Just 12 months ago few football fans (outside of Cheltenham or Birmingham) would have heard much of Jack Butland; but after a roller-coaster year that has taken in the European Championships and the Olympic games, the young Birmingham ‘keeper is seen as player with the potential to become one of the very best.
Butland has been ear-marked for success from an early age, representing England at every level from Under-16 upwards, including being part of the England Under-17 squad which won the Uefa European Championships in Liechtenstein in May 2010
At 6ft 4in tall, he certainly has the commanding presence a top goalkeeper needs. And all the scouting reports suggest he has the kind of honest, hard-working attitude that all players need if they are to fulfill their potential.
But despite the hype, his club career began in more humble surroundings. He signed for Championship side Birmingham as a schoolboy in 2007 (and won the club’s Young player of the Year in 2010) but it was at Cheltenham Town where he got his first taste of league football, during an initial month-long loan spell in September 2011.
Such as was his success in his first initial spell with Cheltenham he re-joined them at the start of 2012, making a further 12 appearances.
His displays for the Robins caught the eye of a number of rival clubs, with a reported 52 scouts dispatched to watch him in action at Whaddon Road.
If the cat wasn’t out of the bag by this point, it certainly was a few months later when, in June 2012, Butland was called up to the England Euro 2012 squad after John Ruddy pulled out through injury.
Butland didn’t make an appearance in Poland and Ukraine, but the experience must have been of great benefit. As would have been his displays with Team GB at the London Olympic games. His rise to the top was complete when he won his first full England cap against Italy in August, becoming the youngest ever England goalkeeper in the process, beating a record set in 1888.
By now Birmingham were all too aware that their young starlet was in-demand and had been quick to issue hands off warnings to potential clubs.
Blues boss Lee Clark said that only a "crazy" offer would see Butland leave after the club had rejected a £6million bid from Southampton in August.
Later that month Everton were believed to have made a deadline day bid – or at least expressed interest – something that was given short shrift by Clark, who was determined to keep his man.
However, Clark’s stance has softened in recent weeks, mainly due to Birmingham’s precarious finances. Speaking at the end of December he conceded that he may be forced to sell Butland in January to help balance the books.
Merseyside rivals Liverpool have been frequently mentioned as frontrunners, David Moyes has admitted he was enquired about Butland "a few times", while reports stemming from the northeast this month suggest that Newcastle are ready to take Butland to St James’ Park. London duo Arsenal and Fulham have also been linked, though it is believed they are now pursuing other targets.
While his eventual destination appears uncertain, it does look increasingly likely that Butland will not be wearing a Birmingham shirt for much longer.
As far as Everton are concerned, it is clear that Tim Howard needs some extra competition, he has made some sloppy and costly mistakes this season. With age also not on the American's side, it may be the ideal time to bring in a younger long-term replacement for him to train up.
In a further twist, David Moyes was spotted in Birmingham on Tuesday, with Butland expected to sit out Birmingham's FA Cup third round replay with Leeds that evening in order to prevent him from being cup-tied ahead of a potential sale. Is Moyes in the Midlands for an aborted scouting mission or something more?
But before we get too excited, it pays to remember that Everton's ability to snap up Butland will once again boil down to whether they can afford the transfer fee – a recurring and increasingly infuriating problem for the Toffees.
It could well be that the Bristol-born stopper will join the long list of players Moyes wanted, but simply could not afford.