In an interview that first appeared in the Official Matchday Programme for the 2023/24 Premier League opener with Fulham, Arnaut Danjuma discusses the feeling of finally becoming an Everton player, the “beautiful” culture he has discovered at the Club, conversations with key figures that led him to Goodison Park, and the depth of work to ensure he begins the new campaign in the best possible condition…
When there’s an elephant in the room, the best policy is to address it.
And Arnaut Danjuma, who was last month officially unveiled as an Everton player, six months later than he - and the rest of the world - had initially expected, has nothing to hide.
The Blues’ long-standing interest in the 26-year-old forward had been widely reported and a move came close to fruition in January before a late change of circumstances instead led Danjuma to a stint with Tottenham for the second half of the 2022/23 campaign.
The passion and partisanship that fuels football, combined with spurious rumours on social media, may have dictated this summer’s loan move was most unlikely, but Danjuma, who turned down Champions League football with concrete offers from the likes of AC Milan and Feyenoord, is determined to ensure the opportunity is a case of second time lucky for all involved.
“To be honest, my mind has always been the same,” explains Danjuma, who will wear the number 10 shirt after joining the Club on a season-long loan from Spanish side Villarreal. “I was really determined to join Everton back in January as well. The opportunity of Tottenham came up due to some circumstances at the time when I was supposed to sign for Everton. The Club didn’t have a manager and, for me, I was really keen to know who I was going to be playing under.
“I think as a player, the relationship between player and manager is very important, especially for me. I’m a player, based on my experiences and my past, who places importance on that. I need to know the manager’s ideas.
“The reality of the situation is that when it came to signing for Everton in January, they didn’t have a manager and then I decided to join Tottenham, just because of that little bit of uncertainty and I had to make a quick decision.”
While describing himself as a “warrior” and “outspoken” on the pitch, watchers of Everton’s Official YouTube channel may have already picked up on Danjuma’s positive aura around Finch Farm via Everton Unseen #93: Media Access Day.
Meanwhile, in direct conversation, his humility and honesty are particularly striking.
An insight, perhaps, as to why January talks with Director of Football, Kevin Thelwell, were so positive - and why the relationship remained strong, before further conversations, including manager Sean Dyche, during the off-season ultimately led to his arrival at Goodison Park.
“I had good conversations with the Club at that time [in January],” reveals Danjuma. “The decision I made at the time didn’t leave any bad blood between me and the Club.
“The media can spin a narrative sometimes, but it’s always been very open and honest between us.
“I had a chat with Sean Dyche and that really hit home to me because I felt comfortable and felt good. He joined mid-season and it’s never easy for a manager to do that and fully implement their beliefs into a team, so him telling me his plans, his project, how he is as a manager and having a very clear way of wanting to play football really helped as well.
“I said it when I first signed - I think it’s even more beautiful for me to be here now and I genuinely believe that.
“Everton is a beautiful club, with a beautiful environment and a beautiful culture.
“I was really convinced by the Club back in January and the people who work here and that feeling instantly pushed me back to wanting to be here this summer.
“Everton is a massive club and a club this size won’t give second chances to players very much, so I have to embrace it and give them back what they have done for me.”
There were other influences, too, notably in the form of existing friends and new teammates Idrissa Gana Gueye and Amadou Onana, as well as a previous Spurs colleague who knows a thing or two about the Blues.
“Of course [I spoke to Richarlison],” says Danjuma, as a smile lights up his face. “I sat next to him in the changing room at Spurs as well. He’s an Everton fanatic, to say the least. He’s in love with the Club.
“He reminded me every single day. He’d say, ‘It’s a beautiful club, you know!’... Obviously, I spoke to him about the Club and he had nothing but good words to say.
“I didn’t have another conversation with him before joining this summer because I know his answers would have been the same.
“I spoke to Idrissa and Amadou before coming here as well and they’ve really helped me settle in to what is a good group since I arrived.
“Everyone I spoke to kind of just affirmed what I thought about the Club anyway.”
While most frequently operating as a left winger throughout his career to date, Danjuma is equally adept playing on the right flank or in a central role spearheading the attack.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, to a Nigerian mother and Dutch father, he moved to the Netherlands at an early age and spent time in the youth systems of TOP Oss and PSV Eindhoven before breaking through at senior level with NEC Nijmegen.
A move to Belgium with Club Brugge, where he first experienced Champions League football, followed, then high-profile transfers to Bournemouth in 2019 and Villarreal two years later.
The Netherlands international, who has six caps and two goals for Oranje, believes he is arriving at Everton as the best version of himself, despite a stop-start 2022/23, having previously delivered 17 goals in 35 appearances for Bournemouth and 16 goals in 34 outings for Villarreal in the previous two campaigns.
“Regrets about moving to Tottenham? No,” he insists. “Regret is a big word. At the time, I don’t think I made the wrong decision because I think it’s very difficult for any player to sign for any club that doesn’t have a manager.
“But then if you arrive somewhere and it doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to work out, do you have a regret? I still don’t think so because I believed it was the right decision at that time.
“Obviously, it didn’t work out the way that I wanted to, so could I have made a better choice? Yes, maybe. But you only know that with hindsight, so I don’t have regrets.
“I am better for the experience, 100 per cent. As a player, I think many people underestimate how important it is what you do off the pitch. There’s a massive impact. I think at Tottenham I learned a lot from an off-pitch perspective.
“I don’t take anything for granted. Everything that I’ve learned I put in my rucksack and make sure I move forward.”
The highlight of Danjuma’s self-shortened break over the off-season was a six-day holiday to Japan – a destination that had been on his ‘bucket list’ for a while – which included a nine-hour trek to the summit of Mount Fuji.
A devout Muslim, he was instantly taken by the nation’s “humble way of living life” and the “polite and easy-going” nature of Japanese people.
It was just a flying visit, though, with the motivation to be in peak condition for the start of the 2023/24 term never far from his mind.
“I did some pre-season work at Villarreal,” he explains. “I actually started earlier. We were supposed to report back on 5 July but I came back in June to give myself a bit of a head-start.
“I didn’t get much chance to play in the previous six months, so I made sure I went back early to give myself a head-start.
“I wanted to arrive here in top condition.”
Danjuma made his first appearance in Royal Blue in the 1-0 victory at Stoke City a fortnight ago and also took part in a behind-closed-doors draw with Italian side Monza at Goodison Park.
He was denied a first taste of Goodison as an Everton player in front of fans after picking up a minor knock in the week leading into the 1-0 win over Sporting CP, but insists that delay has left him all the more hungry to experience a full house in his new home.
“I’ve found pre-season here good, rather enjoyable,” he says. “I think we’ve had a good pre-season as a whole group.
“I arrived somewhere in the middle of pre-season, so I didn’t experience the beginning but from what I heard from the lads and the staff, the beginning was as good as well.
“We finished it on a high [against Sporting], so now it’s all about Fulham. Everyone is excited to get started again now.
“I can’t wait.”
You learn a lot about Danjuma’s personality when he describes his first experience of Goodison - a relatively hostile one as a Spurs player - only “deepened his love” for the Blues.
He was warming up on the touchline where the Howard Kendall Gwladys Street meets the Main Stand when Michael Keane rifled home a stunning late strike to earn the 10-man Blues a crucial point.
“I looked over my shoulder and there are 40,000 Evertonians going mad and screaming in my ear,” he laughs. “It is true, though, what they say… It was my first taste and you hear the good stories about it but once you’ve experienced it for yourself, you see this is just a different stadium and a different fanbase in the best way.”
Today marks a fresh beginning for both Everton and Danjuma.
A chance for the Blues to take a step forward as Dyche starts his first full season at the helm - and Danjuma, who holds a genuine belief in the quality of the squad, is relishing the prospect of playing his part in that mission.
“Coming here you do realise what position Everton is in, obviously the past two seasons have been tough for everyone but, upon speaking to the manager and getting to know the players and culture here, I think it feels like a moment of stepping away from those past two seasons, rather than being in a relegation battle again,” he says.
“Everton is a much bigger club than to be just fighting off relegation.
“My part is to be here and kind of be a new light and hopefully bring some quality, some positivity, some goals to the group.
“I’ve not been here for the past two seasons but training with these players - we’ve got quality, international players here - and speaking to the manager, I believe Everton can and will get back to where we want to be. I want to be part of that project.
“I’m 26, I’m not the oldest but I have some experience, obviously playing Champions League and various countries, including England, already. “I want to add value to the group and, obviously, make sure I hit the back of the net every now and then as well!”
Asked whether an opportunity to become a fan-favourite at Goodison provides extra motivation, he adds: “As long as I’m able to contribute to a whole [group] effort and make sure that the Club goes back to where it would like to be, which I think is very achievable, that’s what I want.
“I’m committed to being successful here.
“On the back of that, if the fans give me that status then that would be amazing, but looking after the collective goal is the important thing.”