Stepping into shoes vacated by Champions League-winning hero Wesley Sneijder was never going to be an easy task for Mateo Kovacic.
The Inter hierarchy were keen to offload the Dutch play-maker to begin rebuilding a stagnant squad in January 2013, but his absence left a gaping hole nonetheless.
Kovacic arrived the same month to take up his role as Sneijder’s heir - immediately handed the no. 10 shirt and declared to be the future of the Nerazzurri.
But the Croatian struggled to make his mark under outgoing coach Andrea Stramaccioni, and has not emerged as a favorite of new boss Walter Mazzarri’s either.
Manchester United and Liverpool have each been linked with ‘rescue’ moves for the highly-rated 19-year-old, who like Philippe Coutinho has been starved for minutes at San Siro. But things may finally be looking up for the teenager in northern Italy.
On Sunday Kovacic denied speculation his future lay away from Inter, insisting he must be patient and take his chances.
“The papers have to write something,” he told Croatian outlet Jutarnji. “I’ve learned in football that there is always something to speculate on - it doesn’t weigh on me.
“I have a contract until 2017, my future is with Inter and I am very happy to be a part of it.
“You have to work hard and be ready when the moment comes - sooner or later it all styles back down.”
Of course, these are words we have heard before. But later on Sunday, Kovacic backed up his claims that he is ready to carry on with the Nerazzurri - by playing like it.
Mazzarri handed the youngster his first start since February 2, and the midfielder responded with a classy display in Inter’s 4-0 win over Sampdoria.
Kovacic completed 85% of his passes, created one chance and added four tackles in the victory at Marassi, showing his coach just how valuable an asset he can be.
He will no doubt hope that more opportunities will come as a reward. Not given much of a chance over the past two months, Kovacic performed when called upon and Mazzarri should be impressed.
It is only an early sign, but one cannot help but think this could be the turning point for the Croatian at Inter - time for him to prove in the run-in that his future is with the Nerazzurri.
Manchester United and Liverpool may not be happy to hear it, if their interest in Kovacic is indeed genuine. Getting one of Europe’s hottest young prospects at a knock-down price seemed a distinct possibility just weeks ago.
But San Siro may well be Kovacic’s home for years to come as he looks to fulfill lofty expectations - and on Sunday he took a big step towards achieving that goal.