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

Everton now reportedly possess the capital that can help them recruit a high calibre of player 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.

Matt Jones 01/09/2016 25comments  |  Jump to last
Clint Hughes/Getty Images

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.

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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.

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Reader Comments (25)

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Ian Burns
1 Posted 01/09/2016 at 19:46:22
Excellent article, Matt, and many thanks for the insight. Very difficult for those of us not in the UK to keep up to date with the teams just below the first team squad so articles like this are most welcome.

Unsy in my opinion is a future EFC manager. He seems to have all of the attributes and long may he develop alongside those he is developing for future first team duty.

Ting Le Deng
2 Posted 01/09/2016 at 23:02:05
Unfortunately, the prospect for our youth academy in the first team is as bleak as it has ever been. I am ever hopeful but can't help to be sceptical given recent track record and evolution of both the Premier League and also our club.

The truth is, we, like many teams, have a lot of young players who come in for a game or two and here and there but we are no longer producing players who become regulars anymore. I've done some analysis and looked at youth products that have played at least 38 league games (one full season, not unreasonable measure of sustained longevity in the first team).

The truth is, as much as we are lauded for developing youth players, we went from producing first team regulars nearly every year to producing 2 in the past decade. The only 2 Everton academy graduates to have played more than a season of league football for us are Jack Rodwell and Ross Barkley and in some ways it is quite sad and unless we make a concerted effort this trend will continue.

1995: Michael Branch
1996: Michael Ball, Danny Cadamarteri
1997: Francis Jeffers
2000: Tony Hibbert
2002: Wayne Rooney
2003: Leon Osman
2004: James Vaughan
2005: Victor Anichebe
2008: Jack Rodwell
2012: Ross Barkley

I hope we have a golden generation coming but history tells a different story!

Jon Withey
3 Posted 01/09/2016 at 23:16:06
"Of course, Everton now possess the capital that can help them recruit a higher calibre of player".

Is that actually true though on the evidence so far?

It's a good job we have decent youth system!

Jay Harris
4 Posted 01/09/2016 at 23:41:38
Excellent post, Matt, and another indication of the club moving forward in the right direction.

We are no longer building on sand. We have some fine substructures in place.

Frank Wade
5 Posted 01/09/2016 at 23:54:27
Thanks Matt, good background article. Thankfully our 'withdrawal' from the race to sign Sissoko will help open the door of opportunity for Academy lads like Tom Davies and Kieran Dowell. These lads need the occasional opportunity to fulfill their potential. If Sissoko was ahead of them in the pecking order, their opportunities may have been limited.

I have been very impressed by the Academy lads who have made recent appearances in the first team. In addition to Holgate and the two mentioned, Callum Connolly and JonJoe Kenny also impressed when called upon at the tail-end of last season.

I don't know if we ever had intentions to sign Martino, but with Holgate playing so well at right back as well as Connolly and Kenny, I think we are well served. Tom Davies also played well at full back in a couple of the pre-season friendlies.

I see Tyias Browning has a squad number for the new season... does anyone know now hear he is to recovery from injury? Yet another right back possibility.

Steve Ferns
6 Posted 02/09/2016 at 00:19:25
As I have said many times before, what's most impressive about our youth setup is not just the continuous production line – it's where we get these players from.

We are not talking Man City style of signing the world's best youth prospects, or even a Southampton style of signing the best from the UK; unlike anyone else, our youth teams are always at least 75% local and all the big names from the youth teams – Barkley, Rodwell, Baxter, Ledson, Davies, Dowell, Brewster ... they're all local. Even going back further, it's still local talent. This shows both the quality of the raw resources here in Liverpool and also the quality of the coaching.

Finch Farm is excellent, but we produced Jeffers and Ball, local lads who both played for England, when all we had was a Portacabin on a field in Netherton.

Peter Gorman
7 Posted 02/09/2016 at 00:29:59
Nice article and I am wildly enthusiastic about the potential of our youngsters at the worst of times but so what?

All of this means nothing more than a steam of piss if there is no pathway into the first team. It is there that players truly develop if at all, though the FA allowing U23s to compete against league clubs is a massive step forwards.

Ledson being allowed to leave and signing Enner bloody Valencia indicate to me that not much changes with Premier League clubs; always too risk averse.

I dread reading about the forthcoming departure of the next starlet like Liam Walsh.

Alan Humphreys
8 Posted 02/09/2016 at 02:46:07
Very good article, Matt. Good to see not only the U23s being coached by a knowledgeable and inspiring coach but making a headway into the first team – as Koeman said, it's what you do training that gets you in the team.

My worry, as I broached on Twitter to you, and one I feel is worthy of debate here, is: Where are the up-and-coming strikers? We've bought some talent in in recent years but where is the next Franny Jeffers, Wayne Rooney or James Vaughan?

Defenders and Midfielders abound but no-one is challenging Lukaku from Unsworth's team. As you said in your reply to me, we have the new acquisition and Sambou but where are the local fox(es) in the box? – to borrow a crappy phrase from Wenger.

Kieran Fitzgerald
9 Posted 02/09/2016 at 06:59:42
Peter @7 is right. It all means very little if these players don't get a chance to play in the senior team. We bought Williams and wanted Kone in this transfer window. Both players would have been automatic starters. This means fewer opportunities for young defenders like Browning and Galloway, both players who are at an age where they need to be making appearances of some description. I know Browning is recovering from injury but what does wanting to sign automatic starters say of his chances once fit?

Once Coleman is fully fit, he will come straight back into the team and Holgate will disappear. As well as he has played, you get the impression he won't get a chance to play based solely on his talent. Only injuries will provide him with another opportunity.

Clubs in the lower leagues will start young players because there is less pressure on the club and it means that they can also save money on transfers. With each final placing in the Premier League worth over a £1 million, Koeman or any other Premier League manager is not going to start a young player by choice unless the kid is already a superstar.

Jay Woods
10 Posted 02/09/2016 at 08:04:09
Is this forget-about-bad-news day?

I'm not even close to being okay with the transfer window disaster.

Jon Withey
11 Posted 02/09/2016 at 08:15:35
I think we signed a young striker on TDD for the youth setup.
Liam Reilly
13 Posted 02/09/2016 at 09:54:52
Jay, to many on here, the transfer window was certainly 'no disaster'; but that's been discussed to death on other threads.

Great to see youth development and would love to see Liam Walsh get a crack at a cameo in the first team. We have some player there and if he should grow a few inches; watch this space.

Feel a bit sorry for Sheedy in all of this. He does a great job with the U18s but he can never keep a side together because, once they are good enough, they will move up the ranks to the U23s or above.

Steavey Buckley
14 Posted 02/09/2016 at 10:06:51
Never in the history of Everton football has there ever been an academy as good as the present one. But a lot will depend on the coaches not being sentimental with younger players, who are clearly not going to make it.
Dave Abrahams
15 Posted 02/09/2016 at 10:07:50
Mostly a good article, Matt, I couldn't agree entirely about the U18s, last season they went out meekly, at home; the players didn't seem all that bothered losing in the FA Youth Cup, which is – or used to be – a very prestigious tournament.

In other games, they played the game the same way as the senior team: backwards and sideways; however, that didn't stop me admiring the performances of certain young players. The striker Everton have high hopes for is Evans and he has started the season well.

Jay Woods
16 Posted 02/09/2016 at 10:21:45
Liam, many is not most.
Alan J Thompson
17 Posted 02/09/2016 at 12:16:11
I think it was under Kendall and Dr David Marsh that the Academy was closed down as an economy measure and was later restarted at Joe Royle's insistence when he managed Everton.

In the interim, those across the park who play on our old ground had the benefit of Evertonians Fowler, McMannaman, Owen et al. Hopefully, any more gems that may be uncovered will be for our benefit.

Dave Abrahams
18 Posted 02/09/2016 at 14:20:54
Alan (#17) I think McMannaman was offered a one-year contract off Everton, Stevie and his dad were Evertonians, he was offered a three-year contract off Liverpool who were managed by Dalgleish at the time, not sure but I think Everton were managed by Kendall at the time. It wasn't very surprising that they chose Liverpool.
Martin Mason
19 Posted 02/09/2016 at 14:35:47
Jay@10, I suspect you'll never be OK with anything.
Steve Ferns
20 Posted 02/09/2016 at 18:49:03
The academy wasn't shut down under Kendall. It was going well and produced Billy Kenny.

I think you refer to the time Walter Smith closed it down for a year and that class was all sent away. Who did we lose? Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Joey Barton. To save £1m we almost spent £10m to re-sign all three! Worst decision Everton ever made.

Frank Crewe
21 Posted 02/09/2016 at 19:17:09
Not so sure. How many millions have Citeh spent on youth yet they haven't produced a single player of note. In the end they just continue to buy the players they need. I don't see any reason why we won't do the same.

What Premier League managers are looking for these days are powerful, physically strong and quick players. This is why Rooney and Barkley made it. Physically they were ahead of the rest. They were ready to step up to men's football and impose themselves.

Les Martin
22 Posted 02/09/2016 at 19:35:09
The youth set up is in such great hands with David Unsworth, and he will know exactly what is required or these boys to become men and break into the first team.

A few posters here are concerned about Holgate when Seamus returns. I think Holgate will be good enough to play anywhere in a few years time, he is that good.

Sam Hoare
23 Posted 02/09/2016 at 19:55:17
If the U23s carry on the season as they have started then our poor transfer window may turn out to be quite the blessing.

Holgate already looks the real deal and there are many others such as Dowell, Walsh, Kenny, Connolly and perhaps most excitingly Davies ready to attempt the step up. Unsworth too might prove himself ready to step up if his good work continues.

Having just a handful of these lads in the team gives a real boost to us and excites the fans more I think than any foreign mercenaries who may or may break a sweat. Of course effort and enthusiasm is not enough and they will have to show the talent and consistency to deserve their elevations but fingers crossed some of them have it in them...

Andy Meighan
24 Posted 02/09/2016 at 22:52:51
The academy is looking as strong as it ever has. We are now in a position to blood a fair few of these lads to the first team squad. Names that have been mentioned in the posts above. And how long is it since we've been able to say that?

The future of our club is in good hands while we've got the impressive David Unsworth and the mercurial Kevin Sheedy, who in my eyes is the greatest player to pull an Everton shirt on.

Sod Sissoko and Brahimi or whatever his bastard name is... We've got better players in the U23s.

Paul Hay
25 Posted 03/09/2016 at 03:13:23
An interesting article – thanks, Matt. Living and working in London I don't get the opportunity to follow the younger squads as I'd like so updates like this are valuable.

Down here, I see so many lads who are signed up early, go through their respective systems to be released.

A crucial factor in so many cases has been the issue of pace – something to which Frank (#21) referred to. Lads of a smaller stature have, it seems, a far greater opportunity of being retained if they have that ten yards of acceleration over others.

Obviously, so many different factors also come into play so I'll be interested how much of an influence the appointment of Dr Vint will have.

I think the point made of producing our own is a crucial one and is something that at Everton we should strive for in what is an amazingly cut-throat and competitive business. I wish all involved every success for our future.

Keep the faith.

Alan J Thompson
26 Posted 03/09/2016 at 11:46:38
Steve (#20); didn't Smith come after Royle? I think there was a problem with one year, under Wally, that nobody was willing to say why so Smith directed that all that year's intake be let go. Some juniors may have come through under Kendall but that doesn't mean he wasn't part of it's demise after the likes of Kenny but having said that I'm not 100% sure.

Dave (#18); Thanks for that, again I'm not certain of the details of any of those players that we didn't sign apart from they were all supposed to be from Evertonian families.

From some friends who tried, it seems it was difficult to get a trial with Everton whereas the lot across the park seemed to welcome all and sundry.

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