Complicated, restricted, painful – the story of what should be Dominic Calvert-Lewin‘s revival season so far reads terrifyingly like the previous one.
The 25-year-old hoped for his last act of rescue crystal palace May marked the beginning of a return to his best form. everton Fans did too.
But so far, despite all his diligence and hard work, he has once again been plagued by multiple injuries, surrounded by the question of whether he will ever return to the level where he scored 21 goals in all competitions in the 2020-21 season.
There have been six appearances this season and just one goal – the opening goal in another win against Palace that also hinted at better times.
Injuries led to Calvert-Lewin denying all hopes of a trip to Qatar England and left Everton without their target man on the home front for that damaging double-header Brighton.
So how did the Everton No 9 spend it World Championship interruption? Introspection and what-ifs or transplantation and problem solving?
In the summer there was fleeting interest from Tottenham Hotspurwho sensed Everton could be rich pickings due to financial fair play restrictions and were right when they eventually took their other striker, Richardson.
But Calvert-Lewin hadn’t looked for new avenues and was ready for a fresh start in August despite a difficult season that took a toll on him both physically and mentally.
It’s easy for a player to be clouded by the perception that he’s prone to injury, but until the start of last season Calvert-Lewin hadn’t really spent much time.
Back to the gym. @Everton pic.twitter.com/wUHitCohfx
— Dominic Calvert-Lewin (@CalvertLewin14) December 12, 2022
He was considered internally to be the ultimate pro, someone who worked hard in the gym to improve his physique and on the training ground to improve his game. He was interested in nutrition and worked with experts inside and outside the club to help him eat the right things and stay in shape.
This summer, however, something changed decisively. The forward injured his toe in a minor incident at home and missed training for around a month. When the season started, he survived the games with the help of painkilling injections that would numb his toe.
A lack of training, especially in pre-season, always took its toll – even for someone as athletic as Calvert-Lewin.
It came as no surprise when he sustained a quadriceps injury shortly thereafter, which kept him out of action for much of the campaign. That was the start of the injury cycle that continues to this day. A new and unwelcome chapter in his career.
Given his importance to the team, Calvert-Lewin’s aim has always been to get him back to full fitness as quickly as possible. But that comes with its own risks. He returned to training early after the quadriceps injury, but pulled back up.
There is also the question of whether his long limbs and powerful physique actually increase his susceptibility to injury, as some suspect.
More recently, Everton have tried to carefully manage him. Manager Frank Lampard revealed after Calvert-Lewin’s return Newcastle United This season, his first start in five months, the striker has followed a bespoke programme.
“We’ve restricted some of his actual finishing work (training) as we need to prioritize his overall fitness,” Lampard said. “The main injury was a bit complicated and sometimes when you get a little feeling when hitting it’s normal to have concerns.”
But even that return to St. James’ Park would bring new worries. He dislocated his shoulder – it popped in and out during the game and went undetected for the next three games as he played with increasingly mysterious ailments.
He was heavily strapped in for the Fulham game nine days later but went down after slipping and crashing into the near post. His shoulder hurt him. He continued throughout the game but was in so much pain afterwards that he couldn’t even sit down comfortably.
The pain meant he couldn’t use his arms properly in games after that, which matters for a target man when spinning defenders or jumping for headers.
The club’s medical staff have continued to try to take things cautiously. They’re aware of how desperately the striker wants to be involved, but even more aware that relegating him to the past has proved counterproductive.
During the World Cup break, Calvert-Lewin walked away and spent hours in the sun doing recovery sessions and deep stretches. He returned to Everton’s Finch Farm training base early, ahead of the other players, to diligently pursue his programme.
He might have been frustrated, but at least he knew he’d be playing again this season. It hadn’t always felt safe. When it became clear he had dislocated his shoulder and damaged his knee, there were concerns he would need surgery on both and could be out for nine months.
That was after leicester defeat, his last appearance, but he was examined by a knee specialist in London and the consensus was that disaster had been averted. He wouldn’t need an operation.
The news would have been music to Lampard, who has only been able to call the striker 17 times since arriving last January.
Lampard believes Everton’s hopes of recovering after the break rest heavily on Calvert-Lewin’s shoulders, at least until the manager can add more attacking options.
“Hopefully we can get him back on a regular basis,” Lampard said this week. “Because I haven’t had a regular, fit Dominic and that’s a big deal when you look at his level and how big a reference for us can be.
“So we have to get him fit.”
(Photo above: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)