Andros Townsend was 22 when a moment of individual brilliance confirmed all the loans and toil and perseverance qualified as time well spent.
The forward’s England debut was 78 minutes old when he cut through the centre of the Wembley pitch and cracked a swerving effort to defeat Vukasin Poleksic – via the inside of the Montenegro goalkeeper’s left post.
Scarcely 10 months earlier, in January 2013, Townsend swapped parent club Tottenham Hotspur for a spell with Queens Park Rangers, reuniting with his old Spurs boss Harry Redknapp at Loftus Road.
Redknapp invested unconditional faith in Townsend, immediately getting him in the team and receiving payback for his confidence in the player in the form of a succession of direct and aggressive performances.
The spell in west London, when Townsend played 12 matches, simultaneously drew a line under a four-year period featuring nine loans and sparked the Londoner’s coming-of-age at White Hart Lane.
He began 2013/14 in electrifying form after being switched to the right wing by Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas, a change Townsend credits with “kick-starting” his top-flight career.
Townsend originally joined Tottenham aged seven, the team he supported as a boy inevitably winning the day ahead of rival suitors.
His first experience of senior football, however – other than sitting on the bench for a UEFA Cup match – came during two months with Yeovil Town towards the end of 2008/09.
He was an important figure in the club preserving its League One status, playing the season’s final 10 games as Yeovil survived by a two-point margin.
Townsend spent the first half of the following season with Leyton Orient in League Two, then had two months at League One MK Dons before Spurs’ injury-stretched squad prompted an early recall from Redknapp.
The boy from the academy would have to wait until January 2011 for his Spurs debut nonetheless – after four months in the Championship with Ipswich Town.
Townsend seized his initial Tottenham opportunity, marking his first appearance with the opening goal in a 3-0 FA Cup victory over Charlton Athletic.
Twelve days later and Townsend was in the Watford team for a Championship game against Cardiff City.
He stayed at Vicarage Road for only six weeks before a move to divisional rivals Millwall for a successful two-month loan.
Townsend played six Europa League matches for Tottenham in 2011/12 – but the second half of his season was a near-replica of the previous campaign.
A relatively short stint with Leeds United was immediately followed by two productive months at Birmingham City.
He featured sporadically for Spurs in the opening half of 2012/13 before sealing the loan to QPR, where Townsend’s career caught fire.
The player began the following season in Villas-Boas’ team and nine days after his England debut scored a first Premier League goal for Spurs – he netted twice in the competition for QPR – in a win at Aston Villa.
Townsend was increasingly a fixture for Spurs and established in the England squad but his progress stalled when an ankle problem required surgery in May and ruled the attacker out of that summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
When Townsend left Tottenham for Newcastle United in pursuit of regular football in January 2016 he had played 93 games and scored 15 goals for his boyhood club.
The closest he came to silverware was a run to the 2015 League Cup final where Spurs were beaten 2-0 by Chelsea.
Townsend’s whirlwind stay at St James’ Park yielded three goals and two assists from 10 appearances, with Newcastle resurgent under new manager Rafael Benitez but falling short of hauling the club out of the Premier League’s relegation zone after a desperate start to the campaign.
The 30-year-old won the last of his 13 England caps – he’s scored three times for his country – in a 2-2 draw with Spain in November 2016, shortly after transferring from Newcastle to Crystal Palace.
Townsend had five years in the Premier League with Palace. He made 185 appearances in all competitions for the club, directly contributing to 44 goals, scoring 16 and assisting 28.
He joined Everton following the expiry of his Selhurst Park contract in July 2021.