It's great to see Cantwell's class being fully appreciated at City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Consistency was the key to Todd Cantwell taking his talent to the next level, Daniel Farke said earlier this season. Consistency is what the Norwich City boss is getting from the Norfolk boy at the heart of the current Canaries success.
The skill, grace, speed and desire demonstrated by the 'Dereham Deco' during Tuesday's scintillating 7-0 rout of Huddersfield, particularly during that epic first half, was truly a privilege to observe.
I remember covering youth games when Cantwell was coming through the academy ranks and being intrigued to see a player emerging with such confidence and creativity, the bravery to try something a bit different.
There are many young talents who don't make the grade once they make it into the men's game but the 23-year-old's displays of late reminded me of youth games when he appeared to be capable of changing the game in an instant. One in particular sticks in the memory.
A few weeks before his 18th birthday, Cantwell was in FA Youth Cup quarter-final action at Carrow Road, weaving into the box and being brought down to win an early penalty, calmly sending the Middlesbrough keeper the wrong way from the spot to take the lead.
With Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis among his team-mates that day, Boro responded to roar into a 4-1 lead in the 61st minute. It looked like the Youth Cup dream was over for another year.
However, Glenn Middleton, Lewis and Cantwell took the game by the scruff of the neck and drove City forward, Middleton setting up Benny Ashley-Seal to make it 4-2 and the Scot - now at Rangers - fired home the third.
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The memorable moment came after a Cantwell corner had been headed clear, when full-back Louis Ramsay volleyed into the top corner from the edge of the box to equalise and spark wild celebrations in the 88th minute.
Then it was Cantwell, two minutes before half-time of extra-time, reacting quickest after a low Lewis cross was spilt to poke in what proved to be the winner - celebrating in front of the Barclay, with just 1,000 fans inside Carrow Road.
Sadly he missed the quarter-final at Manchester City's academy stadium due to injury, when Graeme Murty's U18s were beaten 2-0 by a home team featuring players including Brahim Diaz and Tosin Adarabioyo, who are now top-flight regulars for AC Milan and Fulham respectively.
To see him progress to the standing he now has among Canaries fans has been a fascinating journey to watch unfold, having to work so hard to prove himself, to build his physical strength and earn the right to express his ability on the pitch.
There's a part of me that envies Todd. We all encourage children to be true to themselves, to chase their dream, to not be deterred by the ignorant - and he has the confidence to do that.
Criticism of Cantwell seems to have become a bit of an urban myth. Some has existed, of course, it does for all footballers and is part of the game. Yet we seem to see more people moaning about Cantwell moaners on social media than we see actual moans about Cantwell. The vast majority have long since been won over by his ability on the pitch.
Anyone that groans about a man having long hair is a dinosaur. It's 2021. He can wear it as a purple mullet for all I care. He doesn't have to earn the right through playing well, it's his choice.
The journey hasn't always been smooth. From having his excellent Fortuna Sittard loan cut short by injury, to form tailing off during 2018-19 and then surging to six goals during the first half of his first Premier League season and scoring a brilliant FA Cup quarter-final goal, to being slumped on the Carrow Road turf after relegation and left out of the team at Bournemouth earlier this season. It's been quite the ride already.
He's set to make his 97th City appearance at Derby today, for the club he's been with since his under-11 age group, when he could be enjoying the second Championship promotion party of his career if Swansea and Brentford fail to win elsewhere.
Inevitably he will have ambitions to play for bigger clubs and at the highest level possible. All young players need that drive and ambition if they are to succeed. Everyone can't be a Ryan Giggs or a Steven Gerrard and emerge from the youth system of one of the top clubs in the world and stay there.
Cantwell, the utterly brilliant Emi Buendia and the superbly consistent Max Aarons will be the crown jewels this summer but it seems unlikely all three would be sold, even if huge bids did arrive.
So if Cantwell can be persuaded to give City one more season, back under the Premier League spotlight where the pace of play seemed to suit his style so well, with Canaries fans returning to cheer on Farke's squad, it will be fascinating to see if he can continue his current consistent quality in the top flight.
Six goals and five assists from 23 games since returning from injury in December earned him an England Under-21 recall and has hopefully finally won over any doubters which remained. Much hard work is required but one day we could well talk of Cantwell as the most talented Norfolk boy to emerge from the Norwich City academy.
- I gave Cantwell nine out of 10 for his performance against Huddersfield in my match ratings, which are delivered live within an hour of the final whistle on the Pink Un channels on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.