Alex Iwobi credits Frank Lampard with Everton success: ‘He’s given me the belief to express myself’

    Alex Iwobi
    Iwobi has played a significant role for Everton since Lampard became boss (Picture: Roger Evans/Action Plus/REX/Shutterstock)

    Until recently, Alex Iwobi never knew where he truly belonged at Everton.

    A £28million signing from Arsenal in the summer of 2019, versatility proved to be both a blessing and a curse for the Nigeria international as multiple Everton managers trialled him in wide-ranging positions, many of them ill-fitting.

    At different times of a three-year spell at Goodison Park, Iwobi had found himself tasked with operating as a winger, a No.10, in midfield and at right wing-back.

    Such was the former Arsenal trainee’s positional enigma that Carlo Ancelotti – Iwobi’s manager on Merseyside from December 2019 to June 2021 – publicly challenged the player to name a preferred role after a cryptic social media post last year.

    So where does Iwobi currently see his ideal platform?

    ‘Right now, I would say it’s like a No.8 or No.10 position,’ he reveals. ‘But I can’t say that [because] I don’t know where I’m going to play. Anywhere I’m told to play, I try my best.

    Iwobi and Lampard
    Lampard has proved the right manager for the winger (Picture: Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

    ‘Obviously when I was breaking through at Arsenal, there was a lot of midfielders at the time, so I tried different positions – one was out wide, one was up front.
    ‘But I’ve always been most comfortable in midfield.’

    Settling into the central berth under latest boss Frank Lampard has been mutually beneficial to the Toffees and Iwobi, typified by his impressive display in their opening-day Premier League defeat to Chelsea last week.

    But his renaissance began last season amid a tumultuous period, having returned from a disappointing Africa Cup of Nations to discover his fourth club manager in three years.

    Those frustrations were channelled into an impressive run of form under Lampard which saw Iwobi make numerous invaluable contributions as Everton successfully battled to preserve their top-flight status.

    Besides scoring a 98th-minute winner in the vital 1-0 victory against Newcastle in March, he also topped the charts for distance run in April’s gruelling win over Manchester United, covering 11.5 kilometres.

    Little wonder, then, that Iwobi dropped to his knees when the final whistle went in that game to provide one of the enduring images from his side’s ultimately successful run-in.

    ‘My friends were watching and saying, “We didn’t know you could run like that!” But I’ve always had it in me,’ he says.

    Everton FC v Chelsea FC - Premier League
    Iwobi put on an impressive display against Chelsea during last week’s match (Picture: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

    “I remember just that relief because it was a hard game. Man United’s always a tough game and to get that 1-0 victory was like “wow”. I was shattered after that game.

    ‘You don’t feel it until the final whistle goes and you can actually relax.’

    Relaxation has come far easier to Iwobi since Lampard instilled a fresh outlook following his appointment as Rafael Benitez’s replacement at Everton at the end of January.

    As a hugely decorated box-to-box midfielder himself for Chelsea and England, Lampard has taken a hands-on approach in the 26-year-old’s development which has removed all previous burdens.

    After the all-action display against Manchester United Lampard described Iwobi as a player ‘who people can see I rely on’.

    ‘We have moved his position and he has offered so much,’ he said.

    Iwobi acknowledges the role the manager has played in his renaissance, adding: ‘He’s just given me that belief to go and express myself, no matter what position I’m told to play.

    ‘I mean, I can come into training and don’t know where I’m going to train. It could be anywhere.

    ‘But he’s always speaking to me, and he knows that I have the capabilities to play anywhere.’

    ‘He just says, “go and express yourself” and, “play how you train”.

    ‘He’s always seen that ability from me in training so just says, “when you’re playing in a match, do the same”.’

    Confidence is in increasing supply ahead of Everton’s visit to Aston Villa in tomorrow’s early kick-off, where a host of new arrivals are expected to feature against a team reeling from a 2-0 defeat to promoted Bournemouth on the opening day.

    Lampard added to a couple of summer signings earlier this week by drafting in Wolves’ captain Conor Coady on loan as well as Lille midfielder Amadou Onana, while hoping for Idrissa Gueye’s return.

    Everton boss, Frank Lampard celebrates with Iwobi following their side's Premiere League victory over Leeds at Goodison in February
    Everton boss, Frank Lampard celebrates with Iwobi following their side’s Premiere League victory over Leeds at Goodison in February (Picture: Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

    ‘We’ve seen it in training – they’re quality players,’ says Iwobi. ‘Whether we make any more (signings), I don’t know, but the squad’s looking very good.’

    The additions of Onana and possibly Gueye to the midfield engine room will only increase competition for places but Iwobi is not afraid of the challenge, insisting it can only be good for the club.

    ‘It’s going to be a headache for the manager to try and pick the best team possible,’ he admits.

    ‘But it’s a good headache for him to have a lot of quality in the team so we should kick on – especially from how we finished last season. We want to do better.’

    Improvement over the course of the new campaign is also a personal target for Iwobi.

    Helping Everton beat the drop last term also coincided with him making more than 30 appearances in successive seasons, but consistency has remained an elusive quality.

    Iwobi, however, believes discovering his comfort zone in the blue half of Merseyside can serve as the springboard to finally remedy that perennial thorn.

    ‘It’s always something I’ve struggled with in my career,’ he admits.

    ‘Being consistent all season and kicking on from the last, that’s my main goal.

    ‘It’s been a challenging part of my career, but it’s probably my happiest.’

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