Sebastian Larsson is one of the few Birmingham City players to emerge with any credit this season, Blues legend Trevor Francis believes.
The former City striker and manager picked out the Swedish midfielder as the only member of the squad to have enhanced their reputation during what has been a disappointing season in the Barclays Premier League.
Larsson has certainly come to the fore since Alex McLeish replaced Steve Bruce as City manager. The 22-year-old has scored six goals under the Scotsman and has broken into the Sweden national side as a result. He also topped a poll of the most exciting young Swedish players in a major national newspaper in his homeland.
Francis used the 5-1 defeat against city rivals Aston Villa as evidence of Larsson's growing importance to the Blues. The midfielder was injured that day and replaced by Cameron Jerome,and his absence was keenly felt on the day.
"When you are struggling at the bottom of the table, it is difficult to pinpoint players who have been outstanding but the one player who has enhanced his CV it is Larsson," said Francis, who scored 119 goals in 280 appearances for the club between 1971 and 1979.
"He has scored some valuable free-kicks and he is excellent outside the box. He is a good deliverer of the ball and has the ability to get the ball over the wall. His general work down the right-hand side is invaluable. If ever you wanted evidence of how one player can be missed, it was at Villa Park when Larsson wasn't playing. He has become an important player for Blues and I think he has had a very good season."
Larsson has built a strong reputation at Blues since signing from Arsenal for £1 million in January 2007 following a successful loan spell and he scored the goal of the season against Sheffield Wednesday as Blues clinched an immediate return to the Premier League.
However, his stock is rising in the game and if Blues are unsuccessful in avoiding relegation against Blackburn Rovers, the vultures will be circling over the Swede, who has hinted he may consider a move elsewhere to stay in the Premier League.
"Personally, the Premier League is where I want to be," he has said. "I want nothing more than to be in the Premier League with Birmingham.
"I'm very grateful to Birmingham for my chance and it's very important that we stay up. I don't think any one of our players wants to go back and play in the Championship.
"I haven't even thought about that or what would happen if we went down. I'm extremely happy here, I'm contracted to Birmingham, I'm a Birmingham player and there's nothing more I can say about that."
Another Blues star who has caught Francis' eye is Argentinian Mauro Zarate. The 21-year-old has produced some thrilling, almost Francis-esque, cameos since his arrival on loan from Al-Sadd and Francis believes he has the potential to be a top Premier League player.
"Technically he is very good, there is plenty of potential there," Francis said. "It isn't easy when you come into the English game, but I think you can play anywhere if you have the ability he has got.
"Some of the things he has done have been outstanding and refreshing, considering the talent he has got but it hasn't been easy for him. You need certain requirements and in an ideal world, we would have seen more of him if the team was in mid-table in the Premier League, where there isn't as much pressure.
"There are no guarantees with foreign players. Look at Michael Ballack, he is just playing as we know he can at Chelsea. Ninety-five per cent of Chelsea fans would have been happy to see him leave the club 12 months ago. Likewise, Didier Drogba. Twelve to 18 months ago, Chelsea fans didn't know what all the fuss was about. Now he is the top man at Chelsea. Players need a period of time to settle in before you see the best of them."