Everton Under-23s welcome PSV Eindhoven to Southport's Pure Stadium on Wednesday night (7pm) as they begin their Premier League International Cup campaign for 2019/20.
Ahead of the fixture, Beni Baningime talks to evertonfc.com about the lessons he learned from an injury-hit loan spell at Wigan last term and how the faith of boss David Unsworth has helped him rediscover his best form...
Such is David Unsworth’s belief in Beni Baningime’s ability, he sets the combative midfielder a clear objective every time he steps on the pitch.
“The manager challenges me to be the best player,” says Baningime.
“He knows how good I can be.”
The Everton Academy graduate has consistently delivered for his boss this season as the young Blues have kicked off their Premier League 2 title defence by losing just one of their opening eight games.
Baningime’s boundless energy, bite in the tackle and sharp, penetrative passes have helped set the tone for Everton’s high-octane performances and the 21-year-old believes he is nearing his best again after what he describes as a “tough period” during the 2018/19 season.
DR Congo-born Baningime spent the campaign on loan at Wigan Athletic but a persistent ankle injury restricted him to a solitary appearance for Paul Cook’s team.
“It was difficult mentally,” the youngster, whose form earned him a spot on the first-team bench for the 2-0 win over West Ham United this month, explains. “Every time I started running, my ankle would get sore again. But I did some work during the off-season and that helped a lot.
“It’s great to be playing regularly. I’m feeling good and I feel like myself again.”
That frustrating season at the DW Stadium was preceded by Baningime’s breakthrough campaign for Everton.
Having been given a first-team debut by then-caretaker manager Unsworth in a Carabao Cup tie at Chelsea, Baningime went on to make 11 further senior appearances in 2017/18.
He was even thrust into a cauldron of a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. After being introduced as a second-half substitute, he promptly delivered a dynamic, industrious midfield performance as the Toffees battled out a 0-0 draw with city rivals Liverpool.
An unfailingly polite, engaging individual, Baningime believes his strong family values and level-headed nature have helped him enjoy perspective during the peaks and troughs of his embryonic career.
“Staying humble is one of the most important things my parents taught me,” he explains.
“Even when I was playing for the first team, if you ask a lot of people, they would say I’m still the same person now.
“The foundation I’ve had since I was a kid, with my family and my friends, that’s what helped me.
“And I believe in God. I believe he is working everything out for me.
“I’m gradually getting myself back [to my best levels] and I’m happy about that. There are little things I’m doing… I feel like I am getting to where I was 18 months ago.
“My confidence is rising all the time.”
Baningime says his strong relationship with Under-23s manager Unsworth has been a further important factor in his resurgence.
The midfielder, who joined Everton’s Academy aged eight, admits he harboured ambitions of heading out on loan again before this season got under way. He is now convinced he is in the perfect place to hit peak form again.
“Staying at Everton was probably the best thing for me,” Baningime explains. “Playing under a manager I know and I trust is helping to get me back to where I belong.
“Unsy is always challenging me. You can never be complacent. I know if I come in and I’ve even just been a little bit sloppy, he is going to be on me.
“He knows how good I am. If I do make a mistake, he knows, ‘This isn’t Beni – he can do better’.
“It’s important to have someone who has that faith.
“I’m just so happy to be playing every week, because I love my football.
“I’ll keep trying to be the best player on the field.”
Everton Under-23s take on PSV at Southport's Pure Stadium on Wednesday, with kick off at 7pm. Season Ticket, Lounge and Official Members can attend the fixture for FREE by showing their season or membership card on the gate. Entry is otherwise £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.
Updates from the game will be available via a live blog on evertonfc.com, with reaction from boss Unsworth and highlights later in the evening.