As seen on The Athletic: Everton’s Tom Davies – not your average footballer
It is easy to forget that Tom Davies is still only 24 years old.
Nearly six years have passed since his magnificent solo goal in a 4-0 win over Manchester City that announced his arrival as a Premier League player. That day, as he slalomed his way through Pep Guardiola’s side, evading challenges from Yaya Toure, Gael Clichy and John Stones before finishing with an impudent dink, it felt like we were witnessing the birth of a new star.
Since then, Davies has captained Everton, played in Europe for his boyhood team and been part of the squad that narrowly avoided relegation last season. Even at this stage, he could write a book on his experiences.
Fitness-wise, at least, the past 12 months or so have not been kind. A troublesome knee injury, sustained in November last year, restricted him to just 233 minutes of league football in the 2021-22 campaign. When he did finally return to the matchday squad, against Chelsea in May, Everton were engulfed in a relegation battle and five points adrift of safety.
“It can be tough,” Davies explains to The Athletic. “I had a long time where I couldn’t even train with the team. When you don’t get that high, it can well up on top of you.
“I could see what the team was going through but couldn’t do anything to help (on the pitch). I could only offer support and try to make it a good atmosphere, keeping the lads positive. My role is usually to try and help in these situations. But I almost felt like a fan watching it. It was tough.”
Tom Davies has found first-team football hard to come by this season (Photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
This season, Davies has been largely reduced to a substitute’s role since September and, with his contract set to expire at the end of the season, he is open about craving more game-time.
“I love the club and the city but ultimately I want to play games, whether that be at Everton or somewhere else,” he explains to The Athletic. “If I’m not going to get that here, it’s something I’m going to have to think about.”
Football is Davies’ profession, and it is clear he cares deeply about his own performances and Everton’s fortunes. But he is also frank about needing “passions in life and things to focus on” outside of the sport.
He has never been your typical footballer, preferring the New York Fashion Week to a break in Dubai. He is a vegetarian, drives an electric car and is concerned about sustainability.
“If there’s a single focus, it becomes hard,” he says. “There are certain times when you have to be able to disassociate so you can come back with a fresh mind.”
Over the last 18 months, he has partnered with Chop Value, a company that turns recycled chopsticks into furniture, including a carbon-negative gaming desk, produced in collaboration with esports organisation, Fnatic.
“I guess there are not many people in football who speak out about it, but since I was a kid I always loved being in nature,” Davies says. “As you get older, you get more conscious of what’s happening and the massive impact climate change is having on the planet.
“I was keen to help and do my part because we waste so much. I have a decent-sized platform and should use it for good. Small changes can benefit us in a big way and I want to shed light on that.”
Davies is also involved in helping to enact change at Everton. He supplies ideas to the club’s sustainability committee, in turn functioning as a sounding board among the players for new ideas. Over time, he hopes to become a permanent part of the committee.
“They’re really big on it,” he says. “We recycle rainwater, have our own lake at Finch Farm that provides a home for wildlife and plants, recycle food waste and are trying to go plastic free. In football, we go through a lot of plastic. We’ve planted thousands of trees here and shop locally. It’s good to have those talks because I don’t have all the answers.
The intention is to turn Chop Value into a CIC — a community interest company — with profits going to charities and hospices in Liverpool.
“I see people and think it could have been me,” he says. “They just haven’t had the same opportunities. I’d like to think if it was me out there, people would be doing similar.
“Connecting to people and your community is one of the best things you can do. I have that connection with Liverpool and love the people that we are.
“It gives me a lot of joy — maybe that’s a selfish reason for doing it — when I see the good it’s doing. It drives me to be successful in other ways, too.”
Which brings us back to football. The Premier League’s break for the World Cup came with Everton’s season at its lowest ebb, with two heavy defeats in a week at Bournemouth knocking them out of the Carabao Cup and leaving them just above the relegation zone in 17th place.
It has sparked some concerns of another long winter ahead, but Davies — though accepting the club’s position represents underperformance — is positive they can avoid another relegation struggle.
Everton’s players confront angry fans after the 3-0 Premier League defeat at Bournemouth (Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
“Although we haven’t achieved what we want to the best of our ability, there are more signs of getting back to being that aggressive, horrible-to-play-against team,” Davies says.
“Last season was tough for us but we were always positive we’d stay up. Going through that together helped us form a good bond.
“We brought in quality over the summer, it’s just the consistency. We’re still not in the position we’d like to be but we believe we have enough quality and character to be far away from that this year.”
The crucial difference this time around, according to Davies, is the unity instilled by manager Frank Lampard.
“The big thing is how well-connected he is to the team and fans,” he says. “We’ve had a few managers that have sort of distanced themselves from the fans and maybe the squad, so it feels like us and them.
“He gets everyone together. That’s maybe where we’ve gone astray in the last couple of years. We’ve maybe tried to become something we’re not.
“We’ve always been hard-working, a team that fights. Yeah, we play football, but we’re aggressive, particularly at Goodison. That’s what we want to do — put pressure on teams, fight and kick. Nobody likes to come here and that’s coming back.”
Davies’ immediate aim is to force his way into Lampard’s plans permanently. In recent months, the Everton manager has plumped for a midfield trio of Idrissa Gueye, Amadou Onana and Alex Iwobi in his favoured 4-3-3, but there is still a sense that the team has not yet properly clicked.
(Photo: Getty Images)
The academy graduate has perhaps suffered as much as anyone from the club’s regular churn of managers, each asking him to interpret the central midfield role in different ways.
But Lampard offers a clarity that has often been lacking.
“We have a clear system and clear roles,” Davies says. “The preferred formation is 4-3-3 and I see myself as one of the No 8s. I haven’t always played there — coming into the team, I was a No 10 and with Carlo Ancelotti I was a 6 — but I see myself as a box-to-box midfielder.
“He (Lampard) wants midfielders who can run, press and compete. He wants us to get in the box, score goals and get assists. Then defensively you have to help the team by attacking or defending in a three.
“Each role has its own specific instructions, which I like — it gives you clarity. That’s what I’ve always wanted and needed.”
After an injury sustained on the recent tour of Australia, Davies is back in training and hopes to be fit for the Boxing Day visit of Wolves.
His long-term future is one of many questions swirling around Everton but Davies is adamant.
“For now,” he says, “I just want to help.”
(Top photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)