Mackenzie Hunt signed a three-year professional contract with Everton last summer and describes being offered the deal as “probably the best moment of my life”.
There is a pathway in place for the 18-year-old creative midfielder to reach Everton’s first team, a prospect all the more enticing by the thought of playing under renowned manager Carlo Ancelotti.
And all this after Hunt, who grew up in Dubai, was brave enough to move back to England and join Everton at just 13, with mum Andrea accompanying him, but dad Mark and older brother Bailey remaining in the UAE.
Yet when initially approached by The National for an interview, the former Dubai English Speaking College student's first reaction is one of bewilderment.
“He’s happy to speak to you," his dad replies having been asked if Mackenzie is available for an interview. “But he doesn’t know why you want to. He doesn’t think he’s done anything yet.”
It’s an attitude that bodes well for his future - and one reinforced by Everton.
When Hunt describes the type of footballer he is you can almost imagine him twisting and turning with the ball embedded to his feet, jinking past one player then the next, as he does so.
“I’m an attacking midfielder,” he says. “I can play off the wings or centrally. I prefer to play centrally as a No 10. I’m left footed, quite quick, good on the ball. I’m a creative midfielder. I like to score goals.
“I know the ability is there and the talent is there. I just need to make sure my attitude is on the right path and not get ahead of myself and keep working hard.
“Everton tell me ‘we know you have the talent and the ability or you wouldn’t be here, but it’s just about keeping your attitude right’.”
Hunt is still eligible for Everton’s under-18s – he won Goal of the Season in 2018/19 with a howitzer from distance in a Youth Cup victory over Stoke City – but has spent this campaign with the under-23s. To his frustration, injury has marred much of it, with a recent ankle ligament operation set to keep him out for around two months.
When he has been fit and played, however, Hunt feels he has “coped well” with under-23 football, and has received praise from coach – and Goodison Park hero – David Unsworth.
“I’ve not had a run of games that I would have liked – and maybe he [Unsworth] would have liked as well – but he’s encouraging and he’s given me a lot of playing time when I’m fit,” Hunt says. “He sees I’m a good player and he likes the kind of player I am.”
The ultimate goal, of course, is to be the kind of player Ancelotti likes. With Ancelotti having managed the attacking flair of creative geniuses such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Kaka, Arjen Robben and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – to name just a handful – it’s a prospect Hunt relishes.
“It’s a huge goal for me to try and play under someone like Ancelotti,” the Liverpudlian says. “Everton are trying to improve and with Ancelotti having been at some of the biggest clubs in the world, it’s a big motivation to get in the first team.
“Especially, I think that with Everton managers in the past they’ve maybe not played the style of football I would’ve enjoyed. I think with him his style suits my game, so it’s encouraging for me and motivates me to try and break into the first team."
As part of the pathway, Everton have used the club’s current No 10, Gylfi Sigurdsson, to show Hunt what is required to play in the Premier League.
“Everton have compared me to players in the first team – for example Sigurdsson, because he’s my position,” Hunt says. “They prepare you for that. He’s getting on now so they explain what I would need to do [to play in the first team in his position].”
Everton may now compare him to the £45 million (Dh215m) Icelandic ace, but where Hunt began to shine was in Dubai, where he moved to aged six.
Brother Bailey, 20, followed Mackenzie back to England two years ago to attend university but dad Mark, who works in the construction industry, remains.
“I get out to Dubai once a year every summer,” Hunt says. “I miss everything about Dubai. The lifestyle, the weather, my friends – everything about it.
“It was tough leaving. Not just leaving my dad and my brother but leaving all my friends. It was a big sacrifice – especially for my mum. I have to thank her a lot. It was a proud moment to get my contract. I’ve worked really hard to get where I am.”
Hunt played with Go-Pro in Dubai, where academy director Kirk Hilton – a former Manchester United squad member under Alex Ferguson – reports that seven of his former youngsters are signed with professional clubs.
Hunt, Hilton says, is “a fantastic player”.
“I expect him to make it. I’m not saying he’s definitely going to make it at Everton but I expect him to make it as a professional footballer and have a career in the game. I think he’s that good.”
Hunt may not feel he’s done anything in football yet – but you get the distinct impression he just might.