Left-back Lucas Digne has emerged for Everton as a valuable addition to the club’s attacking arm, catching the eye particularly from set pieces, and has said that he just needed a chance after playing second fiddle to the likes of Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the past.
The France international defender has started the season in especially exciting form, creating one and scoring another from a free kick against Lincoln in the Carabao Cup before following it up with an assist for Richarlison as the Toffees defeated Wolves 3-2 before the break.
Indeed, since the start of the 2018-19 campaign, only Liverpool duo Andy Robertson (11) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (15) have been directly involved in more goals than his 10 of the league’s defensive players.
Digne, who was busy winning his 26th and 27th caps for the world champions over the last week, is rapidly emerging as Marco Silva’s go-to dead ball specialist, with Everton not having scored a direct free kick for 801 days before he netted against Watford last December.
The former Paris Saint-Germain, Roma and Barcelona man says the skill is nothing new – he just needed a chance to get to the front of the queue having played in teams with legends like Ibrahimovic, Francesco Totti and Messi over the years.
“Taking a free kick is not some new skill that suddenly appeared out of the blue,” he told Goal while on international duty. “I took free kicks when I was young, but the last time I scored one was with France Under-19 when we beat the Netherlands 6-0.
“I knew I could take free kicks well, I just didn’t have the chance with my previous clubs. At the elite level you know the hierarchy, and when you play in a team with absolute world-class players – legends, even - like Zlatan in PSG, Totti in at Roma and especially Messi in Barca, then there is no way that you just walk up and take the ball out of their hands before a free kick.
“These guys are specialists with proven records, and you accept that in football. But, of course, I always hoped that one day it would be my turn – and now it is my turn to take free kicks at Everton. I enjoy that, and I love the responsibility – every free kick is a chance of making the fans happy!
“It’s a great job for me, and I’m especially happy if I score, just like I’m happy delivering assists for my team-mates when they score.”
Digne, though, is not about to lose sight of his primary task on the field just because he has an additional offensive responsibility.
“The attacking impact is a part of my job, but I am first and foremost a defender, and I have enjoyed every one of all our clean sheets in the last six months almost as much as a goal – and actually there has been many,” he said.
“A clean sheet is normally a defender’s variation of scoring a goal. It’s a feeling of success for both yourself and for your team. But of course it is a special feeling for me as a defender to be part of a match-winning goal – like Richarlison’s header from my cross against Wolves.”
He also explained the unique excitement that each free kick situation brings.
“The feelings around a direct free kick are very special because it doesn’t just happen out of nowhere within a fraction of a second, like when you score from open play,” he said.
“There is a build-up, when you prepare yourself for the free kick, you read the positions of the wall and the goalkeeper – then you hit the ball trying to find exactly the right amount of power and precision.
“And then the explosion inside your own head – and in the stadium – when you see it in the net.
“I did not take a single free kick in Barcelona for two years, playing 46 matches, before joining Everton. Of course not, because Messi is the world’s best at free-kicks – and left footed like me. So imagine how much I enjoyed netting my first one for Everton against Watford!”
And just how much work does he put into honing the skill?
“I don’t practise free-kicks every day, but once or twice a week I do practise them with Gylfi Sigurdsson,” he revealed.
With Everton slated to go to Bournemouth in Premier League action on Sunday, Digne will be hoping for more personal and team success as they seek to improve their sixth position in the standings.