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Is Alex Iwobi Actually Improving or Regressing Under Rafa Benitez?

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

Alex Iwobi, with 1 assist to his name across 8 league games this season, stated to the media recently that his game has improved this term under former Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez.

“I can see the improvement under the new manager because he’s vastly experienced and has worked with different players at major clubs,” Iwobi told BBC Sport Africa.

Coincidentally, in his first 8 games last season, he produced identical output of 1 assist. In the season before then, he actually had 1 goal and 0 assist in his first 8 Premier League games.

So, based solely on stats, his game has remained steady but largely unspectacular in the past 3 seasons across 8 Premier League games.

However, I see where Iwobi is coming from.

There appears to be this renewed hunger and a spring to his steps this season under Rafa Benitez. He seems to be enjoying himself with his game flowing naturally without the burdens that seemed to weigh on him previously.

This is great for Iwobi.

Another winger – Damarai Grey – a Leicester City reject is making a home for himself in Everton. In just 5 games, Gray has scored 3 goals. But he has also been afforded healthier minutes compared to Iwobi.

If truth be told, 3 goals in 5 games is the sort of impact fans yearn for in football this days. They want players to come in and hit the ground running.

With Iwobi, you know what you get: lung-bursting, gritty, hard work and determined performances which often go unnoticed simply because the numbers aren’t there in the way of goals and assists for Everton.

But, make no mistakes about it, Alex Iwobi was initially one of Everton’s shining lights so earlier this season, attracting plenty of praise (from Everton stakeholders) for his early season standout displays.

Simply put, he looked that bit sharper and his decision making appeared to be moving in the right direction.

The numbers (assists) could have been more had Dominic Calvert-Lewin not wasted the chance created to him by Iwobi’s fabulous through pass against Leeds in August.

Plus, the 25 year old striker has 1 goal in 2 EFL games across 180 minutes this season.

The numbers might tell a different story but there truly was something different about Iwobi at the start of this season under Benitez.

This could not be unconnected with the growing confidence he is developing as a result of the faith shown in him by the coach. “He [Benitez] came in and told me the part of my game that needs improvement, and so far I can see the progress and impact.” Said Iwobi. If the Super Eagle can use this strong early start and confidence booster as a springboard for a good campaign, then he could yet illustrate what a crucial, invaluable and exquisite player he could turn out to be for Everton in seasons to come. It is never how the journey started, it is always how it ended that will remain indelible in the mind of fans.

Sadly for Iwobi and Everton, they lost their last 2 league games (back to back homes losses: first to West Ham and most recently to Watford) which drew loud criticisms from their fans. Coach Benitez was condemned for his technical approach while some fans singled out Iwobi for his tame contributions. They suspect the Super Eagles midfielder might be going back to his days of erratic displays.

However, Iwobi was initially on the right track to greatness with compelling displays shortly after the season commenced.

Hopefully he can retrace his steps for the remainder of the season and start justifying his huge price tag and pay rate!

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