Leroy Sane has packed a lot of growing up into his 21 years.
So while the German winger might have endured a difficult introduction to life at Manchester City, there was never any doubt that he was destined to become a Pep Guardiola poster boy.
Sane, a £37million recruit from Schalke last summer, credits Guardiola with a transformation that has turned him into a contender for the PFA’s Young Player of the Year award.
“The coach worked with Messi every day at Barcelona,” said Sane. “So he helped me by giving me the same confidence.”
The Pep talk worked. But Sane’s talent is in his genes – dad Souleyman was a Senegal international, while mum Regina won an Olympic bronze in gymnastics.
And so is his temperament.
Just 18 months ago, Sane’s dream debut for Germany in the Stade de France turned into a nightmare when terror attacks in Paris left 130 innocent people dead.
“At the beginning of the night, it was very good,” he recalled. “It was my first game for my country and I was very happy and proud.
“After the game, the events meant it was deeply upsetting and it was so negative. It totally counteracted the earlier feeling. We could choose if we wanted to stay overnight at the stadium or at the hotel until our flight.
“The players decided to stay at the stadium, it was safer than travelling to the hotel in the city.”
Sane admitted he felt the scars of that tragic night again two weeks ago when Borussia Dortmund’s bus was bombed.
“That was very sad also,” he said. “I cannot understand how people act like this.
“All the people on that bus are human beings. The only difference is they play football and are maybe more famous. But that is no reason to attack them.”
His early months in Manchester were a struggle, but he knew he had cracked it the day Guardiola told him to move like Lionel Messi.
“Messi and Ronaldinho were the two players who were my idols when I was young,” said Sane.
“They played free, with a lot of happiness, tried to score in every game and tried to be the best player.
“So, for me, it has been good to have Pep. He would say to me, ‘Try this, like Messi does’ or maybe Neymar. He helped me a lot.
“Because I was young, when I played against the bigger clubs at the beginning, I was thinking that they are better than me and maybe I was a little bit scared.
“But then Pep told me, ‘Play how you played at Schalke because you were free there’.
“He said play like Messi and Neymar because the other players were all just human beings and I would play at my best if I was free.”
Sane is such a marketing man’s dream that he has replaced Gareth Bale as the face of an ad campaign for one of the world’s most popular smartphones.
But, prior to his first trip to Wembley for today’s FA Cup semi-final, he insisted that style will never come before substance.
Sane, who scored in both of City’s Premier League meetings with the Gunners this season, said: “Of course, I have a lot of interest in my image and I want to have young people looking up to me – by trying to be a good professional.
“It is not my first thought to make lots of adverts, as I am young and focused on football.
“And I’m very excited about going to Wembley for the first time.”