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Dominic Calvert-Lewin: Everton forward on crying on the pitch, Duncan Ferguson's role in his development and Merseyside derby dream
The newly-capped striker has enjoyed an unconventional rise. Now the red-hot forward turns his attention to Liverpool, live on BT Sport from 11.30am on Saturday.
In a world where judgements are instant and attitudes are entrenched, the rise of Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin is the clearest case yet for perseverance.
The 23-year-old, who was playing non-league football just five years ago, leads the Premier League top scorer charts alongside Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min. He marked his England debut with a goal against Wales at Wembley and has matured into a complete forward under Carlo Ancelotti.
Now he turns his attention to rivals Liverpool in an unmissable Merseyside derby duel that you can watch exclusively live on BT Sport 1 HD, BT Sport Ultimate and online from 11.30am on Saturday.
It has been a meteoric - yet unorthodox - rise to the top for the Sheffield native, who endured the all-too-familiar ignominy of being written off after an inauspicious start to life in the top flight.
The articulate and affable Calvert-Lewin, like the rest of his colleagues, is viewed as an invulnerable matador who is immune from criticism. But he is a demonstrable example of a young player who wants to be wanted and has been liberated at Goodison Park after being handed the responsibility of leading Everton’s attack.
He has already scored two hat-tricks this season and is bursting with confidence ahead of his return to club football in the Premier League's biggest game of the season so far.
Calvert-Lewin hasn’t always been self-assured on the football pitch, though. In a poignant social media post after England’s 3-0 victory over Wales, his dad recalled the day his six-year-old son was too shy to play football.
And speaking exclusively to BT Sport’s Des Kelly, in an interview you can watch as part of our Merseyside derby build up, the Toffees' number nine revealed that his formative years as a footballer were blighted by insecurity.
“I used to love football from my first memory, but I remember turning up [to a trial] and I lasted five minutes and started crying for some reason,” he said.
“I turned around to my dad and said, 'I want to go home.' It wasn’t until a year later that I resumed trying to play Sunday league football.”
His dad, or ‘Scooby’ to his friends, wrote "Bambi has found his skates" in a pointed rebuttal to detractors who described Calvert-Lewin as ‘Bambi on ice’ after he scored on his full international debut.
“It was a nice analogy,” Calvert-Lewin laughed.
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Two Tribes, which is also available on the BT Sport app, explores Liverpool and Everton’s success in the 1980s amid political and cultural upheaval.
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“I think he’s referring to tough times that I went through. I joined Everton and had my football learning experience in the eye of the top league in the world, so as a young player you’re always going to be inconsistent at times.
“People in football are quick to judge if you don’t hit the ground running straight away, that you’re not capable of playing at that level at all.
“So I think it was important for me always to keep a belief and a mentality that where you are at that moment of time is never where you’re always going to be. Tomorrow is a different day and it’s a new day to improve.
“I think that comes from my dad as well. It’s that belief in my ability to keep striving and keep chasing my dreams and goals.”
It was at boyhood club Sheffield United where Calvert-Lewin’s journey began. He credits the influence of long-term coach Travis Binnion – who was responsible for turning him into a centre-forward aged 17 – for his growth, as well as loan spells at Conference North side Stalybridge and Northampton Town.
“That loan to Stalybridge was my first stint in men’s football and it taught me what it was like to play for three points and get roughed up, which I thoroughly enjoyed,” he added.
“I scored a few goals there and I remember doing the man of the match presentations in the lounges and putting smiles on people’s faces, winning games and scoring goals.
“When you go on loan it’s risk and reward. You’ve got to back yourself and believe you can go there and do well because sometimes if a loan doesn’t go well it can set you back, but if it does go well it can propel you forward.
“I had no second thoughts about trying to get out on loan to play football if the opportunity wasn’t there for me at Sheffield United. That period helped me become a man.”
Calvert-Lewin left Bramall Lane for the blue half of Merseyside in August 2016 in a £1.5 million deal with a view to develop in the Under-23 side, but his first-team breakthrough came much sooner than anticipated.
He developed a strong working relationship with Everton legend and academy coach Duncan Ferguson at Finch Farm and when the Scot stepped in to manage the first team after Marco Silva’s dismissal, Calvert-Lewin hoped his progression would be rewarded with a run in the starting XI.
For Ferguson to put that belief in me at that moment in time, I think it’s what was needed and he probably recognised that
In Ferguson's first game in interim charge, Calvert-Lewin scored twice in a league game for the first time since his Northampton days - earning all three points against Chelsea at a charged-up Goodison.
So how has Ferguson changed him as a player and a person?
“The biggest thing he did for me was instil that confidence," the England international continued.
“In his own words he told me I was the man and I was Everton’s number nine and I was going to be his man to play those games. I had someone there who put 100% belief in me to go and play and perform.
“If I needed any help with anything, or someone to speak to, he’s always been there from a football perspective and anything else. It felt natural and I felt comfortable and I think that was the main thing that helped me play so well in that time.
“For him to put that belief in me at that moment in time, I think it’s what was needed and he probably recognised that. He’d seen me train day in, day out for the last three years and he knew what I was capable of. He put that trust in me in that moment in time and I’ve not looked back since then. That was probably the catalyst for my good form a year later.”
Calvert-Lewin has reached glorious new heights under Ancelotti, who has shown unwavering belief in him. The Italian has worked with some of the deadliest finishers seen in European football, including Filippo Inzaghi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and the Englishman said the legendary manager has encouraged him to maintain his high standards.
“It’s that concentration on a daily basis and getting into that good habit that he’s instilled in me to then take into games. Then it feels more second nature when it comes to the game,” he reflected.
Next up for Calvert-Lewin and Everton are bitter rivals Liverpool, who were humbled at Villa Park before the international break. The Toffees are top of the Premier League after a perfect start to the season and lead Jurgen Klopp’s side by three points ahead of the derby.
The champions are reeling and Everton, with the likes of James Rodriguez, Richarlison and Abdoulaye Doucoure ably assisting their red-hot marksman, will be intent on beating their city rivals for the first time since 2010.
“The lads are full of confidence,” Calvert-Lewin said. “We’ve had a great start to the season so for me there’s no reason why we can’t go and achieve what we want to achieve in this game on Saturday.”
Watch Everton v Liverpool exclusively live on BT Sport 1 HD, BT Sport Ultimate and online from 11.30am on Saturday.