If there was an award for Premier League comeback player of the year for 2022, there would be almost no doubt that Alex Iwobi would be a big contender for it.
With Rafa Benitez shown the door during the January transfer window just ten short months ago, it really would not have surprised anyone had Everton also offloaded Iwobi at the time. Since his late-window big money signing from Arsenal, the Nigerian international had flattered to deceive, and was in and out of the side having played in roles as widely varied as wingback to central attacking midfielder without finding a spot to stick in.
However, since the arrival of Frank Lampard just before the window shut, there has been no player who has been more consistently available and performing at a higher level than the 26-year-old. Iwobi’s name was often the first on the teamsheet along with Jordan Pickford as the Toffees went to the trenches late last season to ensure Premier League survival, and the pair have continued that form into this campaign as well, alongside a very different cast of players.
Praise for Iwobi has been widespread, and recent reports that the club were going to offer him a new contract with his current deal set to expire in 2024 were confirmed today by Lampard during his pre-match press conference ahead of the trip to Tottenham on Saturday.
“I know [Director of Football] Kevin Thelwell is speaking with Alex’s people on that front. Alex’s form has been great. His development has been brilliant. It’s all his work and all I’ve done is try to support him and maybe adapt his position slightly.
When asked about what he had done to spark the turnaround in Iwobi’s fortunes, Lampard added -
“I said it last week, he is one of the best midfielders in the Premier League in my opinion, in terms of being a #6 or #8. He played in a double-six earlier in the season and was really really good for us, and then moved into a slightly advanced #8 and again his performances have been great, so his development’s been brilliant.
“There was a perception about Alex when I came in, but it’s all his work. All I’ve done is support him and try to adapt his position slightly and then the rest is him. I felt he would be dangerous in the middle area of the pitch. It probably helped that I was a midfield player and I understood that some of the things he had, I wouldn’t want to go up against.
“I felt he was a bit restricted on the wing and opening up the pitch centrally was a big help for him, and then the rest has been him. I’ve been really pleased to see his development and I want more from him because with what he’s got attribute-wise, there is still more to come.”
Alex Iwobi has made more key passes from open play (18) as Martin Odegaard and Jadon Sancho combined (17) in the Premier League this season— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 12, 2022
@BenMclaeer1 details Iwobi's sudden importance in Everton's midfield
While Iwobi had put Everton ahead last weekend against Manchester United with a very well-taken goal, the winning goal for United came from a turnover when Iwobi was caught in possession in the middle of the pitch. Lampard touched briefly on the dribbling ability that the Nigerian international has.
“Sometimes you don’t want to dribble in the middle of the park, but sometimes players in the middle have the ability to go forward. I’m not comparing but I always remember Yaya Toure as the kind of player who could go past you both ways and such, and I always found him a difficult threat in-game.
“I think when a player has that talent but also has the vision, passing and off-the-ball workrate, it’s something you really want to work with, it can be a real help for the team.”