Butland on road to Premier League
Birmingham City goalkeeper Jack Butland continues to excel during his ongoing Olympics audition
Three months ago, nobody had heard of Jack Butland. Fresh from a season-long loan spell with League Two outfit Cheltenham Town, the talented teenage goalkeeper has quickly risen from relative obscurity to international stardom, all in the space of one summer.
After Norwich City stopper John Ruddy broke a finger on the first day of England training ahead of the European Championships in June, Butland was called-up by Roy Hodgson to take his place on the plane bound for Poland and Ukraine.
The 19-year-old Bristolian - who is currently contracted to Championship side Birmingham City - never featured for the Three Lions, in a tournament that ended at the quarter-final stages, remaining as back-up behind Joe Hart and Robert Green. But, that's not to say that the youngster failed to make an impression in the international set-up. The shared view is that Butland has a very bright future.
His experience of a major finals will undoubtedly stand him in good stead moving forward, and the fringe role handed to him meant that he was omitted from the Football Association's retained list of players that could not be selected by Stuart Pearce, to represent Team GB at the London Olympics this summer.
Three games into his maiden tournament appearance, and Great Britain have qualified for the last-eight, after successfully topping Group A. Butland has been one of the sides' standout performers following his selection as No.1, with his most impressive display coming in last night's 1-0 victory against a Uruguay team that included Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
At 6ft 4in tall, Butland is already an imposing physical presence, but he also has a reputation as an athletic shot-stopper. He made several fine saves and showed a good command of his box against the South Americans, and it's no surprise that he's already received admiring glances from a host of Premier League clubs. The most optimistic of supporters have even talked of him as a future rival to Hart in the England goal.
Butland is not entirely an overnight sensation, though. He has represented his country at every age group level from U16 to U21. He turned professional with Birmingham at the age of 17, and although not yet making a first-team appearance for the Blues, his stock at St Andrews has been high for some time.
At one match last season, the Daily Telegraph reported that Butland was watched by no fewer than 52 scouts. Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City were all represented, while Eric Steele, Manchester United's goalkeeping coach, was present when he saved a penalty at Rotherham United in April. But, with so many clubs said to be considering an offer for his services, where would the youngster's long-term future be best served?
Newly-appointed Birmingham boss Lee Clark is ready to give Butland the chance to establish himself in the second-tier, though he would also be one of the cash-strapped club's most saleable assets should they need to raise more funds, despite reportedly rejecting a £6million bid from summer suitors Southampton.
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas has been credited with an interest in securing his signature, as the Portuguese tactician's attention turns to finding a suitable successor for 41-year-old stalwart Brad Friedel at White Hart Lane. However, news that Spurs are on the verge of concluding a deal for Hugo Lloris, has all but extinguished Butland's chances of a transfer.
Arsenal have Wojciech Szczesny, who is still growing into his role as first-choice across north London at the Emirates Stadium, and Chelsea have Thibaut Courtois, who continues to cut his teeth in Spain with Atletico Madrid, ready to step up when Petr Cech's time at Stamford Bridge comes to an end.
Manchester United spent big on David De Gea last summer, and also have reliable cover in the form of Denmark's Anders Lindegaard, while a move to the blue side of Manchester would not be the smartest move, due to the presence of Hart.
There could be a possible opening at Anfield, as Reds boss Brendan Rodgers plans an overhaul of his goalkeeping options, with Brad Jones being given permission to talk to Norwich City over a transfer, and Peter Gulacsi set for a Championship loan deal. That would leave Brazilian stopper Alexander Doni as the only back-up to Liverpool's first-choice Pepe Reina.
The Northern Irishman has made contact with former club Swansea about the availability of Dorus de Vries, but if Rodgers is to think longer-term, Butland would be regarded as a strong option.
Having successfully navigated his way from Whaddon Road to Wembley, the next chapter of Butland's fledgling career, promises to be an exciting one. Whatever path he chooses to take, all roads lead to the Premier League.