Beni Baningime said he felt he "belonged" among the glittering array of talent performing in Everton's Carabao Cup tie with Chelsea on Wednesday night – and revealed his pride at making a Toffees debut that completed a “great week” for the Baningime family.
The 19-year-old started at the heart of Everton's midfield in west London after illness prevented Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin from featuring in the Club’s first game since David Unsworth took charge on Tuesday.
Baningime responded to his shock promotion by shedding his pre-match nerves to turn in a composed, accomplished display, which both belied his tender years and prompted Everton's FA Cup-winning-manager Joe Royle to laud “one of the best debuts I have seen”.
“I could not have imagined my debut would come that quickly,” Baningime told evertontv after the Toffees were defeated 2-1 by Antonio Conte's team.
“I have just got to thank Unsy. He has had the confidence in me since day one – and it gives you confidence when the manager really believes in you, so I would like thank him, (Unsworth’s assistant) John Ebbrell and all the staff.
“I was nervous but Unsy was telling me, ‘you are ready, you have been at Under-23 level long enough, you are ready’… and that gives you confidence.
“I was nervous before the game but when you get on the pitch all those nerves just go away and I played like I normally do.
“I definitely felt like I belonged. It was absolutely great. the fans were brilliant, and I thought in the second half we were unbelievable.”
Baningime’s elevation into Everton’s first-team represented the latest significant landmark for a player who was first spotted aged nine by current Academy Manager Joel Waldron – and whose burgeoning career has come on leaps and bounds in the past 18 months.
Ultimately signed by Head of Academy Recruitment Martin Waldron after impressing in a trial match, Baninigime made his full-debut for Unsworth’s Under-23 team on the final day of the 2015-16 campaign – coincidentally, also at Chelsea – five weeks after skippering the Under-18s to success at the prestigious Dallas Cup.
Baningime was an instrumental figure in the Toffees' Premier League 2 title-winning campaign last season and earlier this month penned a fresh contract tying him to Goodison Park until at least summer 2020.
The Congo-born player lined up against reigning champions Chelsea alongside two familiar faces: Tom Davies and Jonjoe Kenny, team-mates of Baningime's in Everton's Academy sides.
“It was definitely helpful to play alongside Tom, we are from the same age group so we have played a lot together,” said Baningime.
“I played a lot with Jonjoe last season as well, so it was great.
“I found out I was playing two hours before the pre-match meeting. Morgan Schneiderlin was ill and he was originally going to be starting… so I got the call-up.
“I was probably taking too long on the ball, sometimes, maybe getting caught on it, and I thought, ‘I should have played it first time’, but you are always learning.”
Twenty-four hours before Baningime was handed his Toffees bow, brother Divin, two years Beni’s junior at 17, made his first appearance for Wigan Athletic.
A forward, who has been on the Latics’ books since the age of nine, Divin played the final 11 minutes of Wigan’s 4-1 Checkatrade Trophy victory over Middlesbrough’s Under-21 team.
And with Beni then looking perfectly at home in combat with the likes of World Cup winner Cesc Fabregas, Brazilian superstar Willian and Danny Drinkwater, a Premier League winner with Leicester, this is a week the Baningimes will not forget in a hurry.
What’s more, Baningime – one of six Toffees' players on the pitch at Stamford Bridge to have played for the Club's Academy teams, along with Davies, Kenny, Phil Jagielka, Wayne Rooney and Leighton Baines – admitted Everton Giant Royle’s verdict on his debut outing acted as a further boost on a night when the tenacious midfielder's richly promising display had already won him many new admirers.
“To hear that from Joe Royle is unbelievable – it has given me a lot more confidence now,” said Baningime.
“This game has given me a taste for more and, hopefully, I can carry on like I did today.
“I got a lot of help from the senior players and I would like to thank every single one of them.
“On the pitch, I was not thinking ‘that’s Cesc Fabregas' – even though he is a brilliant player. I am playing against him and that is the confidence I have and the confidence Unsy gave me.
“My brother made his debut for Wigan on Tuesday night, he is only 17 so it has been a great week for our family. I have to thank my Dad for taking me training and my Mum, my brother Charly and my sister Karen – I am so proud.”