Jack Grealish is only 24 years old but it already feels like he's been around a while. It's been a career full of trials and tribulations, heartbreak and jubilation. He's faced unjust criticisms about his short socks and long hair, often been a whipping boy for the gossip columns, yet by his own admission he has made plenty of mistakes along the way.
But through it all Grealish never once doubted his ability to be a success in the Premier League and this season he has proved it. It's little wonder why Manchester United want to bring him to the club because he has shown he has all the attributes to be a success at Old Trafford.
The most obvious side of those attributes is his ability on the field. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would ideally like to add a playmaker, centre-midfielder and winger to his squad this summer and, while Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham are sought after to fill two of those roles, Grealish could quite easily fulfil any of them and has done so at varying times throughout the season, such is his versatility.
United have seen firsthand the level of technical ability the Aston Villa captain possesses, too. He scored a sublimely at Old Trafford in December in a 2-2 draw between United and Villa. "You were the best player on the pitch today," Solskjaer told him after the match.
This season, in a team struggling at the bottom end of the Premier League, Grealish's stats have beeen very impressive with nine goals and eight assists in 31 games in all competitions. He has shown on countless occasions just how good of a footballer he is, but it's his journey to this point which has been even more impressive.
Grealish was still only a wiry teenager when he felt the pain of his hometown club being relegated from the top flight in 2015 and it drove him to get them back there. In the school of hard knocks that is the Championship and away from the scrutiny of the Premier League he toughened up, matured and developed his game. He became effective rather than flashy, a similar path to the one which Cristiano Ronaldo had to take.
His stats from Villa's promotion season don't particularly stand out - though he did score four goals and set up two in the final 10 games before grabbing two assists in the play-offs - but Grealish is often the one who makes the pass before the assist, meaning his stats aren't as immediately impressive as they might deserve to be. And he is always the one who is driving his team forward, still running full pelt when those around him are tired. It took longer than expected but with the captain's armband around his arm he finally led Villa back to the promised land and he has been the one man that has been fighting off the claws of relegation since.
There were doubts from some over whether he would be as good in the Premier League, but none of those doubts came from within. “Without sounding arrogant or big-headed I had no doubts I would come into this league and perform the way I have done," Grealish told the Guardian this week.
That belief and that drive are qualities which can't be quantified but make him even better as a player, the best example of which coming when he dragged his club to a Carabao Cup final at Wembley.
Villa were under pressure for much of the second leg of the semi-final against the much favoured Leicester but they looked the more dangerous side. They repeatedly launched counter attacks, with Grealish often instigating the moves by dragging his side up the pitch and then carving out opportunities down the left flank. That is how the opening goal occurred, as he led the charge, smartly left space for another attacker to exploit and then teed him up to fire home.
Grealish led Villa to an unlikely victory and is trying to do the same to keep them in the Premier League. When the chance came, when composure was needed, when it really mattered, he delivered. Just like he did in the run-in of the promotion campaign. United have sorely missed someone over the years who can grab a game by the scruff of the neck and earn a result through sheer force of will. A player who has had to fight throughout his career but always knew he could shine at the highest level.
United already knew Grealish had the ability to play for the club, but now it's clear he has the right mentality to flourish.