Paddy Davitt: Why Todd Cantwell was bred for the Premier League
Fan, ball boy and now a starring role for Norwich City in the best club league in the world. Todd Cantwell is on a journey of discovery. Paddy Davitt assesses why he looks so comfortable against the best of the best.
Todd Cantwell revealed his admiration for Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva before Manchester City's visit. On Saturday he performed on the same pitch as an equal.
That is the breakneck speed at which Dereham's finest is being propelled along a giddy Premier League path from wannabe to frontline option.
Five days prior to another breathless episode in his fledgling professional career - capped by a second goal in five top flight appearances - Cantwell was stood in a mixed zone at Hull proudly wearing his England track suit.
The 21-year-old had just earned his first cap at Under-21 level in a qualifying win against Kosovo. A second half cameo brought him into close contact with Manchester City's prodigy Phil Foden.
The 'Stockport Iniesta' scored both goals that night. But only one of those international team mates were centre stage when a global television audience, and a raucous live crowd packed into Carrow Road, settled down to watch a classic.
Foden watched on as an unused substitute as first De Bruyne, then Jesus and finally Riyad Mahrez were introduced by Pep Guardiola.
Opposing them was Cantwell and 10 players in green and yellow who ran, tackled and chased anything that moved.
Cantwell infact made the final foray deep into Manchester City's half to run down the clock.
The final blast on Kevin Friend's whistle saw him collapse exhausted in front of the City Stand. Perhaps it was only then the full enormity of what he had achieved sunk in.
Rewind to the relative calm of Hull's KCOM stadium, a few days earlier, and it was less how he manipulated a ball but the maturity with which he spoke to the waiting media that underlined why he has emerged front and centre under Daniel Farke's guidance.
"They are all brilliant players, obviously people like De Bruyne or David Silva I admire even more because they are players I can relate to, in terms of where they play on the pitch," he said, when pressed for how Norwich could possibly compete against the elite.
"But they have 11, we have 11 so let's go toe-to-toe.
"People are writing us off, as individuals and a team, before a ball was kicked this season so you have to look it as, 'what do you have to lose?' We know what we can achieve.
"They are all tough in the Premier League. Newcastle was a tough one in the same way we found it tough against both Chelsea and West Ham.
"We were very respectful of the Championship and the players we faced in that league but this league has some of the best players in the world. As a player this is where you want to be.
"Luckily I can say I am."
Indeed he can.
There might be those who look at his productivity in the first five Premier League games of the season - compared to a watching brief over the defining part of Championship title run in - and deduce he has had to drastically re-invent his game.
Not a chance. Cantwell is the same player, with the same balletic grace, awareness, intelligence and technical ability who emerged through the academy ranks. Or was then packed off to Holland for an impressive, if injury-hit, loan stint at Fortuna Sittard.
Probably even as far back as the playing fields of Northgate High School and Dereham Town's junior teams. What has changed is the footballing environment around him. Cantwell does not look out of place on the same pitch as Liverpool or Manchester City footballers because he exhibits many of the same attributes. All he really lacks now is experience and the challenge to produce over a longer term, consistent basis.
Look at the manner of that dart infield against Chelsea and the perfectly weighted pass slotted by Teemu Pukki last month.
Then go back to his Championship league debut at Reading, and you saw the same trigger move infield followed by the same cushioned delivery guided home by the Finnish striker.
Cantwell is not changing his game, he has the good fortune to have the faith of a progressive head coach and new surroundings which are conducive to his inherent sense of expression and self-confidence.
That perhaps is why Cantwell's elevation appears so serene.
His game is tailor-made for the Premier League, not the muck and nettles of the Championship.
Long may it continue, both for him and his boyhood club.
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