United midfielder Jesse Lingard admits even he has been surprised by the rapid progress he's made in the past 12 months.
Lauded by Sir Alex Ferguson following his first taste of senior football in Wednesday's opening pre-season fixture in Durban, the 19-year-old midfielder now hopes to earn more opportunities to impress on the big stage.
A close-to-capacity Moses Mabhida Stadium (a World Cup semi-final venue in 2010) is certainly a long way from Conference side Fleetwood Town's quaint Highbury Stadium, the ground on which Lingard came off the bench for United's Reserves a year to the day before he spoke to ManUtd.com on Friday.
"It's been a mad experience for me, to be honest," he says. "It's even surprised me. I've come on a lot quicker than anybody thought I would. But from the start of last year's Reserves season until now, where I'm playing first-team friendlies in South Africa, I've loved every minute of it.
"I'm happy I've been given a chance and now I'm determined to prove I belong here. It would mean a lot [if I succeed in nailing down a regular spot]. But if you want to get into this team you have to put in the effort. You look at the likes of Rio Ferdinand and you see the attributes you need to be a top player. I know I need to get bigger and stronger so that's what I'm going to do."
Lingard, who's both slighter and shorter than most modern-day footballers, revealed he spent time this summer undertaking extra training in a bid to get sharper and stronger for the new season.
"A lot of my progression can be put down to hard work. I've been hitting the gym a lot and I went away this summer to America where I did a lot of speed work and extra training. It's all paid off in what seems like a matter of months."
Lingard's no overnight sensation, though. He's been on United's books since he was seven. In recent