Sheffield United: Young Lion Dominic Calvert-Lewin tells James Shield why it means so much to be returning to Bramall Lane
He has filled-out, moved on and, by his own admission, matured beyond belief.
But when conversation turns to tomorrow’s UEFA Championship qualifier against Ukraine at Bramall Lane, Dominic Calvert-Lewin exudes an almost childlike excitement.
“All of the lads know I’m a Blade,” the England under-21 international grins, “They all know where I’m from and what my background is. They’ve been giving me lots of stick, saying ‘I bet you’re looking forward to this one.’ And they’re right, I am looking forward to it. Because it’s my home.”
Plenty has been written about Calvert-Lewin the player. His progression from Sheffield United fan to player and subsequent seven figure transfer to Everton have generated plenty of column inches. Less, however, is known about Calvert-Lewin the person. Which is why, as we chew the fat following a training session at St George’s Park, the FA’s national football centre, it is fascinating to hear him speak in such emotive terms about football, family, friends and the thread that binds them all together.
“Sheffield United is a huge part of my life still,” he says, as a bead of sweat drips down his forehead. “So going back, although it might feel a little bit strange at first, is going to be a great occasion. It’s where I grew-up, it’s where I came through and it’s the team I support, the team I’ve always followed. The same goes for my family and friends, who are all going to be there, which will make it an even more special occasion.”
Calvert-Lewin is proud of his roots and even prouder of the fact his parents Karlda and Rachel will be able to watch him represent his country at the ground where it all began. The match, which follows last weekend’s meeting with Romania, also provides an opportunity to demonstrate how his skills have developed to the South Yorkshire club’s fans.
“I thought the only time I’d be playing here would be for Sheffield United or if Sheffield United get promoted. It’s something I’ve always thought about, being out there on the pitch at Bramall Lane, and the chance to do that has come a lot sooner than I thought. It will be good to be around the place again because a lot has happened since I left.”
Calvert-Lewin is referring not only to United’s League One title triumph last season, which came eight months after his switch to Goodison Park, but also the 52 appearances and nine goals he has scored for Sam Allardyce’s side. Of course, with an Under-20 World Cup winners medal also on his CV, the benefit of hindsight suggests Calvert-Lewin was dramatically undersold. But the £1.5m United received for his services enabled Chris Wilder to construct what proved to be a promotion-winning squad and, from the player’s perspective, turbo-charged a career. Nevertheless, despite the riches and opportunities the North-West offered, it was tough to say goodbye.
“Everton is an unbelievable club. When they came knocking on the door, it wasn’t an easy decision, though. “When their interest was registered, the manager (Wilder) had brought Leon Clarke in and I felt a little bit further down the pecking order.
“Everton gave me the platform in the Premier League and it’s worked out well for me so far. But Sheffield United, leaving Sheffield United, was never going to be easy because I’d been there since I was eight years old.”
“I’ve come on leaps and bounds at Everton, getting in the first team and then also here with the under-21’s,” he adds. “The World Cup last year was a huge experience as well. Every player can always improve. I left United when I was 19 and I was still learning my craft, as I am now.
“But I’ve improved my movement and dealing with the ball under pressure. I’m used to playing in bigger circumstances in front of more fans so I feel more relaxed on the pitch now too. But, like I said, it still wasn’t easy to leave United. No way, not at all.”
The transition, however, proved easier than expected. Thanks, Calvert-Lewin explains, to some familiar faces and unpretentious attitude his previous and present employers share.
“Jamie Hoyland and David Unsworth, who coached me at United, are both with Everton now and I still see them most days at Finch Farm. We always have a chat about Sheffield United when we bump into each other and it’s good to have people you’ve known for a long time around.
“The whole philosophy at Everton and Sheffield United are similar. They both give opportunities to young players, they both help you develop but the both keep your feet on the ground.
“That’s key. They’re both tough systems which means you are ready to make the step up. They’re both very big on the importance of keeping your feet on the ground and not getting too big for your boots. They’re big on people as well as footballers.”
The benefits of a United and Everton education are evident when, before, after and during our interview, Calvert-Lewin poses for selfies and happily signs autographs for pupils from his old school. The youngsters, who have been invited to watch Aidy Boothroyd’s team prepare for tomorrow evening’s outing, are also introduced to Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham and Ryan Sessegnon of Fulham. But Calvert-Lewin is the star of the show. It serves to remind the 21-year-old of just how far he has come since, nearly three years ago, making the first of his 12 outings for United.
“It’s strange to think people look up to you as a professional footballer. I remember doing the same thing with others. But it’s important to make time for people because, if you do that, they’ll make time for you.
“I’m no different to anyone else. I just happen to play football for a living which lots of people want to do, but that doesn’t make you any different or better than anyone else. Not at all.”
Calvert-Lewin uses another example pertaining to United to underscore the point.
“All of my mates still go to the home games and most of the away ones as well. They send me texts on my performances, they wish me well. Then, after they’ve had a word about me, they’ll tell me how The Blades have got on. It’s good to see them doing well.
“I’m always checking how United are getting on. I hope they get promoted because it would be wonderful going back in the Premier League. Fingers crossed it happens. That would be another brilliant thing to do.”
Which begs the question, with Wilder’s team entering the final eight matches of their season only two points behind the top six, will he ever pull on the red and white stripes again?
“Who knows? Who knows?” Calvert-Lewin laughs. “I’m only 21 so there’s plenty of time yet.”
*England under-21’s v Ukraine under-21’s, Bramall Lane, tomorrow, kick-off 6pm. Tickets are priced £10 (adults), £5 (concessions) and £20 (families).
Successful, approachable and blessed with the lovely knack of making others feel at ease, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is the ideal role model.
But as his former teacher Richard Mintoft reveals the England under-21 international wasn’t always the perfect student.
“He’s a very likeable lad, quite a cheeky chap although he used to wind me up a few times with things,” Mintoft, of Forge Valley, joked. “I was quite young myself when I taught him so I could relate to it. But there were no major issues. I do remember once when he had a squeaky pig in the classroom. I kept hearing the noises and then realised he was holding it under the table.”
Calvert-Lewin was delighted to be reunited with Mintoft when a group of children from the school, which replaced Myers Grove and Wisewood, were invited to the Young Lions training camp at St George’s Park last week.
Calvert-Lewin, who spent over a decade with Sheffield United before joining Everton last term, was introduced to the boys and girls as Aidy Boothroyd’s squad finalised their preparations for tomorrow’s UEFA Championship qualifier against Ukraine at Bramall Lane.
“We’ve got some really successful girls teams at Forge Valley so it’s nice to bring them here,” Mintoft said. “I take no claim on Dom’s football career but hopefully, the way he handles himself now, is partly to do with his schooling. He’s ever so polite and he’s happy to help out and do things for you.
“I taught him at Myers Grove,” Mintoft added. “We knew he was a talented sportsman. At Year 11, he started getting trials and that’s when we realised he was very highly rated by United. I had quite a few conversations with people there who told us that so it’s great to see what he’s doing now.”
Dominic Calvert-Lewin Factfile:
Date of Birth: 16 March 1997
Clubs: Sheffield United, Stalybridge Celtic (loan), Northampton Town (loan), Everton
International Caps: England under-20, England under-21
Honours: 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup
The Career Path:
*Entered the Steelphalt Academy, Sheffield United’s youth system, in April 2005.
*Signed an academy scholarship, aged 16.
*Was an unused substitute during United’s FA Cup win over Aston Villa in January 2014.
*Joined Conference North club Stalybridge Celtic on a youth loan 11 months later.
*Scores twice against Hyde United two days after arriving at Bower Fold.
*Returns to Bramall Lane.
*Makes his professional debut for United as a substitute at Leyton Orient in April 2015.
*Joins Northampton Town, then managed by Chris Wilder, on loan at the beginning of the 2016/16 season.
*Is recalled from Sixfields in January 2016.
*Makes his final appearance for United, under Wilder, during an EFL Cup tie with Crewe in August 2016.
*Completes a transfer, worth around £1.5m, to Everton later that month.
*Appears in an Everton jersey for the first time against Arsenal in December 2016.
*Scores his first senior goal for Everton during a 4-0 win over Hull City in March 2017.
*Claims the winning goal as England beat Venezuela in last year’s FIFA U20 World Cup final.
What they said about Dominic:
Chris Wilder (Sheffield United manager): “He’s a great kid, he’s enthusiastic and he’s got the ability.”
Nigel Clough (Former Sheffield United manager): “He’s technically good and will win headers against anybody.”
Nigel Adkins (Former Sheffield United manager): “Wow, he brought down one ball in a way that was almost ballerina’esque.”
Chris Short (Former Sheffield United player): “He’s a special talent.”
Ronald Koeman (Former Holland international and Everton manager): “He listens and if you ask something of him he tries to do it with all his commitment.”