After a summer of change at Everton, the overhaul continues with the arrival of former Lyon head coach Jean-Luc Vasseur. Ambition is the driver and the Frenchman already has a compatriot at the club who could help bring the success they crave.
Valerie Gauvin marked Vasseur’s first game in charge with a goal after coming on as a late substitute. The hope is that the striker’s return to form and fitness could yet see Everton ignite after what has been a difficult start against a backdrop of rising expectation.
Vasseur’s predecessor at Everton, the Scottish coach Willie Kirk, described Gauvin as “world class” upon her arrival at the club last summer, stressing that she was capable of achieving anything she wants to achieve in football. So what exactly is that?
“I want to score a lot of goals,” Gauvin tells Sky Sports.
It is what she does. There were five of them in her first 10 WSL appearances following the move from Montpellier, earning herself a reputation as the best header of a ball around.
“She just gets her head on anything.” team-mate Claire Emslie tells Sky Sports. “A low cross that you might tap in, she dives at people’s feet to get her head on the end of it. We call her the ball magnet, the ball just finds her if you lump it up the pitch. She is just a goalscorer.”
Gauvin herself cannot explain where she learned the skill.
“Nobody taught me that,” she says.
“I was the same when I was young. It is natural. When the crosses come in from the wings, it is never easy for the defender but it is a good thing for me. I like this ball.”
The adjustment to the WSL was swift but it has not been without its challenges.
“It is a new experience for me – and a big experience. Everything is very professional. The work is not the same, it is much more intense. Physically, in my position, playing up against the defenders, it is more difficult. The game is quicker. The ball goes from box to box.
“The level is better but that is a good thing for my development because I am improving physically and I am improving my technical ability to keep hold of the ball. I certainly improved that in my first year here. It has become more automatic for me.”
Injury could not have struck at a more unfortunate time, coming in the FA Cup final last November after Gauvin had equalised for Everton against Manchester City. The game at Wembley was lost in extra-time after she had been substituted.
Building momentum has been difficult since then.
“At the end of last season, I had a little problem so during the break I had surgery before I came back with the group. That meant pre-season was a little different for me.
“It is difficult in the moment. It was a frustration but that is the game. I did not like it but I did not have a choice. It is behind me and now I just focus on the new season.”
Gauvin, 25, is feeling more settled off the pitch too. Coming to a new country is always a big step but she made it in the midst of a pandemic with a language barrier to overcome.
“When I came here it was a little difficult, because I did not speak English and the life is not the same as in France. Everyone here was welcoming but because of Covid-19 none of my family or friends could come to England to see me. I was just alone.”
That has changed now.
“I recently had my mother with me for one week,” she adds, smiling. “Now, it is better. I hope for everybody. I am happy to be here and enjoying this new experience. I am feeling better and I just hope that I can get the time on the pitch.”
There is competition in the forward positions with the arrival of Toni Duggan and Anna Anvegard. “I think everyone here is an international player,” says Gauvin. “With the new players, it will be better for the team, I think. We are together.”
Even so, the talk of Champions League qualification soon faded after back-to-back 4-0 defeats against Manchester City and Chelsea. Kirk departed after a defeat to Arsenal and a home reverse against Brighton last weekend is a reminder of the work still needed.
“It was just the details,” Gauvin says of their difficult start.
“The games as a whole were not bad, we just needed more aggression, the mentality and the confidence. The opportunity is the same. It is step by step. We will get better in time.”
A home game against Manchester United, live on Sky Sports this Sunday, will be a test. And perhaps an opportunity for Gauvin to give everyone a reminder of her considerable potential.
“The injuries affected Val after she started so well for us, but she is back now, which is great,” says Emslie. “She is vital for us and we know that she will find her flow again.”
And, for Gauvin, the ball magnet, that means scoring goals.
“I am a striker,” she says. “That is my mentality.”
Valerie Gauvin wears the adidas X Speedflow, available at adidas.co.uk/football-shoes