In keeping with his season so far, Dominic Calvert-Lewin did not put a foot wrong when the questions turned towards the England side-show from Saturday night. It was the one that involved Tammy Abraham, Ben Chilwell, and Jadon Sancho and their attendance at a surprise birthday party for the former which appeared to breach the government’s “rule of six” coronavirus guidelines and has led to such frustration at the Football Association.
The trio’s arrival to camp has been delayed – they will not be involved in the Wembley friendly against Wales on Thursday – and the distraction gave an extra edge to Gareth Southgate’s address to his players about standards on Monday night, which the manager was going to give anyway.
“It’s a difficult time and those boys have apologized,” Calvert-Lewin said. “That’s first and foremost what they needed to do. But we all understand what it means to play for the country and you have to remember that at all times. We had a welcome meeting and he [Southgate] just reminded us what it means and the expectations of playing for England.
“You have to be extra careful and follow the rules. It’s a unique time and we always have to be extra attentive to those rules. That’s the way it is when you’re representing your country.”
Calvert-Lewin was asked whether he felt there was a lack of discipline in the squad, which was a little harsh given he was barely 24 hours into his first call-up. “No,” he replied. “There’s been a few lapses in concentration and that’s all I’d put it down to. We’re human beings, we’re still learning and still growing. Everybody is likely to make mistakes at times but it’s important we learn from it, apologise, recognise where you’ve gone wrong and keep improving.”
The Everton center-forward has done a lot of learning and growing since the start of last season, a lot of improving, but he has taken his game to fresh heights since the beginning of this one, scoring nine goals in six games at club level to present an irresistible case to Southgate. With Abraham out of the picture for the Wales game and Harry Kane expected to be held back for the Nations League ties against Belgium on Sunday and Denmark next Wednesday, Calvert-Lewin can sense opportunity.
It has been a journey, starting at Stalybridge Celtic in the Conference North as a 17-year-old while on loan from Sheffield United in 2014-15, and Calvert-Lewin has an indelible reminder of his debut against Hyde United. “I don’t know if you can see – I’ve still got the scar under my eye,” he said. He played with the eye closed from the 20th minute after being butted when he flicked on a header.
Character-building, they call it, and there is no doubt that Calvert-Lewin has absorbed his share of knocks – mainly under the glare of the Premier League spotlight after his move from Sheffield United to Everton in 2016. Was he too nice to lead the line? Did he deserve to have the club’s No 9 shirt, which he took at the start of last season? Could he bring the needed productivity?
There have also been highs, such as the goal he scored to give England Under-20s a 1-0 win in the World Cup final of 2017. He took a big step forward last season, when he was Everton’s joint-top scorer with 15, but something has clicked this time out.
Calvert-Lewin has always been an aerial presence, with his Everton teammate, Richarlison, believing he has “an incredible leap on him like Cristiano Ronaldo”. Calvert-Lewin says heading is “not something I have particularly worked on”.
Where he has worked under Carlo Ancelotti at Goodison Park is on getting into the right areas inside the box, on quick first-time finishes – the sort of poaching upon which Filippo Inzaghi, Ancelotti’s one-time striker at Milan, built his reputation. Ancelotti has held up Inzaghi as an example.
“Carlo’s definitely had a positive influence on me,” Calvert-Lewin says. “Beforehand I was guilty of doing a lot of my best work away from goal and now I’m focused on getting between the sticks and putting the ball in the net. That analogy from Carlo – it’s not to say I’m a carbon copy of Inzaghi but if there’s elements of his game that I’ve been showing it’s one-touch finishes and being in the right place at the right time.”
Of Calvert-Lewin’s nine goals this season, five have been first-time strikes from close-range while three have been towering headers.
Since Ancelotti’s arrival at Everton last December, he has started Calvert-Lewin in 23 of the club’s 24 league games – he used him as a substitute in the largely meaningless final match of last season against Bournemouth – and, when he sought to reshape his line-up over the summer, he did not look for a new No 9. That was a shot in the arm for Calvert-Lewin, who says he can feel a “change of the mentality” at the club – the surprise Premier League leaders after four wins out of four.
“I knew what I needed to do to make that step, which was ultimately to score goals and play with that consistency,” Calvert-Lewin says. “You get freaks of nature that come on the scene and get straight in there [for England]. I recognize that at 20, 21, I wasn’t ready but I never stopped believing I would get there with the right work ethic and the right training.”