After just two starts in 15 games and an impending curfew in the Netherlands, Manchester City youngster Lewis Fiorini could have been forgiven for thinking that his loan move to NAC Breda wasn't exactly going to plan.
"You can see how it would be hard for lads on a loan like this, it would have been easy to fail or crumble with not playing for the first few games," he says.
"I came on here and there but didn’t start. Being away from everyone and being stuck on my own it would be easy for lads to give in or throw the towel in."
12 games and 12 starts later, however, and Fiorini is playing a key role in NAC's promotion push to the Eredivisie. His manager has called him a 'perfect' player, his midfield partner has predicted a bright future, and he's drawing comparisons to his idol Kevin De Bruyne in the process.
"It’s been really good, football side I couldn’t ask for much more. It’s gone so well," the 18-year-old told the Manchester Evening News this week.
"So it’s a shame on that part but I think it’s probably helped my football in a way because that’s been my only focus. Obviously it’s got all my attention and it’s shown with my performances."
Those performances, after a slow start adapting to a new country and the demands of senior football, have returned four brilliant goals and three assists in 21 appearances.
"Over the years throughout my time at the academy I’ve scored a lot of goals from midfield so to be able to take that to senior level has been good and they’ve all come outside the box as well which has been strange," he says.
Those goals, all impressive efforts from distance, have understandably impressed Breda and City fans alike, but there was another clip that got more attention on social media recently - a pinpoint assist from his own half, taking out three defenders and picking out the run of his teammate to take a touch and fire home.
It was a ball Kevin De Bruyne would be proud of, and those were the comparisons made as the assist was shared on social media.
"It’s a nice comparison, lovely to see. Obviously he’s someone I look to a lot," Fiorini says.
"Having the opportunity to train with him at times was massive for me because he’s someone where I watch his game and try to bring things into mine where I can. Him alongside David Silva have always been the ones I’ve admired and look up to. Especially playing in the same position as well.
"Now this season De Bruyne but growing up David Silva was my favourite ever player and still is now. The first few times training with them was a bit surreal, didn’t feel real going to close them down or them coming to close me down.
"With the Project Restart I got the opportunity to train with them for ten weeks so by the end of that I got used to it. Obviously it’s something I’ll never forget."
For Fiorini's academy teammates who stayed at the Etihad, there have been rewards of first team action this season - something the midfielder says gives all youngsters motivation.
"A lot of the lads I’ve played with since I was about seven," Fiorini says. "It’s great for me to see them being involved so much. I can turn the TV on at night and watch them play for the first team. That’s good for me and I stay in contact with them a lot.
"Cole Palmer is my closest one who's there now. I talk with him often. There’s loads of lads getting opportunities now, even just training day to day, being around that environment brings you on so much. I definitely felt that, the opportunity I got, just training for two and a half months. Even without playing any matches I felt myself developing.
"It’s a great opportunity for them. It gives you the motivation to go for more. Phil [Foden]'s the prime example because he’s come through every age group like all of us have and now he’s one of the stars of the team. For all the academy lads and even the young lads in the young ages, he’s the role model."
So why leave the comforts of the City Football Academy, with the chance to regularly train with his idols and maybe even make his City debut, for a loan move to a foreign league shortly after turning 18?
"To be honest I wasn’t set on going on loan," Fiorini admits.
"I could have easily stayed for another six months in the under 23s. I was only just 18 when I came in August, turned 18 in May. But it’s something I’ve always thought about since I was young - getting out early into men’s football as early as I can. Throughout the summer there were different options, and then once this one came it happened so fast.
"City thought it would be a good league to come and play in. It was in the space of four days, I got a call from my dad, saying my agent, City and NAC have been in contact and it was on me. Either yes or no from me. On the Monday I was gone.
"To be honest, I just wanted to get out and play football really bad so that was the main thing. So until I got here I didn’t really realise how big of a thing it was.
"With the pandemic as well, that got worse as I’ve been here so I’ve not been able to see my family or friends whereas when I came over in my head I thought my parents would be able to get over every few weeks, I’d get back here and there. Then obviously closer to Christmas it started to get worse again and all of that went out the window."
From January until mid-February, there was a curfew in the Netherlands from 9pm to 4.30am, and only this week are some facilities like barbers reopening. For most of his loan, there have been few opportunities for Fiorini to explore Breda at it's liveliest.
As well as the impact of the pandemic, Fiorini struggled to adapt to senior football at start, especially as he had lacked a pre-season to get up to speed.
He explains: "The team started the league with six wins in a row so they were on fire, so it was a case of biding my time and waiting for an opportunity. It was early December where I’d had a few starts in October, but we had a corona crisis where 15 lads ended up with Corona, so it was a bit mix and match for a few games.
"Then from the start of December I’ve played every game since and almost every minute. So from there I’ve never really looked back.
"Everything’s so much more demanding in senior football. Physically, mentally. Running loads more, have to be stronger. Mentally as well it’s serious, results business. In the youth the performance is the main thing. This week for example we didn’t play great but we won 3-0 and after the game the players, staff, the manager were all buzzing.
"Playing with the added pressure of fans as well, they’re not in but there’s a big fanbase over here and you have the added pressure of that. So there’s been a lot of differences.
"My development has gone rapidly. Especially from December to now, these last three months I feel like I’m developing so much game to game. Obviously that’s what I came out here for so I’m really happy."
That happiness is something City have been keen to monitor, as Fiorini explains most of his contact with a dedicated loan officer is checking up on how he's feeling rather than how he's playing.
"City are one of the only clubs with a loan staff, and it’s good in that sense," he says.
"They have psychologists and stuff for loan players. That’s been important for the type of year we’re in, if lads are in different countries on their own it’s important to be in contact with people. In touch after every game for the most part which is good.
"They have my clips where they make comments every now and then. For the most part it’s about living, my mood, how happy I am. The staff over here at NAC are really good as well, I’ve got to give a lot of credit to them.
"When I came, when I first signed I didn’t realise how hard it would be adapting to a new place, but the way they handled me and didn’t bring me into the team straight away they’ve done it perfectly. They’re good people and I can always talk to them.
"You can see how it would be hard for lads on a loan like this, it would have been easy to fail or crumble with not playing for the first few games. I came on here and there but didn’t start. Being away from everyone and being stuck on my own it would be easy for lads to give in or throw the towel in. They, for me, did it perfectly. Off the field it’s been really good as well. Overall, I’m really happy."
For now, promotion is the aim for NAC, and Fiorini is a key part of that.
“Lewis hardly ever loses the ball and always looks ahead”, NAC coach Maurice Steijn has said.
“There is always a very logical thought behind it. And he has scoring ability. He has scored several goals. Also from a distance. I am very happy with him. Lewis is the perfect connection player. He fills that in perfectly. He doesn't complain, doesn't grumble. He is a wonderful guy to work with and his quality is superb.”
Midfield partner Lex Immers added: “He's way ahead of his age and doesn't play like an eighteen-year-old boy. Lewis has excellent technique, a fantastic kick and a good head. If he continues to work hard, he will have nice clubs behind his name. You should cherish these kind of guys.”
That quick decision to move to Holland is looking better with every passing game.