Dylan Levitt is confident that taking the road less travelled can help him achieve his European Championship dreams after the Wales international surprisingly swapped Manchester United for a relegation fight in Croatia.
A season that started on loan with League One side Charlton shall end lining up for NK Istra 1961 – a team the talented 20-year-old could be forgiven for not having heard of just a matter of weeks ago.
But Levitt’s latest move speaks volumes about the United academy graduate’s desire to kick on, having felt he needed more than under-23s football after his frustrating stint in south-east London came to a premature end last month.
Remarkably, the five-cap midfielder made as many appearances for Wales as he did for Charlton during the first half of the campaign and hopes joining the side bottom of Croatia’s top division can help him make the Euros.
“It came around as I needed to play first-team football, really,” Levitt told the PA news agency from his apartment in picturesque Pula.
“Obviously the transfer window in some places was still open and I thought here would be a good place for me to come and get some first-team action.
“I think I’m ready to play men’s football so it was important that I got out and secured first-team football for the second half of the season.
“That’ll put me hopefully in good stead for the Euros coming up in the summer because at the start of the season I set my goal and I wanted to get to the Euros.
“It would mean so much for all of us – my family, obviously myself, my friends, people back home – for me to go.”
Levitt has joined players from the likes of Ajax, Sporting Lisbon and Alaves in signing for little-known Istra, who he is in line to make his debut for in Wednesday’s cup trip to HNK Sibenik.
The loan offers Levitt the chance to get meaningful minutes and attempt to earn selection for Wales this summer, just five years on from watching Chris Coleman’s side make their unforgettable run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals.
“I watched every game from group stage to when they went out, even in school,” said Levitt, who was 15 at the time.
“I made sure I watched every single game. Like the one against England we watched in school because, well, it was England!
“I remember watching the Belgium game at my friend’s house. I think that one sticks in my mind the most. Robson-Kanu!
“There’s still a few players in the squad now that have played in the Euros and sometimes they still speak about it because something will happen on camp. They’ll be like ‘oh, remember when duh, duh, duh at the Euros’.
“They still speak about it and obviously everyone in Wales will never forget the Euros.”
Levitt lit up when he spoke about Euro 2016, just as it did when looking back on his United debut against Astana in frozen, faraway Kazakhstan last season.
“I still have flashbacks to that day,” he said of the Europa League trip to Nur-Sultan. “The one thing that stood out to me was when you’re lining up on the pitch.
“I look to my left, look to my right and I’ve seen Ethan Laird, Mason (Greenwood), Angel (Gomes), Di’Shon (Bernard), Jimmy [James Garner] – all the people that have come through the academy that have come through with me.
“That’s what I think made it special because we all played in the same game in Europe and that was all our dreams since the age of seven, eight.
“Obviously I’ve been told before that people are United mad but to actually witness it was breath-taking. Breath-taking.”
That match in November 2019 remains Levitt’s only first-team United appearance to date and only fuelled his drive to make an impact at the club he loves.
“From the age of seven I’ve been at Manchester United, so it’s always the dream to play first-team for the club you’ve supported, come through the academy with,” he said. “My whole life it’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.
“I haven’t thought about any other team bar United since I was the age of seven.
“I had a taste of it when I had my debut – but I want more. As soon as I got that taste of it against Astana I wanted more, more, more.
“I wanted to really get pushed into that squad. Even now, I will do everything I can to reach that level to be a first-team Manchester United player.”
But, for now, the focus is on keeping Istra in Croatia’s top division and playing his way into Wales’ European Championship squad.
“My goal was set at the start of the season to get to that Euros,” Levitt added.
“Me and my agent spoke about it, and with (loan manager) Les Parry at Manchester United.
“It was my decision, really, to come out and play abroad because I can play a different style of football out here. It’ll teach me a lot for my career in the future.”