Impressive youth development another burgeoning facet of Everton’s bright future

Matt Jones 01/09/2016  25 Comments  [Jump to last]

As Ross Barkley strode on to the Goodison Park turf donning the captain's armband against Yeovil Town in the newly branded EFL Cup, plenty involved in the Everton Academy setup would have beamed with pride.

For those who work in this section of the football machine, it's as good as it gets. A local player snapped up in his youth, progressing through the tiers of the club's infrastructure, and going on to lead the senior team out. It's a feat rarely seen in a modern game awash with eye-watering financial might.

That status quo is one Evertonians have invested in since Farhad Moshiri bought into the football club, triggering excitement about what's to come. Chatter between Blues has been abuzz with speculation about signings and a potential new arena, although the work being done by the club's Academy is another reason to expect a bright future.

Although plenty have been oblivious to it, the controversial EFL Trophy featured an Everton U23 team on Tuesday evening. They overturned a Bolton Wanderers side top of League 1 with a professional display, with Liam Walsh, Bassala Sambou and Antonee Robinson starring against strong opponents.

The 2-0 victory in itself was impressive, although it's just the latest positive segment in a brilliant start to the season under manager David Unsworth.

After three games in the newly revamped Premier League 2, Everton top the standings with a perfect record to this point, beating the best youngsters Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City and Derby County have to offer; they've also notched a win over Reading in the Premier League International Cup.

It's a winning trend that's been continued from last term, as the Toffees clicked into gear brilliantly late in the campaign, winning four and drawing two of their last six games to finish third in the table.

Of course, it's not all about winning at this level of football. It's a crucial learning curve for prodigious players involved as they prepare for the cutthroat landscape of senior football. But with players like Mason Holgate and Tom Davies part of the senior squad for the upcoming campaign, the club continues to excel in expediting this precarious process.

David Unsworth seems to be the driving force behind that. The U23s' manager impressed plenty when he was thrust into the managerial hotseat at Goodison Park late last season following the sacking of Roberto Martinez. His unashamed love for Everton and refreshing delight at being handed the chance was invigorating for a club that had sagged into a lull.

But as anyone who watched Unsworth as a player will know, there's another less amicable side to him. He carries a presence on the sidelines, barking instructions with authority and letting those players who are short of their best know it. The 42-year-old looks every inch a future manager.

Yet, for the time being, Everton will want to keep him as the figurehead of the Academy setup, which seems to be striking a tremendous balance at this juncture.

First season aside, Martinez's tenure will not be remembered fondly and not without credence given the spectacular manner in which things unravelled. Although some of the methods the Catalan preached and the interest he took in the Academy has benefitted these young players: all of the club's youth sides look after the ball brilliantly.

“Everton didn't frustrate Bolton,” wrote David Prentice of the Liverpool Echo of the performance of the team at the Macron Stadium on Tuesday. “They passed the ball slickly, sharply and penetratingly.”

Earlier in the campaign, Everton took Leicester apart in a 4-1 win, turning on the style with some splendid goals against a more senior opponent and securing their fourth victory in 11 days.

Even further down in the infrastructure, that vibrant football is shining through too. While Kevin Sheedy's Under 18s have stumbled out of the starting blocks in their league — losing three from three in so far — earlier in the year, they triumphed in the Dallas Cup, with Delial Brewster blasting in five goals.

Sheedy, who won the European Cup Winners Cup and two Football League Championship titles with the Toffees, hailed the win as “up there” alongside his best triumphs in football. Those who watched the clashes will attest to a team that carried a significant attacking threat and plenty of technical proficiency.

The club has evidently placed a major emphasis on youth development too. In a recent post on the club's website, Chief Executive Officer Robert Elstone said Everton want to boast the “best football Academy in the world” and hailed the impact of Dr Peter Vint, who was appointed as the club's Academy Director in January 2016.

Vint's was previously involved in the United States Olympic Committee where he was Senior Director of Competitive Analysis, Research & Innovation and he is bringing a fresh slant when aiding the evolution of young footballers.

“The important parallel with the Olympics and here is to be as clear as you can be with the players, as you are with elite level athletes, about where they need to be at given points,” he said in the same article. “When they have that information they are more responsive.”

The responses have been positive and the culmination of these factors is an Academy infrastructure that's aligned, enjoying success and either producing talents ready to make the step up into the first team, like Barkley, Davies and Kieran Dowell, or helping polish youngsters recruited from elsewhere such as Holgate, John Stones and Brendan Galloway.

Of course, Everton now possess the capital that can help them recruit a higher calibre of player, which is always vital in pushing a football club forward.

But for a club still striving to bridge the gap to the genuine juggernauts of the of the English game, it's imperative the path from the Academy to the first-team is clear. Everton, it seems, are doing their utmost to ensure it's one often tread.

Follow @MattJFootball

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