Alex Iwobi – A New Hope

“Alexander Iwobi. Now, that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. A long time.”

That’s been the reaction of some Premier League fans after the Nigerian midfielder’s recent resurgence under Frank Lampard.

Ok, he’s not someone who necessarily pulls up any trees with his goals and assist numbers. But nor does he have to.

Yes, putting the ball in the back of the net (and keeping it out of your own) is fundamental to football.

But consider each of a team’s 11 players on the pitch as cogs. The better the cog, the more efficient the machine.

Alex Iwobi has gone from a spare part to one of the most integral pieces of Everton’s footballing operation.

To totally diminish Iwobi’s statistical returns isn’t really fair. His new role has seen him create chances more regularly, and at the time of writing only seven players have provided more assists in the Premier League this season. Not bad, playing for a relatively goal-shy Everton team.

But it is his overall game that has turned the tide and won over many disaffected Evertonians.

In the midst of a relegation dogfight, Iwobi seemed like one of the least likely to step up and show the desire required to get the Toffees out of their sticky predicament.

The £28 million signing from Arsenal had long been written off as a flop; a luxury player that Everton could not really afford to have in the side.

His ability on the ball was never particularly in question but, used largely as a winger, many games seemed to pass him by.

There were occasional exceptions to this when we saw glimpses of the player we are seeing now, such as Everton’s gritty 1-0 victory over Chelsea in December 2020.

Carlo Ancelotti may have been impressed that day but, much like the other Everton managers preceding Lampard, he never quite seemed to know how best to use Iwobi for more than a brief period.

He could play on the right, he could play on the left, he could be on the bench.

In contrast, under Lampard he has completed 90 minutes in every single league game for Everton since his iconic injury time winner against Newcastle at Goodison in March.

Playing further back in a more central role, Iwobi has been a revelation. With the game in front of him to attack and exploit, he has felt more involved in matches than ever.

Lampard and his team can take the credit for the tactical switch, as well as any coaching and guidance provided to the midfielder. But Iwobi himself deserves to be acknowledged for the level of his performances.

Previously criticised for a perceived lack of application, he was someone who seemed all flash and little substance. And these observations were not necessarily unfair.

If you’re not up for the fight at Goodison Park, the fans will let you know. Soft players will not be tolerated.

Ross Barkley was lauded at Everton for some of his extraordinary goals and the impressive attacking play he was involved in. One of the reasons he failed was because he was not prepared to do the dirty work.

It is up to each individual player whether they give themselves the best chance of success, and key to that is dedicating the necessary graft.

Iwobi has acknowledged this himself in recent interviews. He knows fans will forgive a misplaced pass when they see a player putting in the work defensively as he has been.

Due to his underwhelming start at the club, Evertonians used to get annoyed when people would report his transfer fee as £35 million (the figure including potential add-ons).

For what he is giving this Everton side, the 2022 Alex Iwobi looks a bargain.

Well done to him for doing what it takes to change that perception, and long may it continue.

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