Everton winger Alex Iwobi is happier with his football than he has been for a long time – even if new manager Sean Dyche’s methods have left him too tired to get off the sofa.
The 26-year-old, who said talks over a new contract are looking “positive”, has been one the club’s best performers over the last 18 months.
But as he begins life under a fifth different permanent boss at Goodison Park since arriving in 2019, the Nigeria international knows he cannot rest on his laurels after he and the squad were given an early indication of the rewards Dyche’s approach to the physical side of the game can bring following the victory over Premier League leaders Arsenal last weekend.
“Of course it has been tough for the past three years – it wasn’t a great start when I signed – but I’m probably the happiest I’ve been for a while,” said Iwobi.
“I am consistently playing a lot of football and especially at Everton, it’s a very good club with a lot of history in the Premier League.
“I am happy, I just hopefully can maintain that and keep going.”
Dyche moved Iwobi out wide from the central role he occupied under Lampard but the player insists having to readjust is not a problem for him.
“Where I am fortunate is that I have had different positions to adapt to,” he added.
“I have played everywhere since I was a kid, bar centre-back, so no matter what role I have been asked to play I have learned and adapted quickly.
“Sometimes I haven’t even known where I am going to playing even in training. I’m back out wide with this manager but wherever he wants me to play I will try.
“At the end of the day, it’s for the team to get the best results. It doesn’t faze me too much.”
In an attempt to get to the bottom of Everton’s troubles, Dyche did two things immediately after succeeding Frank Lampard last month. The first was a bleep test to gauge physical fitness, the second a questionnaire to gauge the squad’s outlook and morale.
Dyche did not ask for names to be written on the papers he handed out, all he wanted was an insight into why a group of talented footballers had lost their way so badly that the spectre of relegation had emerged to haunt them once more.
‘Holding a pen and you are not signing a shirt — that felt weird!’ says Iwobi. ‘But it was good.
He wanted to know what we thought as players. You didn’t have to put your name on it and it could be as brutally honest as you wanted. If you wanted to cuss him, you could cuss him but no one did that.
Everyone kept it respectful. We were asked: what do you think of the team? What can we do to help the team go forward? How do you rate your motivation? The team’s motivation?
‘I will reveal my answers. I said the team, of course, wasn’t in a good head space but we all had the same goal. We all want to push up the table.
‘When he looked at the summary, the majority said they wanted the team to push forward. He has to understand his players and I feel he knows what he has got and we know what we have got to do. We are able to do what is required.’
In Dyche’s words, the ‘Big Brother cameras’ are on around Finch Farm, meaning everyone is on their best behaviour after the club’s seventh change of manager in seven years.
There have been no complaints from players about snoods and hats being banned or the intensity of the running that is required in training.
Reacting to the new change, Iwobi said: “I love a snood, I cannot lie, I love a snood. And I love doing this with my hands (pulling his shirt sleeves over hands). I do it as a comfort thing but he says, ‘hands out of sleeves’. You have to chthing but he says, ‘hands out of sleeves’. You have to change really quick otherwise he is on to you.”
After more than three months without a victory the relegation-threatened club felt the full effect of a new manager bounce with a win over the Gunners just five days after Dyche took over.
During that game the team as a whole ran far more than they had under previous boss Frank Lampard, whom Iwobi credits with restoring his confidence.
Asked how he celebrated the night of the long-awaited win, Iwobi said: “I was shattered. I stayed at home recovering. I couldn’t move. When I got back I was slumped on my sofa.
“Everyone has to do a lot of selfless work for the team. It’s something we have tapped into and we were able to get a result against Arsenal.
“They were our best running stats of the season and we have set a standard that we have to continue to meet.
‘The win against Arsenal showed it is a mindset thing. We are capable of doing it because now we have done it.
‘We just have to remain consistent which is the hardest bit.
It is having that mentality to go into every game like we did against Arsenal.’
As good as the day was, though, another herculean effort will be required to win at Anfield this evening, as Everton did in February 2021.
‘We want fans to understand that we’re annoyed and upset as well,’ says Iwobi. ‘The (public) position we are in, we have to keep a brave face and pretend everything is OK. But we want the club to do well, so we hurt as much as the fans do.
‘We have won at Anfield without fans, now it would be even better to do it with fans. I’m sure we wouldn’t leave the pitch for an hour if we beat them. We’d stay on that pitch and make it ours. We are motivated to get that win.’
Everton head to Anfield on Monday for the 242nd Merseyside derby as Dyche’s supposed difficult start continues but Iwobi sees it as an opportunity.
They already look like a different side under Dyche and will be right up for the battle, in front of what should be a brilliant atmosphere under the lights at Anfield.