtby has since played the full 90 minutes in the Premier League on only one occasion, and even was banished to Spurs' under-21 team for a pair of games early in the 2013-14 season.
With the player having been selected occasionally to play under Tim Sherwood, Holtby has inevitably been linked with moves back to the Bundesliga. Earlier this month, German source Bild quoted agent Marcus Noack (h/t to The Guardian) as stating that his client was "desperate to play," and that "Schalke is an interesting option."
More recently, Dortmund were reported to have entered the race to sign Holtby, with Bild's Kai Psotta, Heiko Niedderer and Jorg Weiler claiming (h/t to International Business Times) that the Ruhr club would be more willing and able than Schalke to meet Tottenham's €6 million valuation of the versatile midfielder.
Bild later published a follow-up claiming that BVB sporting director Michael Zorc had broken off negotiations with Spurs because the player's transfer fee and €3 million annual wages were too high: Only a loan would be possible, which Spurs were not willing to accept.
Finances aside, Holtby would be a fantastic signing for Dortmund and especially Schalke, who both could use a player of his ability in midfield. BVB have been without Ilkay Gundogan since mid-August and have been found lacking in midfield depth, with Sven Bender and Sebastian Kehl also having periodically been injured and the former occasionally filling in as a center-back following lengthy layoffs for Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic.
Although naturally a more attack-minded player, Holtby played in a holding midfield role in Ralf Rangnick's Schalke and would be suitable depth for BVB, at the very least in ordinary Bundesliga matches against lesser teams.
Holtby could be used in a rotation not only in defensive midfield, but also in the No. 10 role. Henrikh Mkhitaryan didn't exactly turn heads in his first half-season at Dortmund and is more of a scorer than a provider; Holtby could challenge the Armenian and offer more quality as a playmaker. And should Jurgen Klopp need to give wingers Marco Reus or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a rest, Holtby would be able to fill in on the left flank or as a third central player in a 4-3-1-2.
Holtby would not be a first-choice player at Dortmund, but given his versatility, the many injuries and fatigue Dortmund players have had to cope with this season, he could expect to play a role in almost every game.
If playing time at Dortmund were at all in concern, Holtby would find no shortage of opportunities at Schalke, who are in desperate need of depth in midfield. Marco Hoger and Dennis Aogo are unlikely to be fit again this season following cruciate ligament tears.
Jermaine Jones, meanwhile, was left at home while Schalke were in Qatar for their winter training camp; Schalke sporting director Horst Heldt admitted admitted to Deutsche Presseagentur (h/t to Sky) that the USA international could leave the club if a suitable offer were made.
Schalke were so short of holding-midfield options last weekend that Roman Neustadter was their only available holding player as Jens Keller fielded a midfield quintet of the ex-Gladbach man, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Jefferson Farfan, Max Meyer and Christian Fuchs.
Holtby would walk into the Schalke starting XI and could make the difference as his former club aims to overcome a two-point deficit and pip a strong Gladbach side (or even Schalke's arch-rivals, BVB) to fourth place.
Schalke reportedly received just £1.5 million for Holtby (via Goal.com's Greg Stobart), and it might seem cruel for the club to be forced to pay more than triple that price to sign a player who has at best stagnated since leaving Gelsenkirchen. But their presence in the Champions League next season is critical for the future of Schalke, and their near-complete lack of options in central midfield leaves Holtby as their best option.
Even though Schalke and Dortmund are unwilling to pay a transfer fee for Holtby, there may yet be the possibility that Spurs will budge. Manager Tim Sherwood said on Tuesday (via The Guardian) that he's implored to be "fair" to Holtby and let the player move "if the opportunity is right."
For Holtby, a move to either Dortmund or Schalke would be the right opportunity. The question is: Will Spurs, BVB or S04 budge? Only time will tell.