The 2018/19 La Liga season was tough for Villarreal. The Yellow Submarine sunk to a lowly final position of 14th and managed just 10 wins all campaign. For much of the second half of the season, they were in a genuine relegation fight as European exploits took a heavy toll on their domestic form.
In the midst of managerial changes and a battle to maintain their top-flight status, there was at least one undeniable positive to emerge from the rubble of their torrid year.
Nigerian youngster Samuel Chukwueze emerged at the Estadio de la Cerámica as one the club's standout performers.
His explosive and highly effective displays from out wide played a significant role in helping keep El Submarino Amarillo out of danger towards the end of the season. His excellent form also earned him a place in the Nigeria side for the Africa Cup of Nations where he claimed the man-of-the-match award during a 2-1 win over South Africa.
Heads were being turned all over Europe and on the eve of their Champions League success, Liverpool were credited with interest in the winger's services. While Villarreal were ultimately able to keep hold of their man this summer, it is clear that he is now on the radar of some of the continent's biggest names.
Already likened in style to his hero Arjen Robben, Chukwueze has the raw materials to thrive in the Premier League. His pace and lucid movement make it nigh on impossible for defenders to track him without committing in big numbers and leaving gaps elsewhere on the pitch.
During a bonkers 4-4 draw with Barcelona last season, the 20-year-old demolished Jordi Alba and Samuel Umtiti with his relentless running and dazzling rapid footwork. Alba ended up with cramp on the night as he tried in vain to contain the Nigeria international who bagged a goal and an assist against the eventual champions.
Cutting in from the wide channels and shifting the ball on to his favoured left foot, it is easy to see where the comparisons to Robben have come from. His skill set is very vogue in the Premier League at the moment as well and the like the legendary Dutchman before him, he would get a lot of joy if he made the switch to one of England's top clubs.
The recent shift in attacking dynamics in the Premier League has seen rapid, wide forwards become highly coveted as key attacking figures. Arsenal's big money purchase of Nicolas Pepe in the summer and Manchester United's reported interest in Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho are a reflection of the success enjoyed by their fellow six rivals in recent years.
Liverpool have thrived with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane frequently cutting from either flank and dissecting hapless rival back-lines. Spurs unleashed Son Heung-min on the league's beleaguered defenders in 2015, while reigning champions Manchester City have enjoyed the blossoming talents Raheem Sterling since Pep Guardiola took over in 2016 and went to work on the England international.
Chukwueze certainly has similar attributes to that stellar cast of players. Yes he is still very raw in certain aspects of his game, but with some refinement to his distribution and end product he could be a real force of nature in the Premier League.
But don't be fooled into thinking that this is just another hipster tale of a quick and skillful young star who has a glamorous highlights reel on Youtube, who could just as well fade away in the deep sea of Europe's talent pool and end up in a backwater league.
Chukwueze has shown tremendous character, maturity and desire to reach this junction of his career so young. The 20-year-old has emerged from an obscure corner of Nigeria's largely rural Abia State. There was a lot of pressure from his family to abandon his football dreams and focus on his studies.
On top of that, he was almost turned away from a screening day at the local Diamond Football Academy after being told they'd already taken too many players when he turned up at the gates for a trail. Yet just a few years later, the youngster had won the Under-17 Word Cup with the Super Eagles and was off to La Liga, having come very close to joining Arsene Wenger's Arsenal.
Like so many of Villarreal's youngsters, he was offered bed and board at the youth academy but turned it down in favour of sharing a flat with one of the club's other academy prospects Pau Torres. The then teenager may have been far from home, but wanted to learn and grow as a young man as well as a player. Under the guidance of Torres and the academy graduates he chipped away at the language barrier and earned glowing praise for his attitude.
Premier League scouts should be lapping up this back story and reporting it to their masters with haste and enthusiasm. Chukwueze is a lad who seems to be giving off all the right signals of a driven young talent who is eager to learn and unhindered by a new challenge.
He is no longer under the radar and the Premier League may soon be the perfect stage to showcase one of Europe's brightest young stars.