Danny Drinkwater is walking tall with England and Leicester City at the top of the Premier League – but he’ll always remember his first steps in first-team football came in a Huddersfield Town shirt.
The 26-year-old will miss Saturday’s home game against Everton, when the Foxes will be presented with the title trophy, after being sent-off in the 1-1 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
But he has played a major part in the celebrations since Leicester’s crown was confirmed when nearest rivals Tottenham could only draw at Chelsea on Monday night, and he will be hoping his winners’ medal can be followed by selection in Roy Hodgson’s squad for Euro 2016.
That’s a far cry from his arrival at Town, when he was brought in by manager Lee Clark on a season-long loan from Manchester United for the 2009-10 campaign.
At that point, Manchester-born Drinkwater had played only age-group and reserve football for United, but he quickly found his feet in League One.
Doug Thomson talks about Danny Drinkwater at Huddersfield Town
Clark had seen Drinkwater’s composure on the ball, his ability to read the play and his eagerness to win key tackles in the ‘engine room’.
Those are qualities which Drinkwater has enhanced since in loan spells at Cardiff, Watford and Barnsley before his permanent signing by Leicester in January 2012, since when he has made 158 King Power appearances.
Drinkwater made his Football League debut in Town’s 3-1 home win against Southampton on August 15, 2009, going on as a 72nd-minute substitute for Gary Roberts.
Replacing Antony Kay in the next match, at home to Brighton, he scored in a fantastic 7-1 win and then made his first start in the next match, a 1-0 defeat at Bristol Rovers.
Drinkwater had to be patient for a spell as injury kept him out of the reckoning, but he returned at the end of December to play a full part in Town’s run to the play-offs.
He was on target just once more, in the 6-0 win at Stockport, when he was playing alongside Kay, Roberts and Anthony Pilkington in midfield, with Jordan Rhodes and Theo Robinson up front (sharing duties with Lee Novak).
That season, Drinkwater played in the play-offs for the first time, Town drawing 0-0 at home to Millwall before being beaten 2-0 at The New Den.
He now, of course, has plenty of first-team experience and could well make an international impact this summer.
For the moment, he is just lapping up Leicester’s success, revealing there was “four hours of madness” as the players celebrated winning the title at a gathering at striker Jamie Vardy’s house on Monday night.
Drinkwater said: “It was brilliant, all the lads were together whilst it happened and it kind of sums us up as a group of lads.
“I’ve not (known a bond like it), and I think the rest of the lads would answer the question the same. It’s a special moment for us lot.”
He added of Ranieri: “Brilliant. He’s done a fantastic job for us. I’m happy for him, he’s never won this before. He’s kind of put his trust in us and we’ve repaid him.
“He’s a laid-back kind of guy and that reflects on us. It helps us when it comes to games.”
The 26-year-old England international added: “You look around and in three years we’ve won the Championship, we’ve won the Premier, it’s bonkers. It’s hard to put into words. It’s mad.
“I’ll be looking back at this (season) for years. It’ll be something I’ll be able to tell my kids about.”