A little more than two years ago, Brighton & Hove Albion rejected a third and final bid from Fulham, believed to be around £5 million, for central defender and academy graduate Lewis Dunk. Twelve months later another offer was declined, this time from Newcastle worth twice as much. It was a gamble based on chairman Tony Bloom's long-term assumption that Dunk would one day lead the seaside club into the Premier League; a gamble which is still paying off.
"We played Arsenal in the cup a few years ago," Dunk told The Daily Telegraph ahead of the current campaign. "I came up against Alexis Sanchez and he did four step-overs, did a Cruyff turn, and I was still standing there. I didn’t know where he went."
On Sunday, Dunk was able to showcase exactly how far he's come as a player and, more importantly, just how much he has matured since their previous meeting.
There were winces from the 3,000 fans housed in the away section of the Emirates support when Dunk charged towards a loose ball having been sold short by an undercooked pass. Rather than throwing his weight into the oncoming Alexis, however, as he may have previously been happy to, the Albion man remained on his feet and came out with possession. The pair would meet again when Dunk cleared the Arsenal man's piercing low strike off the line in the second half, and again in a fifty-fifty challenge in which the Chilean was left in a heap on the ground.
Dunk's personal development has not gone unnoticed by the Albion support. There has been a glaring hole in the centre-back's game for as long as he's donned the stripes of his hometown club in that his discipline has always been something of an afterthought. So often his impressive performances have been blighted by petulance, rash decisions or a sheer moment of madness - his sending off against bitter rivals Crystal Palace in 2012 after just eight minutes a particular sticking point for some fans.
"Obviously over the past few seasons I’ve got quite a few yellow cards and red cards for discipline," he said. "It’s just cutting that out, taking a step back before engaging in stuff like that; clicking in your brain. Switching your brain on to step back rather than step forward.
“I usually play against the bigger strikers, so I’m looking forward to testing myself against the little ones like the [Sergio] Agueros, people like that, the small sharp ones who are going to test me around my feet and my movement. It’s a massive challenge, and I’m ready to grasp it and show I can play in that league and prove I’m good enough. Some of the strikers in this league are the best in the world. Being up against them, I don’t want to be embarrassed. I won’t let that happen."
Now, under the tutelage of Chris Hughton, Dunk's impulsive disposition has been softened and having already gone up against Manchester City star Aguero, Dunk has not received a yellow card in his last eighteen outings - a remarkable record for a player so familiar with the referee's book. And he has far from embarrassed himself. In fact, such has been his success in the opening seven fixtures of the season, Dunk is now being mooted with a call up to Gareth Southgate's England squad.
Dunk (18) has made more interceptions than every one of Southgate's current centre-back options - Phil Jones (13), Harry Maguire (13), Michael Keane (12), John Stones (eight), Chris Smalling (three), and Gary Cahill (two) - while also coming out on top in numbers of blocks.
The Albion defender has forged a reputation of a traditional, throw-his-face-in-front-of-everything centre-half, and though he's unlikely to flinch when putting his body on the line, Southgate will be pushed to find a defender as comfortable as Dunk in carrying the ball into advanced positions and picking unimaginable, long-range passes up-field outside the obvious pick of Stones.
“Definitely," Dunk previously said when questioned if the likes of Keane at Burnley and Ben Gibson at Middlesbrough being handed England call ups acted as motivation. "Seeing what they’ve done, seeing what they’ve achieved last year. Keane’s got a good move and played for England. Gibson was in the England squad. That’s all off one good season in the Premier League. If I have that, hopefully that could be me in 12 months’ time.”
Dunk may not be wearing a Brighton shirt when he's eventually handed an opportunity at international level, but it is now surely a matter of when that opportunity arises, not if.