Andros Townsend was touted as a potential star for Tottenham, but the speed of his progress this year has caught most by surprise.
This past week he returned to first-team duty for his club after hamstring issues had kept him out since mid-December.
Largely anonymous against Everton, Townsend took a more active role in his half-hour in the 4-0 win over Newcastle United. His 81st-minute shot was saved, but the ball then came out to Emmanuel Adebayor who notched Tottenham's third.
Townsend himself was well aware post-match that it had been an important outing for him in shaking off his injury-enforced rustiness:
Pleased to get another 30mins under my belt tonight! Slowly getting match sharpness back! Great 4-0 win from the boys as well! #COYS— andros townsend (@andros_townsend) February 12, 2014
Speaking to the gathered media prior to the Everton game last week, his manager Tim Sherwood went into detail on what he thought the player's qualities were.
"Whenever you’ve got a player like Andros, he can change a game in an instant. He gets you off your seat and is exciting to watch," Sherwood said, via The Mirror's Darren Witcoop.
"He had a great start to the season. We’re just hoping he can pick up that tempo again and drive on."
Sherwood also compared Townsend to Gareth Bale, a reminder of the hype that surrounds a player who is still to complete a full Premier League season with a single team.
It is easy to forget that expectation was not so high at the beginning of the campaign. It is why Townsend's rise to prominence has arguably been the biggest surprise of Spurs' season within their squad (its scale just edging Nabil Bentaleb's recent push into the limelight).
Occasional cup outings for Spurs and his much-publicised loan spells with nine different clubs had underlined Townsend's talent. It was the last of those loans—with Queens Park Rangers last year—that provided the first genuine evidence that he might cut it in the Premier League.
Two memorable goals for the Hoops and a clutch of eye-catching performances were not enough to help them to safety. Coming as they did at a time when Tottenham were getting intermittent production from their own wide-men (affected by injury and form in different cases), Townsend's stock rose at his parent club without even playing for them.
It was clear Townsend would be involved heading into 2013-14. The extent of which was up for debate.
This writer thought that would consist of more frequent substitute and cup appearances, with the chance of a regular starting role occurring if he impressed. On paper at least, the continued presence of Bale (albeit temporarily), Lewis Holtby, Aaron Lennon and Gylfi Sigurdsson—plus the arrivals of Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela over the course of the summer—had ensured attacking midfield places would be hotly contested.
That proved to be the case. But an injury suffered by Lennon and the ongoing shaping of the squad in the transfer market gave Townsend a chance to get a jump on several of his teammates away at Dinamo Tbilisi in the Europa League.
Even considering the inferiority of the opposition, it is understandable why then-manager Andre Villas-Boas was so taken by Townsend's performance. His goal exuded purposefulness and confidence, while his assists for Paulinho and Robert Soldado outlined the threat of his speed and skill.
Handed a Premier League start in the 1-0 win over Swansea City the following weekend, Townsend did not look back over the course of the following months, striding a line between brilliance and naivety.
He was exciting for Spurs, injecting welcome pace into elements of their play. Roy Hodgson identified this as a need for his England side, and Townsend came in to lift a team whose play had been solid but largely uninspired over the course of the World Cup qualifying process.
For Townsend, his new-found stardom was a double-edged sword. It would be difficult for him to continue to progress at a steady rate with an expectancy on him to deliver for club and country.
So it proved.
Predominantly played in right-wing, his favoured left-foot ensured he would look to cut inside—something the player said in an interview with The Observer's Paul Wilson was encouraged by Villas-Boas. Sussed out by opposition defences, it contributed to a monotony in Spurs' play that neither he or the team could quite shake and ultimately contributed to the Portuguese's departure.
Interestingly, Villas-Boas was beginning to experiment with Townsend in left midfield prior to his leaving (against Sunderland and Anzhi Makhachkala), his performances there hinting at a happier balance for Spurs. Sherwood's more flexible approach to tactics and set-up could well mean a changing role for the England international moving forward. Deployed on the left against Everton, he was moved across the pitch for Newcastle.
Whether people feel it is deserved or not, Townsend is now a major factor in the planning of the Tottenham team around him. Few will have anticipated him becoming this so quickly this year, if at all (something evident on the club's part by the haste with which they rewarded him a new contract following his England heroics).
Despite the speeding up of this process, Townsend has shown he has the qualities to be more than just a flash in the pan.
He is still green in his decision-making, at times a little too eager. The flip-side of that is tremendous courage and persistence in his play, while his pace and understanding in the arts of deception make it understandable why Spurs have high hopes for him becoming a key player for them.
Townsend is a marked-man now, but his capacity to surprise may not be exhausted yet.