A version of the below interview first appeared in the Everton v Chelsea matchday programme. Click here to buy or download singles issues, or click here to subscribe.
"I was given an incredible opportunity to come to this Club and my career has taken off like a rocket.”
Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s rise in the past nine months certainly has been meteoric.
August 2016 presented just one outing for hometown club Sheffield United - a disappointing 2-1 home defeat in the EFL Cup at the hands of lowly Crewe Alexandra. But the 20-year-old began an incredible journey 22 days later when he headed over the Pennines to Goodison on deadline day to join the Blues.
A series of impressive performances with the Under-23s was rewarded by Ronald Koeman with a place on the bench for the 2-0 victory over West Ham United in late October, and then came a Premier League bow, an 11-minute cameo in the memorable 2-1 victory against Arsenal under the floodlights at Goodison, two months later.
Another first was ticked off on New Year’s Day when Calvert-Lewin was named in the starting line-up for the first time as Southampton headed to Merseyside, but what should have been a day to remember was cut painfully short when the athletic forward suffered ankle ligament damage with less than 12 minutes on the clock.
Despite the potentially season-threatening setback in terms of first-team action, the determined youngster completed more than two months of gruelling rehabilitation before immediately forcing his way back into the squad upon his return to fitness last month.
And Koeman’s faith in the summer recruit was justified when Calvert-Lewin netted his maiden Everton goal just eight minutes into his second league start against Hull City.
It’s support that the forward reveals has been a key factor behind his progress.
“It was a massive boost for me to come straight back in,” he reveals. “I have worked under a few different first-team managers now but nobody has given me complete backing like Ronald Koeman has.
“When I injured my ankle it was a rollercoaster of emotions. I had the excitement of my first Premier League start but then it was over before it had begun. I was saying to myself on the sideline, ‘Surely this cannot be happening?’
“I rolled my ankle and I knew straight away it wasn’t right but I had to try to play on. I ended up sat in the physio’s room watching the game I should have been playing in. I couldn’t quite believe it.
“What kept me going was how far I’d come in such a short space of time. I knew that if I got back within the eight-week time frame then I’d have a fair bit of the season to go and that would give myself a chance of getting back into the team.
“Even when I got fit, I was expecting to have to go and prove myself in the Under-23s again but to go straight back into the team - I came on against West Brom which was the first game I was available for, and then started the week after against Hull City - was a great feeling. It gave me supreme confidence.
“The manager has been fantastic from day one. He gives you advice here and there, I think that is the case for all of the young players here - if you need it he will tell you, but if you don’t then he will let you get on with things and it’s down to you to solve the puzzle as you go on.”
While the England Under-20 international is now flourishing with the senior side, Under-23s manager David Unsworth played an important role in bringing Calvert-Lewin to L4 and helping him settle into life at Everton.
The pair had worked alongside each other during their respective spells with the Blades, and Calvert-Lewin recalls how their very first meeting laid down the foundations of what has been a special relationship.
“I’ll never forget when he was Sheffield United’s Under-18 manager and he came down to do a session with us in the Under-16s to have a look at who was coming through and who would be getting scholarships,” he says, breaking into laughter before the story has even begun. “We were playing a small-sided game and the ball just pops up for me. I ended up smashing it into the top corner first time with an overhead kick. Everyone has gone mad, I had people piling on top of me and then there was Unsy on top shouting and cheering! I knew from then he was my type of manager! We have got on well ever since.
“I was injured quite a bit during the period he was with Sheffield United so I didn’t deal with him as much as I would have liked but he was a driving force in bringing me to Everton and I’ll always be thankful for that.”
In his own words, Calvert-Lewin could not be in a better environment as he bids to unlock his full potential.
As well as continuing his education under the tutelage of Koeman and Unsworth at various stages throughout the campaign, he has also relished the opportunity to work with two of the Club’s most revered strikers in the Premier League era.
“Big Dunc has been fantastic since I started working with him,” he reveals. “Obviously, he was a striker, good in the air and with a similar build to me so he’s a great person to have around. He’s done a lot of work with me on finishing and my all-round game and that’s helped me.
“To be honest, I wasn’t aware just how much of an Everton hero he was - but, obviously, I am definitely well aware now! He has a presence around the place, he’s well loved by everyone here and, of course, he held the record for scoring the most Premier League goals for the Club before Romelu broke it this season.
“In those two people - Dunc and Rom - I have got two perfect mentors. If you had asked me what type of player I wanted to become even before I joined Everton, I would have said the style of Romelu Lukaku. To be working with him now and learning from him is a pleasure. You see how many goals he scores and how powerful he is. He is at a level I want to get to, so he’s another brilliant person to have around.”
Tall, strong, dangerous in the air and a keen eye for goal are all raw tools Calvert-Lewin possesses, and he admits he holds an ambition of one day leading the line for the Toffees. For the time being, however, the Yorkshireman is more than happy to continue refining his recipe on the wing.
“I’ve been playing out wide in the first team and that means I’m learning on the job a little bit because I’m more used to playing central roles, but it’s good experience and a good education,” he explains. “I’m more than happy to play anywhere if it means playing in the Premier League, playing for Everton. I like to think I know the game quite well so I’m able to play in different positions but I like to play up front. I feel like that is where I am strongest. Hopefully I’m playing out wide with a view to learning my craft and eventually going up top.
“I do like to lead the line as a number nine, like I have done for the Under-23s.”
And he has done so with impressive prowess, with four goals in nine Premier League 2 appearances on the way to the young Blues’ title glory, as well as one strike in three Premier League Cup outings.
“The Under-23s’ league success is still something I feel part of and something I’ll look back on with fond memories,” he insists. “I thoroughly enjoyed playing with them when I first arrived. I’m hoping I’ll be in line for a medal to remember it by.
“I’ve had two different seasons, in many ways. It’s been a brilliant time for me - to come in and help the Under-23s get up towards the top of the league, and then get a chance with the senior squad. I have all of my ‘firsts’ and now I have to use it as a benchmark. I want to build on what I have done so far this season, of course we’ve still got a few games of this one left and then we’ll be into pre-season but I’ll always be looking to make an impact.”