Andros Townsend: ‘I feel people doubt I’m good enough for this level’
Not every Evertonian afforded the newcomer a rapturous reception this summer. It was not just Rafael Benítez’s experience, but that of an old ally. Andros Townsend is an England international who is approaching 250 Premier League games and who has appeared in the top flight in nine consecutive campaigns. He could have been playing Champions League football this season. Instead, he chose Everton. They have spent half a billion pounds on transfers under Farhad Moshiri’s ownership. To some, he represented an underwhelming acquisition. Townsend does not complain about that unflattering interpretation, but he is motivated by it.
“I understand when I signed maybe Everton fans, or fans in general, didn’t understand why this club, with their ambition, would get a free transfer from Crystal Palace,” said Townsend, who is aware of the perception his career was on a downward trajectory. “A lot of people wouldn’t have expected me to get this opportunity. I had a spell at the start of my career with Spurs fighting for the top six, then I had a spell when I was battling relegation each year and fighting to get into the top 10 was a good season. I feel I have a lot of doubters wondering if I am good enough to play at this level. My hunger is probably more than it was in the past. This is what gets me out of bed: trying to prove those people wrong.”
The first recruit of a new regime can be a statement signing; in Townsend, Everton have a surprise signing. He could be doubly symbolic, a Benítez loyalist from their days together at Newcastle and, as the Spaniard’s first three additions came for a combined £1.7m, perhaps a sign of the return of austerity-era Everton.
But he attracted covetous glances when his contract at Selhurst Park expired. Benítez had texted now and then after the winger left Newcastle in 2016. Then he got back in touch and showed his persuasive powers. “I spoke to Rafa soon after he got the job,” Townsend said. “I had some interesting offers. I was trying to delay them as long as possible; I was waiting patiently for that offer from Everton to come through. Thankfully it did. Maybe I could have played Champions League football in a different country, which did excite me, but it wasn’t a case of weighing anything up. With the Premier League, Everton and Rafa Benítez, it was a no-brainer for me.”
That other country was “possibly” Turkey, with Besiktas apparent suitors. Europe represents a different sort of objective for Townsend. Everton underachieved to limp in 10th last year, but he says: “They were in the European places for large parts of it. They started on fire and were in the top two places in the first half of the season and then fell away. There’s no reason why this group of players and manager can’t go one step further.”
Everyone can understand why there was opposition to him getting the job but he will win the fans over, for sure
A febrile fanbase after the most controversial managerial appointment in the club’s history could be one reason; so was a 4-0 friendly defeat at Manchester United last Saturday, which boded badly. “A reality check, a real eye-opener,” said Townsend, but in an opening six matches against Southampton, Leeds, Brighton, Burnley, Aston Villa and Norwich, he spies a chance for Everton to be early season pacesetters again and for Benítez to alter opinions among those who objected to the hiring of the former Liverpool manager.
“They are winnable games,” he said. “Everyone can understand the connection between the two clubs and why there was opposition to him getting the job but he will win the fans over, for sure, with his passion, his attention to detail, the way he wants to play and how hard he works. Once we get up and running, I am sure the fans will warm to him. He had a similar thing at Chelsea. I am sure it will not faze him.”
Townsend is an eloquent ambassador for the new regime while being transported back to his past and his time with Benítez on Tyneside. “He has picked up where he left off,” he said. “He wants me to get in the box more, he wants me to come inside more and he works tirelessly. I don’t think there is a time when Rafa is pictured and there isn’t a player next to him, a player he is talking to, trying to improve parts of their game they probably have not even thought about.”
Yet one aspect of Townsend’s play assumes most importance. He and Demarai Gray, “who we have somehow managed to get on the cheap”, signal a renewed commitment to wingers. They form part of Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s supply line. “That is probably the main reason I am here,” Townsend reasoned. “The vision for me is to get crosses into the box for Dominic.” Having crossed Merseyside’s great divide, Benítez is also relying on a crosser.