Watching Max Bird control the midfield and pick out brilliant passes is something we have all become accustomed to over the past few months as he has solidified his place in the Derby County first-team.
After making his debut as a 16-year-old against Barnsley in the EFL Cup during the 2017/18 season, Bird has dipped in and out of the senior squad.
He made eight appearances under Frank Lampard last season, and two cup outings under Phillip Cocu in the first half of the current campaign.
Since replacing Krystian Bielik just ahead of half-time against Wigan Athletic on Boxing Day, the 19-year-old has been a near ever-present in the squad, starting in 12 of the 13 Sky Bet Championship games since then and on the bench for other.
It has been a long road for Bird, who joined the Derby County Academy as a ten-year-old after being noticed in the Soccer Stars courses that were put on during school holidays.
His time in the Academy was capped off last season in his second year as a scholar, helping the Under-18s lift the Premier League National Title trophy as well as being named EFL Apprentice of the Year.
His time climbing through the Rams' ranks, where he would regularly play above his age group, also saw him try out different positions, which Bird believes has helped him to become a better player further down the line.
“I remember scoring a hat-trick in my first game when I was ten,” he recalled when speaking to RamsTV. “I came here as more of an attacking midfielder.
“As I got older and taller, I was a left-back and centre-half for a couple of years before I moved back into midfield.
“At Under-14s, I think, I moved to centre-half and I enjoyed it having the whole pitch in front of me, I could see everything, and I had a few good partners over the years.
“In Under-16s, I was playing for the Under-18s too and I started moving into midfield. I felt like that was my position that I could play, I always wanted to play there from watching Paul Scholes at United, I have always wanted to play that midfield role.
“That is the position I enjoy the most, but I learned a lot playing at centre-half. I loved every single minute of being in the Academy – the highs, lows, everything.”
For Bird, striving to improve doesn’t end on the training pitches or in the gym.
Even from a young age he turned his love of watching football into learning moments, studying the game – especially Scholes and his favourite team Manchester United.
Now, he is able to learn first-hand from United’s all-time top goalscorer, Wayne Rooney, who he has built a strong partnership up with in the defensive midfield position for a number of the Rams’ fixtures this year.
Tom Huddlestone is another player Bird says he looked up to and now trains and plays alongside every day.
Like Bird, Huddlestone graduated from the Derby Academy before plying his trade in the Premier League during an eight-year spell at Tottenham Hotspur.
Bird continued: “Scholes was just genius in everything that did, his passing ability is something I look up to still. I still want to be able to do what he did, and similar to Tom Huddlestone too and Wayne Rooney.
“Just being able to spray balls about is something I want to achieve in my career. He was just a very intelligent footballer, like Michael Carrick as well – I used to watch him a lot.
“I think a lot of football is played with your brain as well as your feet.
“I watch football whenever I can. My mum will come in and ask if there is football on and I’ll say: ‘sorry, yeah you can’t have the telly again!’
“I like watching clips of players and seeing if I can take that into a game.”
As Bird’s game continues to elevate, one this for certain is his feet remain firmly planted on the ground.
His talents are there for all to see on the pitch, but his humble nature and determination to strive for more have not wavered as he has climbed though the ranks, a trait he credits to his dad and what was instilled in him from a young age.
He said: “My dad used to say to me all the time, even when I was playing a year or two above my age, he’d say: ‘keep your feet on the floor and don’t let your head get too big’. I was brought up with that.
“I’ve said it a lot as well, but just watching Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson, just watching their mentality and how they had the elite mentality when they would win the league, then just go again.
“That and just the fact that I haven’t really achieved anything yet. I’ve won the Under-18s Premier League and that’s about it.”