Alex Iwobi's versatility is proving to be his saving grace at Everton

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EXCLUSIVE - Odion Ighalo's Nigeria retirement 'too soon' (1:36)

Odion Ighalo speaks about whether or not he'd consider a return to the Nigerian squad. (1:36)

For a player whose career looked, at least from the outside, to be going nowhere fast at the start of the season, Everton's Alex Iwobi's turnaround has been especially pleasing.

It can be marked down to his versatility, added to a timely switch in position by Toffees manager Carlo Ancelotti.

Watching Iwobi turn in that exquisite opening goal on Tuesday against Wolves must have come as a welcome boost, not just to the player but also to his fans.

It was his first league goal of the season, so one swallow does not a summer make, but it encapsulated everything about not just the Nigerian's game, and his growing confidence.

From his wide position as a wingback, Iwobi received the ball, touched it to James Rodrigues, and then continued his run into the box in anticipation.

Rodrigues' long diagonal to Lucas Digne was also cut back first time into the path of the arriving Iwobi, who side footed, again with one touch, past the Wolves defence and goalkeeper.

It was an elegant team goal, but one that also showed off what Iwobi is capable of. His ghosting movement into the box after Rodrigues played the ball out wide to Digne caught the Wolves defence by surprise.

But they need not have been taken unawares if they had watched enough Nigeria games, especially on a day when Everton were playing without a recognised striker.

Those positions between the lines right at the top of the box are the areas where Iwobi tends to slip into when he plays central midfield for Nigeria.

It is why he has scored three goals for the Super Eagles in 2021 already. That includes the brace against Sierra Leone.

Everton are now enjoying the benefits of that movement and workaholic style.

For a fair few weeks in the English summer, it did not look like things would trend in this direction. Frankly, it didn't look like he was trending in any direction but the exit door.

Acquired in 2019 from Arsenal for GBP28 million, Iwobi was expected to be pivotal part of Everton's ambitions to make a play for at least the top 6.

But he failed to have any significant impact in a topsy turvy campaign under Marco Silva, despite regular playing time, and ended the season with just one goal from 25 appearances.

With Silva relieved of his duties, Anceloti arrived as his replacement and things took a turn for Iwobi, who featured in just nine of the Italian's first 20 games in charge. In fairness, a hamstring injury contributed to those absences, but on his return from injury, he barely featured.

When Everton splashed out on Colombian Rodrigues, things looked bleak for Iwobi. And when said replacement exploded with goals and assists in his first few games for the Toffees as they romped to the top of the table, Iwobi's position looked desperate indeed.

But despite how bad it looked from the outside, sources close to the player assured ESPN as far back as September that the midfielder had the confidence of his manager and would get minutes once he was back to full fitness.

"There's been so much speculation in the press about Alex not being in Ancelotti's plans - the long and short of it is that Alex has been in recovery from a hamstring problem and is now back in training," the source told ESPN at the time.

"He gets on very well with Ancelotti but there is real competition for starting places. Alex has been very professional, works hard in training and has the right attitude as he never complains.

"Hopefully he will have a good season."

That hope proved prophetic.

With the fierce competition for places, coupled with injuries to Seamus Coleman and Digne, Ancelotti moved Iwobi from wide midfielder to wing back, a position he had not played before, but one which, in hindsight, suited his skillset.

It gave him a view of the field, plenty of space in front of him to run into, and the opportunity to isolate the opposing full back.

And he excelled in it, largely with the help of Ancelotti refining his defensive smarts.

"It is an unfamiliar position for him," an advisor told ESPN. "But he is professional enough to know that sometimes you have to do a job for the coach and team. Alex thrives in a free role as a No 10 or No 8 that's why he loves playing for Nigeria."

Former Nigeria youth coach John Obuh, who guided the country's under 17s to the final of the 2009 FIFA World Cup, backed the switch.

"It is always very good once you see a player who can switch positions to fit the demands of the team's tactics," he told ESPN.

"Many players have done it. Victor Moses was moved to wingback under Antonio Conte at Chelsea, and even Iwobi's uncle Jay Jay Okocha started his career with Nigeria by playing on the left wing before he moved to the attacking midfield."

This versatility has served many a player well, and for Iwobi, it appears to have provided the turnaround he needed to win back the Everton faithful with his attitude and performances in a new role.

It is those qualities, that ability to excel in different roles that has seen Iwobi win 44 caps for Nigeria at just 24. And, after helping him fight his way back when he had been all but written off, is what is now rejuvenated his club career.