When Romelu Lukaku made the switch from Merseyside to Manchester in the summer of 2017, Everton were left with a big hole in their squad up top. The Belgian was one of Everton’s key players, and his departure left a considerable goalscoring void at the club. Massive recruitment followed. Everton spent large amounts of sums on strengthening their attack after Romelu Lukaku, and Ross Barkley left the club. Sandro, Richarlison, Cenk Tosun and most recently, Moise Kean were all brought in to fill the void left by Ross Barkley, and except Richarlison, most of the other players have failed to deliver.
Everton were looking around the world for answers to their questions. Instead, they might have found a revelation in a guy who didn’t cost 50 million or didn’t come in from Barcelona. He came in from Sheffield United at a mere sum of 1.5 million pounds, and while almost all the star signings were failing to hit the mark, Dominic Calvert-Lewin was silently improving, hiding in plain sight.
With 15 goals to his name already this season along with many vital performances, Calvert-Lewin has been central, both literally and figuratively, for Everton’s resurgence. Before the season came to an abrupt halt due the global pandemic, the 23-year old was well on his way to scoring 25+ goals and quite possibly getting his first call up to the national team in the international break which would have been happening right now. Still, it feels like a matter of when and not if that Calvert-Lewin gets his first England cap.
His journey so far
Born in Sheffield, Dominic Calvert-Lewin signed for his boyhood club, Sheffield United when he was just eight years old. He made his professional debut for Stalybridge Celtic, on loan from Sheffield United, in the National League north conference, just five years ago. Stalybridge were struggling and needed reinforcements when the manager, Keith Briggs, turned to a familiar face from his time working with the Sheffield United academy – Calvert-Lewin. The Englishman scored six goals in 5 appearances in a month-long loan which triggered Sheffield United to tie him down to a contract which ran till 2018.
“He was only 17, but he had all the attributes. Physically, he was already 6ft 2in; he was quick and athletic but probably needed that challenge of going into a different environment where more demands were going to be put on him.”- Keith Briggs.
Calvert-Lewin’s loan spell to Stalybridge was to toughen him up, to make him better prepared for the physicality he would endure from the defenders later on in his career. Instead, the 23-year old was head and shoulders above everyone in that league. The defenders couldn’t cope with his athleticism and his cunning movement.
Following a successful loan spell in non-league, Calvert-Lewin would make 2 first-team appearances for Sheffield United that season before another loan spell in the following season – this time at League Two outfit Northampton Town, under current Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder. Between the loan spell at Northampton and a further nine appearances for Sheffield United, Calvert-Lewin couldn’t force his way into becoming a mainstay at Bramall Lane. However, it was around the same time he got his big break.
David Unsworth, the Everton Under-23s manager, had been a big fan of the English striker having worked with him towards the end of his own playing days at Sheffield United. In August 2016, Unsworth spent 1.5 million pounds of his separate budget on bringing Calvert-Lewin to the blue half of Merseyside. Not any sooner than December in 2016, Ronald Koeman handed Calvert-Lewin him his first-team debut – a substitute appearance in a 2-1 win over Arsenal.
It took until March for the Englishman to score his first senior goal for Everton and following that he was handed a new contract with better terms towards the end of the 15-16 season. He went on to score 21 times over the course of the following three seasons before having his best campaign in his career so far in 2019/20 . His goal output for Everton until this season wasn’t high and he came under a lot of scrutiny for his below-par track record. “The striker who never scores” was the nickname people gave him but the 23-year-old wasn’t fazed by it. He kept working hard and all his hard work is now paying dividends for Everton and maybe, even for England in the future.
“I knew as soon as I came here that I wanted him. Dominic was outstanding technically, in the air and as an athlete. Those three traits made him attractive to anybody. He came from a brilliant background. He was humble, desperate to be a footballer and coachable. I’d give him information, and he’d apply it on the pitch. You put all that in the mix at 16; this was a kid that I thought was going to go the very top with a bit of luck.” – David Unsworth
Timing is everything for strikers. When to run, when to jump, when to shoot, when to be at the right place. Get two of those things right, and you could be regarded as a good striker. Calvert-Lewin gets all of this right and then some more.
Everton have been in a turbulent period over the past few years with the managerial changes and no real stability. Many would have sulked, and many did, but Calvert-Lewin stayed. His time in the first team hasn’t been a walk in the park either. Early on, he played just so that the others around him could thrive, that meant playing as a wingback but Calvert-Lewin coped just fine while contributing an occasional goal or two.
At 6ft 2in, Calvert-Lewin has incredible heading ability, he is fast, he is intelligent, and he makes sure others around him thrive which makes him a great focal point as identified by Duncan Ferguson during his spell as caretaker manager. He ditched Marco Silva’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation for a 4-4-2 formation with Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin forming a strike partnership. Since then, Calvert-Lewin hasn’t stopped scoring. Carlo Ancelotti came in and persisted with the same system that Ferguson had deployed, which has yielded much-deserved success.
His overall ability has improved, but one thing that has improved the most about him is his jumping ability. The Englishman’s aerial ability along with his hold up play has improved a lot judging by the system that Carlo Ancelotti has been using, and it is no surprise that he is shining the brightest at Goodison Park right now. Smarterscout gave Calvert-Lewin an 82 out of 99 in terms of aerial duels which is an excellent score. To put that into context, if Calvert-Lewin were to play in a lower league, the metric designed by Smarterscout would give him a score of 95/99 where the ability of players is a lot less than that of Premier League which makes 82/99 in Premier League for excellent reading.
Along with his technical ability, the one thing that Calvert-Lewin did make a name for himself during his early days was his ability to press teams. He is a relentless striker who works hard for the whole team. It is also no surprise that he and Richarlison have engaged in the most duels while pressing this season. Sometimes DCL’s ability to score goals get overshadowed because of his reputation as a relentless worker, which should not be the case. Calvert-Lewin has scored 15 goals already this season, eight since Carlo Ancelotti took over at Goodison Park. He also has the 3rd best xG per 90 in the league (0.7) behind the Manchester City duo, Sergio Aguero (0.89) and Gabriel Jesus(0.85) but the Englishman has played more minutes than both of them combined.
“Dunc has helped me a lot, and I’ve taken things into my own hands as well. Just learning the game and really being a student of the game. I’m exactly where I want to be but I’m still learning and improving. I never forget I can become a better player each week. I watch top strikers. You can never do enough research and due diligence to improve your own game. I’m doing that daily on and off the training pitch.” -Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Carlo Ancelotti recently remarked that Calvert-Lewin could become one of the best strikers in Europe but also said that he has a long way to go before that and the Englishman agrees. Many fans would be shocked to see how much he has improved, but the people close to him always knew that he would go to the very top.
Calvert-Lewin has played under six different managers at Everton since he arrived in 2016 and every single manager’s willingness to include him in their plans proves that he is more than just a “Championship striker”.
His outstanding technical ability, hardworking attitude on the pitch and his desire to constantly improve have made him the player that he is today. The 1.5 million spent on him by Everton might be the best deal they’ve made for a long time.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s journey so far has been long, and it hasn’t always been easy, but if there is anything we can learn from it is that: He’s just getting started.
“The striker who never scores” has now started scoring.
Written by Hrishikesh Dabir
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