David Unsworth was promoted to Everton’s caretaker manager in 2017 following the drawn-out departure of Ronald Koeman, and it seemed only a matter of time before Beni Baningime followed him from the reserves to the first-team.
“He's of the mould of (Claude) Makelele, of (N'Golo) Kante and, honestly, I cannot pay him a big enough compliment to say he is that good I fully expect him to kick on and be that type of player in our first-team,” Unsworth told the Liverpool Echo of Baningime in April 2017.
Sure enough, six months later, the Congo-born midfielder was stepping out on the Goodison Park turf, featuring in the Premier League for the first time with Unsworth beaming like a proud father from the touchline.
And it didn’t take Baningime long to justify comparisons with Chelsea heroes Makelele and Kante, two of the most influential and successful holding midfielders of the 21st century.
In fact, if you had asked Everton fans in the autumn of 2017 where they thought Baningime would be two years later, most would have predicted that the 20-year-old would be an established Premier League player and an invaluable member of the Toffees’ squad.
So it is fair to say things have not really worked out for him since Unsworth’s short-lived spell in the dugout came to an end. These days, Baningime is back playing for the U23s after a disappointing loan at Wigan Athletic in the second half of last season, playing one game in five months and finding himself frozen out by Latics boss Paul Cook.
It is telling, although not entirely surprising, that when Idrissa Gana Gueye sealed his long-awaited move to PSG, Everton decided to invest £25 million in Mainz’s Jean-Philippe Gbamin rather than put their trust in a player Unsworth tipped to be Merseyside’s answer to the irrepressible Kante.
With Fabian Delph, Andre Gomes, Morgan Schneiderlin and even Tom Davies ahead of him in Marco Silva’s pecking order too, Baningime appears to be at a crossroads in his young career.
After sampling the tantalising taste of Premier League football, he looks further than ever from a place in Everton’s plans.
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