When you talk to Evertonians about Ronald Koeman, there appears to be a near-universal acceptance that the Dutchman probably won't be at Everton beyond the terms of the three-year contract he signed when he agreed to become Roberto Martinez's successor in June. After all, due to ambition or circumstance, that's the longest tenure he has managed as a coach to date.
From a club that rewarded David Moyes's relative success with 11 years at the helm at Goodison Park and handed Martinez what was, with the benefit of hindsight, an expensive and ill-advised five-year contract extension in 2014, the Toffees are now operating on a different model — one of pragmatism born of the need to regroup following two bottom-half finishes and quickly get back to competing for European qualification with a manager with a track record of doing just that.
There is always the adage about how things aren't ever the same once Everton touches you, but you get the sense that Koeman, he of the icy veins that made him such an effective defender and brilliant dead-ball specialist and the dispassionate air with which he departed Southampton for Merseyside, would be fairly resistant to Alan Ball's near-truism about the Blues.
Having endured such a jarring setback over the past couple of seasons, marked as it was by nadirs like the displays at Anfield, the King Power Stadium and the Stadium of Light earlier this year that were unimaginable in 2013-14, Everton fans appear to be similarly unemotional about Koeman's apparently near-term horizon. This time you feel it is strictly business — allow the manager to implement his two-year plan and see if he is able to deliver on the prospect of Champions League qualification before his deal is up.
On the one hand, being so sanguine while effectively being treated as a stepping stone should be anathema to a club of Everton's standing and ambitions but, on the other, if Koeman's plan is successful, it will be win-win for both parties: he gets his dream assignment at somewhere like Barcelona and the Blues are in a much more attractive place in terms of attracting a successor of equal prowess and the players to match.
Koeman's transfer policy over the summer offered more than a nod towards quickly addressing Everton's key problems over the past couple of years as he saw them. The acquisitions of Idrissa Gueye, Ashley Williams and Yannick Bolasie — not to mention the failed bid for Moussa Sissoko — all spoke to the need to bring in robust, fit, energetic and effective players with Premier League experience.
It has made the side far more difficult to beat — just one Premier League defeat in the first seven games is a significant improvement on those three awful aforementioned losses in the run-in last term — and much more able to last the distance in games, all of which bodes well for a season that is still in its relative infancy.
Has the manager's “short-termism” come at the expense of youth, though? And, given the focused footing that Everton are on at the moment, can we afford to be too worried about it? In the final game of 2015-16 against Norwich, all three of Tom Davies, Kieran Dowell and Jonjoe Kenny looked to have announced themselves as being ready to be part of the first-team picture on a regular basis. Callum Connolly, too, had made an accomplished debut a month earlier.
Since Koeman's arrival, however, all three of Dowell, Kenny and Connolly have dropped back to full-time duty with the Under-23s and Davies has been restricted to the bench in the Premier League. None of them were involved in either of the League Cup ties against Yeovil or Norwich even though Koeman made six changes for the latter.
In the context of the manager's need to stabilise the side and justify his club-record salary by getting off to a solid start to the his first season, it's perhaps not surprising that he hasn't risked such inexperienced heads. There has, however, been concern raised among fans specifically where Davies is concerned given the long-term injury that struck Muhamed Besic down in pre-season, Darron Gibson's chequered fitness record, and Tom Cleverley's inconsistency.
The 18-year-old has demonstrated all of the apparent pre-requisites for a Koeman player — energy, confidence and fortitude — with the added ability to get up and down the pitch from box to box but has merited just two substitute appearances so far. Perhaps the manager is being cautious with his development but an argument might also be made for Dowell's involvement in light of the team's lack of guile and creativity over the past couple of games, not to mention what many felt was a premature move in dropping Mason Holgate back to the bench once Seamus Coleman regained fitness. Then there was the decision to send Brendan Galloway out on loan for an entire season with question marks over the depth of cover at left back.
Nevertheless, Koeman was credited with bringing through some of Ajax's finest players while he was in charge in Amsterdam, including the likes of Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong, and ex-Blue Johnny Heitinga so there is precedence on his CV. Furthermore, his unfulfilled desire to oversee a productive youth system has been cited as one of the reasons why his short-lived spell at Valencia was such an uncharacteristically marked failure.
And a fallow period in the recent history of Southampton's fabled farm of talented youngsters was one of the reasons to which his decision not remain on the south coast was attributed this past summer. The Saints' sell-to-buy model meant that they relied heavily on their academy but Koeman is reported to have fallen out with that club's head of player development, Les Reed, over the dip in quality of youth after which he took the step of temporarily banning all youngsters from the first team as a sign of frustration.
The situation at Finch Farm is very different, of course (as is Everton's budget). Indeed, Koeman arrived at Everton at a time when the Blues' Academy was bearing the fruits of years of groundwork, development, coaching and savvy recruitment, with a crop of promising youngsters reaching the Under-21 and Under-23 level at the same time.
In addition to all of the young players already mentioned, Tyias Browning and Matthew Pennington are other players with first-team experience who are soon to return from injury, while Liam Walsh and Joe Williams are being talked about in terms of an imminent break-through into the senior side. When remains an open question, particularly given the fact that together with Steve Walsh, Koeman will be drawing up a shortlist of established transfer targets to bolster a push for Europe over the second half of the season.
In the interim, it's perhaps the striker position where there is a growing clamour for Koeman to throw a younger player into the mix should — God forbid — Romelu Lukaku be out injured for any significant length of time because none of Arouna Kone, Enner Valencia or Oumar Niasse look remotely capable of deputising for him. Callum Dyson has been enjoying a hot streak for the Under-23s this season and Dominic Calvert-Lewin is attracting more and more admirers with his goalscoring exploits for England's Under-20s.
Whether Koeman turns to youth at any point remains to be seen. It is, of course, early days in the Dutchman's tenure but it's hard to escape the feeling at the moment that if he is indeed working on the basis of perhaps making another move in 2019, then most of what he does will be geared towards that time horizon. That his signings and targets were all around 27 years old didn't go unnoticed over the summer and it further cemented that idea of a three-year cycle in some supporters' minds.
Ultimately, Koeman will be judged on results and performances and his primary focus will be achieving that in a way that will most likely see him hit that goal and meet the expectation of having Everton consistently challenging for Europe over the next three seasons. That may or many not include blooding youth from the Academy but it's understandable to a large degree the hasn't turned to youth in these early weeks when getting the team back on an even keel was the priority.
At some point, another old adage of “if you're good enough you're old enough” could make some of the younger players hard to ignore. And the longer David Unsworth's U23s and then Kevin Sheedy's U18s below them keep performing and topping their respective leagues the more they will be knocking on the door of the first team and coming to Koeman's attention.
For now, it would appear as though he and Walsh will continue to scout experienced and established players to keep Everton competitive in what is this season a particularly challenging Premier League. The hope is, however, that as the younger players continue their development and grow in age and stature, they will start to get a look-in and have the opportunity to prove they're good enough to cut it in the top flight.
Reader Comments (48)
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1 Posted 13/10/2016 at 07:45:53
Most are only names and fuzzy 10-second highlight clips I've watched on the club site. I've seen a bit of Galloway, Holgate and Davies, but that's about it. What I've seen was impressive. I do realize that the talent level difference between the U-23s and the senior side is enormous, and that the odds of the kids making it to the Premier League are pretty slim; however, they are making so much noise, they will be very hard to ignore.
2 Posted 13/10/2016 at 08:04:54
I was disappointed that neither Davies or Dowell was given a game in the EFL Cup and we went out with an anemic performance. Dowell in my opinion is the only natural No 10 we have at the club and is a real talent. He's worth a place on the bench and give him a few short run-outs from there.
3 Posted 13/10/2016 at 08:16:45
4 Posted 13/10/2016 at 08:39:28
If we keep recruiting, over the next 2 to 3 years, experienced players from outside to the exclusion of talented young players already at the club, we will seriously weaken, if not destroy, our widely admired youth policy. Current good "kids" will have become young men by then and will have left out of sheer frustration. And it will be very difficult to start rebuilding that infrastructure.
5 Posted 13/10/2016 at 08:39:38
6 Posted 13/10/2016 at 08:42:20
It should be mentioned too that Davies has had a couple of run-outs as a sub in the first team already this season, so it's reasonable to assume he won't be far away from getting a Premier League start sooner rather than later this season.
Koeman's signings Gueye, Williams, and Stekelenburg were always likely to slot straight into the first team, simply because they were Koeman's signings. At the end of the day, only 11 players can be on the field at any one time but we all know we need a squad to cover the inevitable later in the season. The young guns' time will come.
7 Posted 13/10/2016 at 08:55:57
It is disappointing that we got knocked out of the EFL Cup though as it means less games for opportunities.
Expect more loans.
8 Posted 13/10/2016 at 09:03:25
I think it is always easier for a young player to replace a first-team regular due to injury or suspension than loss of form. They are given a bit more tolerance by the crowd, and possibly by teammates; as they have been pressed into action, there is less tendency to view their performance in direct comparison to the player who has been dropped... less of a need for the incoming player to be an improvement.
As for whether the young player should be retained once the established first teamer is available again, it's not just as straightforward as "if he's done well, he keeps the shirt". There is very often a dip in form after their first few games, taking them out of the limelight before that dip, saying "thanks very much, you've done well, I'll call on you again" (as I suspect will have happened with Mason Holgate) may be the canniest move.
9 Posted 13/10/2016 at 09:35:18
On the other hand, given what Craig #6 says about various factors leading to loss of current first team players (to which I'd add loss of players to the Africa Cup of Nations (?)), then we might well see more of the young lads, and Koeman is preparing them for this in his own way.
10 Posted 13/10/2016 at 09:39:27
As for the others, Koeman sees them every day and I'm sure he watches the U23s and U18s matches. He will know more about what they're capable of than we do. If they're better than what we have, then he'll play them.
Not many players make a successful break into the first team of a Premier League team at a young age. Certainly not many 18- or 19-year-olds.
11 Posted 13/10/2016 at 09:45:35
He strikes me as being an arch pragmatist and the fact that the likes of Cleverley and Gibson have been preferred to Davies says it all for me. And the fact that McAleny is still going through the motions with the U23s when he is now past his 24th birthday cannot be much of a motivation for the Blues hopefuls, can it?
12 Posted 13/10/2016 at 10:13:27
13 Posted 13/10/2016 at 10:18:49
Maybe Koeman doesn't think they're better than what is in the first team at the moment.
14 Posted 13/10/2016 at 10:29:07
It is up to them, the harder they work and strive to improve, the quicker they will achieve their goal. Some will get their chance; some will not... it's in their own hands.
15 Posted 13/10/2016 at 10:38:58
As mentioned by Lyndon, the likes of Holgate, Galloway, Davies, Dowell, Walsh, Connolly, Williams, and quite a few more are all great prospects, but they all can't play. Although I really hope as many as possible get the chance to prove themselves with the first team. I believe this is our golden crop of youngsters.
16 Posted 13/10/2016 at 10:42:38
Koeman had to steady the ship first and foremost and he needed to do that by bringing in experienced reinforcements.
Only 1 or two youngsters are ever going to break though over the course of a season and I'd still be confident that we will see more of Davies and perhaps Dowell and Walsh.
17 Posted 13/10/2016 at 11:20:04
Blooding youngsters for him is a second-order consideration. His priority is winning games and getting as far up the table as he can.
As a consequence, bringing on the next generation is a "nice to do" not a "need to do" (unless there are injuries and the younger players have to be given a chance).
18 Posted 13/10/2016 at 11:31:13
With bringing in a DoF in Steve Walsh, the glass ceiling is being reinforced against anyone breaking through. Any signings will go into the team or to the front of the queue. Best thing for the U23 lads is to go out on loan and make a name for themselves.
19 Posted 13/10/2016 at 11:51:25
Worryingly I have a feeling Koeman is only concerned with the short term at the moment, I hope that changes.
20 Posted 13/10/2016 at 13:53:38
21 Posted 13/10/2016 at 14:31:48
I watched the 'youngsters' a few times last season; I will watch many more this season, and remain firmly of the opinion that we possess a very talented crop of youngsters, and that they should be given opportunities with the 1st team.
Many fans feel that Davies is the better option than Cleverley when Barry is injured, tired or suspended. Wait until you see Liam Walsh.
What cannot be denied, for we have all seen it, is that the youngsters will run all day and give their all which is more than can be said of some of the established pros.
Let's hope Koeman's arrogance and vision don't blind him as to what's under his nose... we just got rid of one of those pricks.
22 Posted 13/10/2016 at 14:44:04
23 Posted 13/10/2016 at 15:11:09
For me, it's time we all realised that a lack of a footballing brain will permanently cap Barkley's development. Compare with Davies. Davies pushes, he prods, he continually asks for possession, he makes the best decisions on whether to hold or pass, whether to go forward or play the easy ball etc. It's about time Davies was given his head.
24 Posted 13/10/2016 at 15:50:55
Once he has the starting 11 plus his next 4 subs (counting the goalkeeper) determined as regulars, then see what he does with the kids. When he then brings a kid into the side, it will be to see if he is better than (not equal to or full of potential) the vet already in his position. If the kid then proves himself, he plays more and gets to be a regular part of the first team and a sub or even starter on the game day squad.
I would expect more appearances for the youngsters in December and after the first of the year. However, this too would depend upon our position in the table and what Koeman's actual season's goals are.
25 Posted 13/10/2016 at 16:03:29
While I have no doubt some of the names here are excellent players, they may lack the bulk and nous required to be regulars in the first team.
The other aspect is of course consistency and two of my favourite youngsters, Dowell and Galloway, have been very inconsistent in the U23 side. It seems that Galloway has also fallen prey to this at West Brom after an excellent start there.
In most cases, we have to rely on the management to judge when and if a youngster is ready. I'm sure, if the lads are deemed good enough, Koeman will give them their chance.
26 Posted 13/10/2016 at 16:52:11
I actually agree with you but, as I pointed out above, there were others who questioned Koeman's decision... a lot of it in hindsight, of course, given that Seamus hasn't set the world on fire since returning.
My point where Holgate is concerned is that his situation adds to the picture when taken in aggregate of the manager's focus on experience at the expense of youth so far. (The key word in the title is "yet".)
In questioning how committed he is to youth the piece might be a little premature but it seems as though my acceptance of Koeman's current approach and pragmatism on this gets lost a little in the reading of the article. Right now I want results but he may need to turn to a couple of younger options as the season wears on.
27 Posted 13/10/2016 at 18:30:59
I think Holgate has been handled well: give them a taste of the first team then let them go and learn their trade some more, then bring them back for another spell.
Too many promising youngsters are thrown in and kept in (not just talking about Everton). Ease them in gradually...
29 Posted 13/10/2016 at 19:41:44
So he's got 227 Premier League appearances and 13 England caps – that doesn't make him a good player. Or are you suggesting every player who's played a couple of hundred games in the Premier League should be an automatic choice over every promising youngster?
Probably the only reason he played for England was because he played for Man Utd. And I'd be shocked if he was capped while playing for Wigan or Everton. For me he offers the side next to nothing offensively or defensively and just looks like a typical Lilleshall player or whatever it's called now.
That said, it's all about opinions. One man's meat and all that. I personally think – and I don't suppose I'm alone here – I hope he doesn't get in the side ahead of the likes of Davies and Dowell... ditto Gibson.
30 Posted 13/10/2016 at 20:28:08
The senior pros who don't fit in will be getting moved on in January and next summer. A couple of vacancies in the squad might become free for the young lads through this.
I don't think there is anything unusual in this. I certainly wouldn't be jumping to conclusions about what the manager is going to do with the kids now after half a dozen games. I also think he could stay more than 3 years his assistants are loving it at Everton.
The only thing we know is that we don't know.
31 Posted 13/10/2016 at 20:54:40
Defensively they seem to be holding their own but the big test will come against Man City and of course the RS. I still feel Jags and Williams are lacking the extra inch to make them comfortable in the air but we will see...
Coleman is always an impressive raider but is sometimes caught out and Baines is a little past his best. We need to see much more from Deulofeu and Lennon as a supporting cast but I am not hopeful were Valencia is concerned.
32 Posted 13/10/2016 at 22:22:07
That is to say we have too many unreliable players to be able to compensate for any errors, or poor performances by the youngsters.
The unreliable players would have to ''turn up'' for every match, as opposed go their 20- or 30-minute performances.
33 Posted 13/10/2016 at 22:34:44
In general terms, they have to be a bloody sight better than 'signings' as their every game has been under the eye of someone at the Club rather than agents or dodgy scouts – and we've had a few of those.
Can you really imagine that Niasse and the like would ever have made it into the £50k-a-week bracket here if their formative years had been spent at Finch Farm?
Indeed, as far as Niasse is concerned, he would never have progressed beyond the Under-10s, I suspect! See what I mean?
35 Posted 14/10/2016 at 07:21:21
In the unlikely event that we get a two- or three-goal lead, to rest players I think it more beneficial to put a young lad on for the last 10 minutes than an ageing player you know all about!
36 Posted 14/10/2016 at 09:45:12
These days, you can bet the thinking will be money related!
37 Posted 14/10/2016 at 10:20:53
38 Posted 14/10/2016 at 15:12:20
I agree, Dowell and Davies should be in and around the 1st team. Let's build a strong foundation and a team that puts in for 95 minutes. Then we can introduce young players into a confident side.
Cleverley is not as bad as some make out. Yes, he's a bit inconsistent... but that is because he needs a run of games.
39 Posted 14/10/2016 at 15:46:15
Modern managers seem to have little patience and little inclination to nurture talent over a season or two. They prefer to buy the ready-made product.
Youngsters need to go out on loan if they want experience and to be noticed, but Garbutt hasn't found that helpful, nor did Barkley.
40 Posted 15/10/2016 at 02:56:32
The way a young player breaks through is not by being "given" a chance by the manager. It's by crashing through the barrier and giving the manager no choice, and it's by grabbing that place on the pitch and making it his own.
Something will happen to give these young players an opening. Barry will get tired, or someone will get injured, or RK will finally get fed up with Barkley, and the chance will appear. And then it'll be up to the player to prove the place belongs to him and no other.
41 Posted 15/10/2016 at 09:03:28
Players need more about them than just being a good striker of the ball or a good tackler, they need to have a few strings to there bow to cut it in the Premier League.
I would love to see a few of our young guns replace players like Oviedo, Cleverley, Lennon and Gibson as squad players, but I'm not sure Ronald Koeman is looking to do that. I think he's happier with taking a solid 6/10 in Cleverley than taking a chance on a Dowell or Davies. Same with Oviedo over Connolly or Garbutt.
We're only a few months in though so we need to wait and see.
42 Posted 17/10/2016 at 19:17:53
Perhaps if the Everton website can't handle it ToffeeWeb should place a little advert on the site. Hope to see a load of toffees at the Tranmere ground on Sunday to cheer the lads on, it's not far to go, parking is relatively easy and it's cheap.
43 Posted 17/10/2016 at 19:50:51
Click on name of opposition to reveal where game being played, KO time.
44 Posted 17/10/2016 at 20:25:57
45 Posted 17/10/2016 at 20:34:49
46 Posted 18/10/2016 at 19:00:47
I can see that Everton have changed on this issue, as we seemed to be much better at giving youngsters actual game time from time to time in a semi regular fashion, in order to test and see if the youngsters were up for it.
I take the examples of James Vaughan, Francis Jeffers and Daniel Cadamarteri as youngsters who we played in spells, and I think that is the best way to find out if they are talented enough for us to keep on the payroll.
In my view, today we are no longer pushing what makes fans truly exited to see, we need a local youngster in the first team in order to get really behind the club going forward.
I know our priority is buying top quality, but we need to keep giving chances to some of our young talents in the first team.
I have a good feeling about Kieran Dowell as an example, he should be tested out in the Premier League for us now, because we are lacking attacking options.
I have noticed a few other attacking players in the U-23 team that needs to be given a tryout in the first team, much like Michael Branch and James Vaughan were, not EVERY game but in small spells as a substitute.
We need to keep our local identity as a club, and that starts with the young locals who loves this club aas much as we do.
I am sick and tired of hearing about Lukaku and his constant put down of our club, and I would rather we as a club start pushing our youngsters more by giving the ones who show form for the U-23`s a short spell in the first team so that we can truly judge who has the most likely chance of making it to the first team.
Instead of sending them out on loan, we need to test them in our team so we as fans can judge who is going to make it or not.
We as fans are the club, and we need to see some of our best latest youngsters in action where it truly matters, for the first team.
We need to gamble a bit more, Alex Ferguson had it EXACTLY right, we are too scared to try out our own youngsters because we might actually be able to judge for ourselves if our acadamy is still producing.
Money is good to have, but our most important assets after that is our youngsters, Unsworth needs to remind Koeman of the importance of giving youth a chance!
I have not seen Koeman take a single gamble with our youngsters, I think it is time we as fans start DEMAND we see at least 1 new young player each season, and to reach that goal youngsters will have to be tested, just like United tested out some of their best youngsters when they were in a pinch.
Our squad is in major need of some young fresh energetic young talent to sprinkle some angel dust on this team.
I refer you all to the feeling we had against Norwich at home last season, where Unsworth took the necessary risk so we could see and judge our own young talents.
We caught a wiff of what could be, and I want a regular taste of some of our most talented attacking players being played semi regularly, I think we can afford to have one youngster in the team and one on the bench, it can rotate between different ones being tried in a group of 3 as an example.
The club is in a restructuring and I want to keep our local identity as a club and not lose it because we finally have money to spend.
Am I wrong??
47 Posted 18/10/2016 at 19:11:59
It is always a gamble to include young players because, by definition, they lack experience... but, of the few who got belated exposure at the end of last season, each and every one did themselves immense credit and, in the case of Davies, overshadowed their more senior team-mates.
I sincerely hope that, as statistically unlikely as it is, the majority of them get some game-time sooner rather than later.
We have already let Ledson go, a player who I will back to one day return to the top as surely as Adam Forshaw. Consider that for a minute. It means that the likes of Walsh, Joe Williams, Davies, Dowell and Grant are considered better prospects. I'd love to see them develop in preference to the guaranteed mediocrity of folk like Tom Cleverley (and that isn't a pop as much as it sounds like one).
48 Posted 18/10/2016 at 19:23:12
Now I absolutely loathe the man I am about to mention but I have always been jealous of the RS having a player like Gerrard in their side who could literally turn games around through sheer desire. There is a good reason that the squinty-eyed scally is so often lauded by the RS fans and on their official mouthpiece, the BBC.
The young Gerrard was as raw and clumsy as they come but he got blooded early and rapidly became a vital player for them. Barkley will never be the player for us to make such an impact but I see every reason that Davies or Walsh could be.
49 Posted 18/10/2016 at 20:02:55
You always make good sense when talking about young footballers, and I hope you're right about this present crop.
Also, I agree with you about Ross Barkley, and I often wish the kid didn't give a fuck for nobody.
50 Posted 19/10/2016 at 10:34:10
I think you're spot on about needing to take chances on young players, but I disagree a little over not loaning them out.
The loan system can be used very much to the benefit to both player and club, as it has already been proven with Coleman being loaned to Blackpool. Also players like Kane and Defoe were better for loan deals away from there clubs.
I do strongly agree that at least one player per season should be blooded, especially with the money spent on the youth system within the club.
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