After deciding to leave Everton’s academy as a 16-year-old, French forward Mohamed-Ali Cho is currently thriving in Ligue 1 for Angers, earning links with a €20 million (£17m/$23m) move to Borussia Dortmund.
In the summer of 2021, meanwhile, the Toffees’ youngest-ever first-team player, Thierry Small, also made the decision to turn down a contract at Goodison Park in favour of a move to Southampton.
So, Everton fans understandably feared that 19-year-old academy graduate Lewis Dobbin would also quit the club, given his contract was set to expire this summer.
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After reported interest from clubs in both the Bundesliga and Premier League, and with Everton in turmoil after a run of bad results which ended in the sacking of Rafa Benitez, the pressure was on to appease supporters and tie down Dobbin for the long-term future.
Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, they managed to do so, the attacker signing until the summer of 2025.
Now, following the appointment of Frank Lampard as manager, there is even more reason to be excited about Dobbin’s future, as the ex-England midfielder has been willing to put his faith in young players in his previous stints at Derby County and Chelsea.
“My Twitter and Instagram comments have been full of people wanting me to sign a new contract,” Dobbin said. “It gives me confidence that they want to see more from me. I want to give back to them and do well for them in the future.”
The excitement around Dobbin has been built around a strong youth-team career that is now beginning to manifest itself into a first-team breakthrough.
He has made four senior appearances so far this season, including a particularly promising 28-minute cameo away at Chelsea.
Dobbin has trained regularly with the first-team squad this season and has been named in the matchday squad on 10 occasions, though he is yet to start a game.
However, with the arrival of Lampard, that could soon change.
Dobbin’s versatility will be key in his bid for more minutes, given how comfortably he operates anywhere across the front three.
Although he projects best for the future as a left-sided attacker, the majority of his minutes in Everton’s first team so far have come as a striker, and he has mostly played on the right flank for Everton’s Under-23s this season.
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Having made his U18s debut as a 15-year-old in 2018, it was in the 2019-20 season when Dobbin first really made his mark on youth football, netting 11 goals in 16 league games and consequently being named Everton’s U18s Player of the Season.
“He’s going to be a top player, there’s absolutely no doubt about that,” said Everton U23s boss David Unsworth during that season, as Dobbin went onto sign his first professional contract.
The following campaign, however, was wrecked by a knee injury suffered in January 2021 that ruled him out for almost all of the second half of the season.
The 19-year-old was, however, back firing at the beginning of 2021-22, netting 10 goals across five pre-season matches – including three hat-tricks – with the U23s, which in turn earned him a call-up to the first team for their pre-season friendly against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
He made his debut there in front of a 55,000-strong crowd, and his competitive bow for the Toffees followed soon after, coming on as a late substitute in a 2-0 win over Norwich City in September at Goodison Park.
Despite only coming into the public eye in recent years, Dobbin has been earmarked as one to watch ever since he joined the club as an 11-year-old.
Possessing blistering pace and ruthlessness in front of goal, he also comes with international pedigree.
Having been put forward by the FA’s youth scouts as a candidate for their first-ever team made up of 2003-born players, he made his England debut at the age of 14.
Despite his versatility, Dobbin’s style of play is distinctive regardless of the position he is asked to play in.
Hard-working and full of energy off the ball, he is a keen presser and often uses a combination of his pace and clever reading of the play to win the ball in dangerous positions.
It is not just when out of possession that he displays this strong intelligence, either. His excellent movement, particularly beyond the last line of defence, forms a large part of his game.
Adept at using this in conjunction with his pace and acceleration, he is able to cause problems for most defences.
Although those who sit back tend to prove more of a challenge for Dobbin, he has the skills required to break through backlines.
He is a strong dribbler and ball-carrier over longer distances, and is particularly good when one-on-one with an opposition defender, though he typically needs to receive the ball in space to be most effective.
There is plenty of room for improvement in his back-to-goal play and decision-making – he often takes ambitious shots on when there is a better passing option available – but he possesses the raw tools of a potential superstar.
It has to be said, though, that Everton have not made his route to first-team minutes a simple one.
The arrival of Lampard will certainly make some level of increased first-team involvement more probable, the club brought in Anwar El Ghazi on loan from Aston Villa in the January transfer window and he is likely to take the majority of rotational minutes that could have gone to Dobbin.
This seems a very unnecessary signing, but it can also be looked at in a different light: it is potentially a chance for Dobbin to prove his worth over a proven and experienced professional.
Even if he does not end up doing so, Dobbin may well still be destined for big things.
He only turned 19 in January and is very inexperienced in senior football, meaning a loan to the Championship next season may be needed if the route to first-team football at Everton seems blocked in the short-term.
However, the combination of his new long-term contract and the arrival of Lampard as manager are undoubtedly encouraging for Dobbin and his ambition to go to the very top.