Niels Nkounkou discusses the conversation with Carlo Ancelotti that made up his mind to join Everton, learning from ‘role model’ Lucas Digne, and his goals for 2021.
An extended version of this interview features in the Official Matchday Programme for Saturday's FA Cup tie against Rotherham United. Click here to pre-order an Everton v Rotherham programme or here to secure your matchday programme for every Blues home game in 2020/21.
First of all, Niels, you have been at Everton for around six months now. How have you settled in at the Club?
I feel good about being here in England. From the moment I arrived, I have been well looked after at Everton.
It was a bit difficult at the beginning because I didn’t speak the language. I came here with my family and none of us could really speak a lot of English.
But, right now, I’m pretty well settled in. I live just like an Englishman! I follow the same structure of the day – I get up, go off to training, and I have the same lifestyle as everyone else.
What influence did Carlo Ancelotti have on your decision to join Everton?
I spoke with him and he told me his plans for me. That gave me an even bigger confidence boost and that’s why I chose Everton. He said he had been following me for a while and that I was a good player with good potential for the future.
He said he wanted to help me keep learning and developing so I could be a regular First Team player in the future. I’m still a young player and I need to keep learning, and right now that’s what I’m doing.
I’m learning new things every day, whether that is from Carlo Ancelotti or from the players who are with me here at Everton.
You’ve played four senior matches for Everton so far – three in the Carabao Cup and one in the Premier League. Did it surprise you to be involved with the First Team so soon after joining the Club?
It happened really quickly, because the plan had been to train with the First Team and play Under-23s matches to keep up that learning process.
But things moved really quickly in the sense that, when I arrived, I was able to show exactly what I was capable of right from the start.
So, as the matches began to get under way, I managed to demonstrate to the coach and the Club that I was ready to feature and play.
I put in some good performances in the Carabao Cup, but the league game against Newcastle was a bit tougher for me. But, as we stand right now, I wasn’t expecting all that so soon, so I’m very happy to have already made those initial small steps.
How much have you enjoyed training with and learning from your fellow left-back and countryman Lucas Digne?
I get on really well with Lucas. It’s not a competitive relationship at all. He’s ahead of me but he shows and explains things to me when I need it. He helps me out all the time, whether it’s on the field or off it, away from the game.
Players like him can only serve as great role models. We all know about what Lucas Digne has achieved and he has had a very good career. I’m proud to have the chance to train alongside him.
What are your goals for the upcoming weeks and months?
Over the next few months, they’ll stay just the same, to keep learning and developing. Looking further ahead, of course I have objectives that I’m aiming to achieve in the future.
I have to be patient and show the manager in training I’m working even harder and he can count on me to deliver. Once I get the opportunity to play, it will be all about showing him I’m ready to perform whenever a position in the team opens up.
In addition, another target I’m very much looking towards is the France Under-21s squad. That is an aim of mine, to be called up for that team.