Dedryck Boyata was forced to cancel his Christmas plans but couldn’t have been happier with the results.
The strapping 19-year-old centre half was packed and ready to board a flight back home to Belgium to sample some of mum Bridget’s Yuletide cooking when Roberto Mancini told him to make fresh arrangements.
And instead of tucking into turkey in the low countries, Boyata, who has been at the Academy since he was 16-years-old, was squeezing on to the bench against Stoke sat next to such international luminaries as Micah Richards and Craig Bellamy.
Far from labelling Mancini some kind of Italian Grinch, Boyata was only too delighted that the new boss had given him a chance to add to his football education and get up close and personal to the Premier League.
“This has to be one of the best Christmas times ever,” gushed Boyata even though he didn’t get beyond the bench.
“It was so exciting to be told I would be in the squad for the game yesterday.
Really to come from nowhere like that to the first team bench is incredible. Now I want more of it
“The manager’s staff said that he has a track record of blooding young players if he thinks they are good enough and there were a couple of us on the bench against Stoke. Some of us have been taking part in training sessions – we do have a lot of injuries – and it gives you that additional bit of confidence.
“Match day with the first team is so different than anything I have experienced before. There is a real buzz and intensity that you don’t realise is there until you are part of it. Just the wall of noise from the crowd is quite amazing.
“I feel as though I have learned so much from the whole experience. I was desperate to get on the pitch to make my parents proud but maybe one day soon.”
With Nedum Onuoha and Joleon Lescott missing again on Monday night Boyata will remain in the squad that travels to Molineux to face Wolves.