Having developed from promising starlet into Real Madrid first-teamer in the past 18 months, Raphael Varane says he can scarcely believe his rapid ascent.
Varane, who turns 20 in April, arrived in the Spanish capital from Lens in summer 2011 with a reputation that was only just beginning to extend beyond the confines of his native northern France.
However, after spending his maiden season in La Liga bedding in, the Lille-born centre-back has already matched the nine league appearances he made in the whole of the last campaign, and helped Madrid reach the Copa del Rey final with a 3-1 victory over at Barcelona on Tuesday night.
"I hasn't really sunk in what is happening to me. I prepare myself to play and when that time comes round, I try to exploit my qualities in the best way possible," Varane told L'Equipe after scoring at the Camp Nou, a goal he celebrated by running to coach Jose Mourinho. "It wasn't something I'd planned. It was done spontaneously, and out of joy."
The strike matched the one Varane scored late in the first leg in Madrid to earn a 1-1 draw and keep his side in the tie. Excellent against Barca, Varane also featured against Manchester United in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, and is likely to play again when they recommence hostilities at Old Trafford next Tuesday.
Seemingly nerveless, the central defender believes big games bring out the best in him, saying: "I like matches in which there's a lot at stake. The pressure, the rush of adrenaline, all that pushes me to produce my best performance possible. It's a real pleasure to win at the Camp Nou. These are the kinds of games in which you have to be able to push yourself beyond your limits. We were able to do that."
Given his youth, the limits of Varane's talents are yet to be fully explored. Often praised publicly by Mourinho, who has claimed his young charge will prove better than France's 1998 World Cup-winning centre-back Laurent Blanc, Varane is yet to receive full international recognition from his country.
He has twice been called up by Didier Deschamps, most recently pulling out of the friendly with Germany earlier this month due to injury, but hopes he may finally make the step up from the Under-21s to the senior side when the France coach names his squad for next month's World Cup qualifiers with Georgia and Spain.
"It's true that I'm looking forward to being picked, and I hope to be by continuing to perform well for Madrid," he said.