It seems a lifetime ago now, but Ayoze Perez famously rejected interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid to sign for Newcastle in summer 2014.
And during his first half-season on Tyneside, it became clear why the Spaniard had initially attracted that calibre of club while plying his trade at Tenerife – the young forward notching up five goals, including strikes against Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal, before the turn of 2015.
From that point on though, Perez struggled to have such talismanic impact. Even last season, when Newcastle won the Championship with relative ease, he still only registered nine goals from 36 outings in the second tier.
Likewise, the current campaign saw the former Spain U21 manage just four goals in his first 29 appearances across all competitions.
But Rafa Benitez has always stuck by Perez and Newcastle are beginning to reap the rewards, their diminutive attacker scoring in three games on the bounce. That includes a goal in the 2-1 win over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium and an eye-catching performance against Arsenal on Sunday, scoring Newcastle’s first before setting up Matt Ritchie for the winner.
Perez actually finished up with the most efforts at goal and the most created chances to his name of any Magpies player in a win that has made a top half finish this season more likely than unlikely with three points and a game in hand separating them from 11th-placed Bournemouth.
But Benitez will be impressed with how Perez ranked third throughout Newcastle’s starting XI for tackles as well – a sign that he’s performing effectively as part of a functioning team, rather than simply being the talented, inconsistent individual we’ve seen in previous seasons.
And the real positive here is pretty obvious. For all the criticism Perez has received at times, he’s still a young player – aged just 24.
Getting the best out of young talents has been an exciting theme of Newcastle’s first season back in the Premier League and Perez is inching closer to realising the potential that once had both sides of the El Clasico rivalry seeking his services.
Even if that calibre of the game appears a little beyond him now, Benitez has found a way to consistently convert his obvious ability into output.