Digne: 'The Manager Is Not Messing About... I Am Happy To Be Here'

In an interview originally published in Everton's matchday programme for last month's meeting with Aston Villa, Lucas Digne revealed why he wants to commit his peak years to Goodison Park, the memories which flooded back when Anthony Gordon made his full Everton debut and an enduring determination to master the art of defending.

Lucas Digne procrastinates and deflects, emits a squeal to convey his predicament.

The overwhelming winner of Everton’s player-of-the-season award in his debut Goodison Park campaign, Digne has been asked for a score out of 10 to reflect his second term with the Club.

“I think the fans should give me the rating – I really don’t know,” pleads Digne, before relenting nonetheless.

“No,” he starts, buying time. “Maybe, seven? Seven and a half?”

It is a harsh grade but there is no suggestion of false modesty with Digne.

He raves about the individual video tutorials with members of Carlo Ancelotti’s coaching staff which shine a light on past errors to facilitate improvement.

Digne typically attracts his plaudits for what he does after crossing the halfway line but earns his keep as a defender and is toiling to refine that element of his game.

He marvels at the artists of his sport and the Frenchman whispers his enduring admiration for compatriot Zinedine Zidane, the graceful genius who scored twice in France’s World Cup final victory over Brazil eight days before Digne’s fifth birthday.

But even if he didn’t recognise it 22 years ago, an idea of how he wanted to play football was forming in Digne’s impressionable mind.

He resolved to continue monitoring two of the beaten team in that 1998 final, the piston-like pair of Roberto Carlos and Cafu.

“The first full-backs to attack and defend and do both sides very well,” says Digne.

Tellingly, the two daredevil Brazilians tightened up with time in Italy.

Digne views the experience of playing in Serie A as a rite of passage for defenders.

Talking previously in these pages about his season on loan with Roma in 2015/16 – he went to the Italian capital aged 22 – Digne sounded like a man recalling a year at finishing school.

“You work a lot on tactics and less on possession,” he declared.

“It is very defensive.

“You study a lot of videos. It’s good to play in Italy if you are a defender because you learn so much.”

It is the attention to detail brought by charismatic Italian Ancelotti and his staff which excites Digne.

The adjustments he’s being encouraged to make aren’t exceptional in isolation but successfully craft them together and the result is a defender with precious few flaws.

“We are working on more tactical things defensively,” explains Digne.

“For me, it is to have a good line with the back four, to go back straight [when retreating towards his own goal], to jump at the right times, to know where you have to be in every situation. Small details to complete your game.

“I never forget I am a defender first. I have to defend well.

“When you are looking at videos every week and seeing your mistakes, why a pass has been missed, you have to learn.

“It is better to see the wrong thing you did than the good thing. You learn a lot from the mistakes you make.”

Ask anybody from Digne’s first club Lille about the high points of their 2011/12 season and you can see the stories coming a mile off.

There was a deficit overturned to beat Paris Saint-Germain, 17 straight matches without defeat in the league and a Champions League campaign.

A League Cup game against CS Sedan? No hurry to talk about that one, you imagine.

Unless you tap up Digne for his recollections of the season.

Digne was visited by a rush of memories from 26 October 2011 when he saw Anthony Gordon pulling on his boots for a full Everton debut against Liverpool in June.

Separate mentions of Lille’s victory stroll over Sedan and teenager Gordon draw identical, instinctive smiles from Digne.

“I am 26,” says Digne, in mock–plaintive voice.

“My first game was a long time ago.

“But, for sure, you never forget it, it is the start of something. You devoted your life to this.

“The coach came to my room and said, ‘You are ready. Tonight, you start’.

“I said, [exhales followed by nervous laugh] ‘Oh… okay, it is tonight’.

“You have to be ready to do your job for the team.

“All the players came to speak with me, to give me advice.

“It is a good thing to relax yourself and say, ‘Okay, it is just a game’.

“You have to enjoy it.”

When Gordon was selected for the Merseyside derby, Digne remembered what it was to be the novice in the room, the mental gymnastics required to channel butterflies and excitement into a performance justifying your promotion.

Digne’s influence followed Gordon from dressing room to pitch with the pair teaming up on Everton’s left side – a partnership retained in all three Goodison games since football came out of mothballs.

“It was his first start, in a derby, it was different without fans but still a massive occasion,” says Digne.

“I was thinking, ‘If I can help him, give him some advice, help him with his positions defensively and offensively, I will do it, for sure’.

“He is a very good player, a young talent, he has a lot learn, but we can see in his attitude he wants to learn.

“With Carlo Ancelotti, he has a big coach and I think he has everything to develop himself.

“He is in a great way and has to continue like this, then the future will be brilliant for him.

“Players from the Academy reaching the first team, and people like Mason [Holgate] and Dominic [Calvert-Lewin] who join early and progress, are examples for the young players in the Club.

“They show that if you are good and you listen and you work, you can have a place in the team.”

Digne’s fretting over his advancing years isn’t helped by a 27th birthday on the horizon next Monday.

He is set to be playing for Everton at Sheffield United, which suits him down to the ground.

“I won’t celebrate,” he blasts.

“Maybe with my wife and son and that is it.”

On a more serious note, Digne is slap-bang in the middle of his peak footballing years.

He signed a contract committing him to Everton until at least summer 2023 when joining from Barcelona two years ago.

Bracketed among Europe’s pre-eminent left-backs by those inside the game, Digne will never want for offers of gainful employment.

He broke into a Lille team that was defending champions and Paris Saint-Germain, Roma and Barcelona add up to a big-league trio of former clubs.

When he lines up for Everton on the opening day of 2020/21, however, Digne will be playing his third successive season in the same colours for the first time.

“I am happy to be part of the new project with Everton,” says Digne.

“We are building something with the coach and the new season will be important.

“We are a strong team but a very young team.

“I know it is not easy in football but we need a bit of time.

“You can’t buy time and you can’t buy experience for players.

“We have to be patient.

“But it is important we can show we are improving game after game.

“We can be in Europe soon, I am sure, and in a few years we will be towards the top of the league.

“Carlo Ancelotti is a big coach who knows what he wants.

“He is not messing about, is he? He has won three Champions Leagues.

“He is really quiet and calm and reads games very well.

“He is the boss.”

Digne became a father for the first time 15 months ago.

Talking on this interview via a Zoom link, he positions the camera to show his son stirring from an afternoon snooze.

“He is crying now because he wants to see me,” says Digne.

“Fifteen months… he is growing too fast.

“He is playing football already.”

Digne is dismayed at an embryonic tendency towards kicking with the right foot. “For the moment,” he adds, moving to reassure himself.

“Number 10,” replies Digne in an instant when asked which position the next in line to the family throne should occupy.

“But, honestly, he will choose if he wants to play football or another sport.

“I want for him to be happy and that is it.”

Digne’s instinctive response nevertheless played to the creative strand wired into his sharp, lissom frame.

The snaking pass he hit against Southampton last time out at Goodison, splitting two defenders at a distance of 60 yards and locating Richarlison’s right boot, rivalled anything in the Premier League this season.

“I think it was one of my best but it was more when I saw it after the game [I appreciated how good it was],” says Digne.

“I realised, ‘Okay, that was a good pass’.

“But Richi finished very well.

“He thanked me, yeah.”

Digne’s seven assists this season is the third highest number tallied by any Premier League defender.

He has rained in 253 crosses to add to the 280 which made him the division’s most prolific supply line last term.

“I have improved my attacking since coming to Everton, for sure,” says Digne.

“My crossing is better and tactically I understand more.

“If I can give key passes, assists, crosses, score sometimes, I want to do it to help the team.

“It is part of my job.

“I love the intensity of the Premier League, it suits how I like to play, fast and with a lot of tackles and competition.

“I have developed physically and tactically in England.

“I never played with this intensity in other countries and you have to learn in every game.”

Zidane keeps good company among Digne’s football idols.

Thierry Henry, who “scored beautiful goals”, and gluttonous striker Didier Drogba are similarly revered.

Digne’s respect for the understated former Bayern Munich and Germany player Philipp Lahm is more nuanced.

Lahm was a world class full-back who spent the final years of his career excelling in midfield after being converted at Munich by Pep Guardiola.

It begs the question of whether Digne envisages himself moving upfield as his career advances.

“No,” comes the emphatic rebuttal.

“I am happy to be a defender and that is it,” continues Digne.

“Nobody spoke too much about Lahm but he was an amazing player, equally good at both ends of the pitch.

“He played a lot of years for one of the best clubs in the world, he captained his national team and won the World Cup.

“He won everything.”

By a quirk of fate, 48 hours after this interview Digne started in an unfamiliar position on the left of a back three in Everton’s game at Wolverhampton Wanderers.

He was pig sick after conceding a penalty for Wolves’ opening goal but that moment shouldn’t shroud a sound individual defensive performance in a black cloud.

Digne made the most clearances (6), interceptions (4) and tackles (2) of any Everton player.

Back in his full-back spot after the interval, he had time to send over a match-high six crosses.

Digne’s broader statistics tell the skeleton tale of a footballer who does his job with the same gusto as when he started playing aged four, with dad Philippe and in bruising one-on-ones with older brother Mathieu.

“They gave me the passion for the game and are still big influences on me,” says Digne, who is longing to see the pair and mum Karine this summer.

“My family is staying in France for now,” he explains. “We don’t want them to take any risks.”

It was pertinent that Digne’s description of Lahm contained mention of the German perhaps not receiving the acclaim he was due.

A player with 30 caps for France – and there can’t be many international positions as keenly fought as left-back in Didier Deschamps’ World Cup winning team – a resume boasting time at Barcelona and PSG and myriad numbers to support the theory he is one of the Premier League’s finest full-backs, Digne remains relatively unheralded among the wider footballing public.

His industry, skill and tenacity have been appreciated from day one at Everton nonetheless and the vote to crown him the Club’s best player last season was a landslide.

“I am okay with less publicity,” says Digne.

“I don’t play for that.

“I don’t do the same things as Zidane and Henry.

“But it is nice if I can be a hero for somebody.

“I can understand sometimes the young kids looking with the big eyes because we are playing for Everton, it is what they dream of doing.

“It is the most beautiful thing in the world when you see their eyes.

“The welcome I had from Evertonians was amazing, after a few months they were singing a song for me.

“I am thankful for this, it is a dream.”

Digne admits playing round after round of games to complete the Premier League season feels like Christmas has been transferred to the height of summer.

Which isn’t a problem for a player who views the packed festive schedule as another tick in the plus column for the sport in this country.

“I love to play football,” says Digne.

“It is my passion and I enjoy it when we play lots of games.

“It is harder than normal, of course.

“But we have to focus on recovery to be ready every time.

“I take care of my body, I eat healthily and I don’t drink.”

Digne’s agonising over his personal grade out of 10 for the season gives way to immediate clarity when asked how he can bump up his mark.

“First, win something with the Club,” he declares.

“Win more games.

“Help the team and give more assists

“I improved a lot [since coming to Everton] and I am continuing to improve with Carlo Ancelotti.

“It is one of my objectives when I start every season to improve on the previous season.

“We can always do better.”

Top marks for attitude and ambition.

Now Lucas Digne is targeting the success at Everton which will earn him perfect 10s all round.