Until recently, Alex Iwobi never knew where he truly belonged at Everton.
A £28million signing from Arsenal in the summer of 2019, versatility proved to be both a blessing and a curse for the Nigeria international as multiple Everton managers trialled him in wide-ranging positions, many of them ill-fitting.
At different times of a three-year spell at Goodison Park, Iwobi had found himself tasked with operating as a winger, a No.10, in midfield and at right wing-back.
Such was the former Arsenal trainee’s positional enigma that Carlo Ancelotti – Iwobi’s manager on Merseyside from December 2019 to June 2021 – publicly challenged the player to name a preferred role after a cryptic social media post last year.
So where does Iwobi currently see his ideal platform?
‘Right now, I would say it’s like a No.8 or No.10 position,’ he reveals. ‘But I can’t say that [because] I don’t know where I’m going to play. Anywhere I’m told to play, I try my best.
‘Obviously when I was breaking through at Arsenal, there was a lot of midfielders at the time, so I tried different positions – one was out wide, one was up front.
‘But I’ve always been most comfortable in midfield.’
Settling into the central berth under latest boss Frank Lampard has been mutually beneficial to the Toffees and Iwobi, typified by his impressive display in their opening-day Premier League defeat to Chelsea last week.
But his renaissance began last season amid a tumultuous period, having returned from a disappointing Africa Cup of Nations to discover his fourth club manager in three years.
Those frustrations were channelled into an impressive run of form under Lampard which saw Iwobi make numerous invaluable contributions as Everton successfully battled to preserve their top-flight status.
Besides scoring a 98th-minute winner in the vital 1-0 victory against Newcastle in March, he also topped the charts for distance run in April’s gruelling win over Manchester United, covering 11.5 kilometres.
Little wonder, then, that Iwobi dropped to his knees when the final whistle went in that game to provide one of the enduring images from his side’s ultimately successful run-in.
‘My friends were watching and saying, “We didn’t know you could run like that!” But I’ve always had it in me,’ he says.
Everton FC v Chelsea FC – Premier League
Iwobi put on an impressive display against Chelsea during last week’s match (Picture: Michael Regan/Getty Images)
“I remember just that relief because it was a hard game. Man United’s always a tough game and to get that 1-0 victory was like “wow”. I was shattered after that game.
‘You don’t feel it until the final whistle goes and you can actually relax.’
Relaxation has come far easier to Iwobi since Lampard instilled a fresh outlook following his appointment as Rafael Benitez’s replacement at Everton at the end of January.
As a hugely decorated box-to-box midfielder himself for Chelsea and England, Lampard has taken a hands-on approach in the 26-year-old’s development which has removed all previous burdens.
Iwobi and Lampard
After the all-action display against Manchester United Lampard described Iwobi as a player ‘who people can see I rely on’.
‘We have moved his position and he has offered so much,’ he said.
Iwobi acknowledges the role the manager has played in his renaissance, adding: ‘He’s just given me that belief to go and express myself, no matter what position I’m told to play.
‘I mean, I can come into training and don’t know where I’m going to train. It could be anywhere.
‘But he’s always speaking to me, and he knows that I have the capabilities to play anywhere.’