It may have been a trying start to preseason for Everton but if there is one factor that seems to be offering supporters hope anew ahead of 2022-23 it is manager Frank Lampard. Fans are not alone in that regard; for the youthful veteran Tom Davies a first full season under the Chelsea and England great offers the promise of a fresh start.
Appointed in January with Everton on the ropes, Lampard eventually steadied the ship at Goodison Park, a late season run of impressive results keeping the club in the top flight and forging a deep bond between the manager and supporters who turned their home ground into a fortress.
However the trying circumstances did not end on Merseyside when survival was secured with a thrilling 3-2 win over Crystal Palace. Last season’s top scorer Richarlison has been sold to Tottenham and with finances strained the only new signing has been center back James Tarkowski, who arrived from relegated Burnley on a free transfer. The early returns from friendlies have not been entirely successful whilst off the pitch the summer has been dominated by questions over the future of owner Farhad Moshiri, who said earlier this month that he did not plan to sell up.
It is easy to see how the manager might have become something of a port in the storm. Whatever the circumstances, he has certainly won the admiration of his players. Speaking to CBS Sports ahead of Wednesday’s second preseason game, a bruising 4-0 defeat to Minnesota United, Davies was glowing in his praise of Lampard. “He gets the club completely. He’s a great manager. He fits the role of Everton down to a tee: he’s got the hard-working mentality, he wants us to play football but he wants us to fight, to never give up.
“He has bought into the club philosophy, that’s why the players and fans love him. There’s no other side to him, just pure Everton. You can feel it amongst the fans, amongst the group. We all trust in him and believe in what he’s saying. He’s going to take us on to great things and I’m really looking forward to actually being able to play under him and get that full season of work under him. I think I can develop a lot.”
Indeed he already is. Unsurprisingly one of the great midfield players of his generation has an eye for the small details that might aid those in the Everton engine room. Davies adds: “I’ve got a lot of things to pick up from him. Even small things in training he’ll tell me and I’ll try to implement them in my game. There was one change the other day he told me to make and the next thing you know I’m on the ball in a lot of space. It’s [all about] positioning as a midfielder, not to come too close to the ball and to stay away.
“I just had a laugh to myself because this is one of the best midfielders the Premier League has ever seen, I’ve got to take in every word he’s saying.”
As he tries to establish himself in Lampard’s plans after injury sidelined him for the vast majority of last season, Davies’ career is an effective lens through which to view Everton’s recent turbulence. Just 24 years of age, the one-time captain has had seven different permanent managers take charge of his development.
Under Sam Allardyce, for instance, Davies would often be nominally used as an attacking midfielder. Marco Silva would occasionally start him as captain alongside Idrissa Gueye in a 4-2-3-1, giving him a run of games before dropping him out of the side entirely. Some of Davies’ best form came when Carlo Ancelotti identified him as the man to sit in front of the defense and make the Toffees tick. Lampard, meanwhile, views him as “more of an eight”.
After knee and hamstring issues sidelined him last season, Davies will hope that his fitness holds for long enough to allow him to adapt to his new demands. In the same way that Everton do, the young midfielder craves a steadying hand on a tiller.
“Having so many managers and different ideas, since I broke through into the team I think I’ve had about seven managers now, they’ve played me in different positions and I haven’t really been able to hold down that one position I’d like to. Under Carlo I got a bit more playing time in the one position and I could feel myself starting to get used to it, to develop and understand the position a bit more.
“Now with Frank I’ve got that challenge again to see where he thinks I fit in the team, what position will be best for me. I want to hold down one position. Getting game time, playing consistently helps you to develop a lot, you can train all you want but that’s where all the improvement happens.”
Davies is not the only homegrown prospect looking to kick on in 2022-23. Indeed it has been notable that Lampard has spoken of a desire to improve the pipeline between academy and first team, one which served him well last season in breakout winger Anthony Gordon. Right wing back Stanley Mills won plenty of praise for his performance in Everton’s first preseason game, a defeat to Arsenal, and he was one of several youngsters who made the trip Stateside.
Add to that youthful recruits such as Vitaliy Mykolenko and Nathan Patterson and the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Davies no longer appear to be the fresh faced ones in the Goodison Park dressing room. Does he feel a responsibility to these youngsters? “I do,” Davies says. “I think of myself as a veteran sometimes but very young still. Now I’m starting to come into a role where I can speak to the younger players and give them advice on the situations I’ve had. We’ve got a lot of good young lads at the club who are willing to learn, that’s really important.
“You see how Anthony Gordon did last year, he’s just going to continue to grow and become an amazing player for the next 10, 15 years. It’s great to play with lads like him but I’m still learning the game from the manager, players like Seamus who’ve been around for much longer than me. I’m always trying to gain these small bits of knowledge from them I can use in my own game and my own life. You’re never done learning, even the young guys coming through, there’s much for me to learn from them.”
Davies will return to the pitch next season with the clock ticking. Having made just eight appearances in all competitions as he battled injuries, there is just a year left on the contract he signed with his boyhood club in 2019. For now he says that situation is far from his mind, that his sole focus is getting back to the game he fell in love with all over again during his time on the sidelines.
Those months were used productively. He bursts with pride in discussing Chopvalue, the company in which he invested that turns chopsticks once destined for landfill and turns them into furniture. Its first factory is due to open in Liverpool soon. However he is now longing to get back on the pitch.
“It’s incredible how much I felt like a kid throughout that time, just wanting to grab a ball and kick it about,” he says. “The physios and the staff not letting me do that just like my parents wouldn’t! I fell back in love with football being injured. [The injury] was probably not the greatest thing but I’m glad it’s happened, it has really opened my eyes again to how much I love playing and being involved in a team.”
That injury absence was all the tougher considering the difficulties his teammates were going through. Davies admits to feeling “stuck” as an Everton squad racked by tension seemed to be drifting towards the Championship. Defeat to Burnley in early April brought home with a thud how much danger this top flight institution were in but it also served as a galvanising point for the club and wider community as supporters inspired Lampard’s side to stunning wins over the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United that kept the Toffees clear of the trap door.
For the boyhood supporter who has spent more as an Everton player than not there was an understandable sense of regret that he was not able to feel this magnetic energy on the pitch but now Davies is determined to harness it into the new season.
“For me it was incredible, amazing to be part of the city at that time. The fans deserve a lot of credit for everything they’ve done, how much they showed up and supported before games, home and away, turning up at the training ground, bringing this complete positivity which was great for the lads to experience.
“With that support and drive that they pushed on with, watching the lads perform in the Palace game where we were two down and managed to turn it around, I don’t know if I’ll get many more footballing experiences like that. It was a really special few months, I’m just honoured to be a part of it and hopefully continue it into next year, maybe challenge for a few trophies. Then we can see how good the fans will be!”