The opening day of a new football season is always special, but this one is particularly significant for me.
After moving back to Everton this summer, the chance to pull on the Blue shirt again and play at Goodison Park in the Premier League, in front of my family and friends, really excites me, which is why our opening game against Stoke cannot come soon enough.
I have always been a fan of Everton Football Club so when the opportunity arose to come back to my boyhood club this summer, I jumped at it and the last few weeks have certainly lived up to my expectations.
The Everton fans have been brilliant since the news of my return was announced. The reception they gave me was fantastic.
Hopefully, now I can start to repay them with good performances and goals as we all strive to take the club to the next level.
After a busy summer in the transfer market – manager Ronald Koeman has made seven new signings so far and there could be more to follow before the transfer window closes – our fans are excited about the season ahead, and rightly so. In terms of the Premier League, our first aim must be to improve on last season, when we finished seventh in the final table.
We also want to go as far as we can in the cup competitions and we’ve made a good start on that front, beating the Slovakian team MFK Ruzomberok over two legs to reach the Europa League play-offs later this month.
For me personally, to win a trophy at the club I’ve grown up supporting would be great. The last time we won something was in 1995, so to bring some silverware back to Goodison would be right up there.
We know it’s going to be challenging competing on four fronts but the manager has made some great signings, bringing in the likes of Davy Klaassen, Michael Keane, Jordan Pickford and Sandro Ramirez, meaning the competition to make the starting XI is going to be intense.
As players, we all know we will need to play well to keep our place in the team. Our preparations for the new season have gone well – we are unbeaten in six matches – and I, personally, feel good going into the opening weekend.
Pre-season is always a difficult time for a footballer. Because you are training hard before and after the games, you never really feel match sharp. But that is precisely why we play friendlies and you could see all the hard work starting to pay off in training this week, where there was an extra sharpness and quality in our sessions.
Now we need to show that today. We know we’re in for a tough start.
Stoke are never an easy team to play against but if we can begin the season with a win, it will give the squad that extra bit of confidence and belief going into a tough run of fixtures against Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United.
And, of course, an early return to Old Trafford, where I spent 13 fantastic years playing in great teams and winning trophies in front of fans who never ever stopped supporting me, will be a strange feeling.
But I hope they understand that playing for Everton was the only way I would be back there playing for an opposing Premier League team. We must all concentrate on getting a good league run going and achieving some consistency in the Premier League.
If we can do that then we’ll see where we are at Christmas time and reassess our goals.
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