Youth system — Nil Satis Nisi Optimum

Joe Duffin 17/01/2017 25comments  |  Jump to last
As a coach of youth teams, I get to see some of the development strategies across various football associations and I can honestly say Everton’s youth system and the overall approach for players is second to none. The opportunities afforded to players to be involved with the club is exceptional, from entering tournaments worldwide, to ensuring staff coaching knowledge is at highest it can possibly be.

Also the success of the system, in part, relates to the club’s philosophy but it’s also the external factors which have heavily influenced it over the past number of years/decades. They include the following:

The club’s league position, we have rarely/never been challenging (and never expected) for league title. Always mid-table or on fringes of European competition. If we were top of the league, winning every game would limit the development opportunity of players through game time.

The Club’s financial position means we seldom have lots of money to spend, every penny a prisoner (except when it comes to paying off ex-managers). In turn this forces the club to bring through academy players with the ultimate aim to have first team players, but worst case to be able to sell them at handsome profits.

These factors have allowed Everton’s academy staff a luxury that many others would not have, the promise of progression and first-team football, which in turn creates a desire and optimism within the youth ranks. It has been the perfect environment to create an ethos and system within the academy which, if maintained properly, should continue to produce the Barkley’s and Davies well into the future.

I have watched various Milk Cup teams (a tournament in Northern Ireland), where players such as Wayne Rooney, Joey Barton, Francis Jeffers, Tony Hibbert, Leon Osman, James Vaughan and Tom Davies have all represented Everton at the tournament. Everton have a fantastic record in the tournament, winning at least 6 cups and many more finals.

But the bit which impresses me the most is not just the big time successes, but the well-rounded individuals that Everton produce. They are taught core values in life, whether it is the U-23 team sleeping out with the EitC initiative for homeless people, or coaching underage fans at community events before matchday – they are taught that football is a passion, a career but it’s not the end of the world.

They may not play in Premier League, some may not even have had any first team appearances but they go on to forge successful careers in their own right. Their love of football has not diminished by not playing top level, but is enhanced by the experiences they have gleamed through their time at the academy.

This week saw four Everton Academy graduates in a Team of the week, Tom Davies in Premier League and Callum Connolly (Wigan Athletic), Anthony Pilkington (Cardiff City), James Vaughan (Bury) for League 1.

I hope we go on to be more successful in the Premier League with Ronald Koeman or whoever comes along after, but also I hope that any success doesn’t come at a cost to our successful youth system. Everton has core values, Everton is a family and I hope it remains part of my family for years to come.

Anyone wanting to see the impressive list of academy graduates should look here -
Everton All-Time Players | Academy Graduates

It really is a case of Nil Satis Nisi Optimum.

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Reader Comments (25)

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Jim Potter
1 Posted 17/01/2017 at 15:37:42
Nice read Joe.

Personally I can't wait for Kieran Dowell to break through. He looks a class act.

Good luck to them all – the more the merrier.

Martin Nicholls
2 Posted 17/01/2017 at 15:38:35
Good article, Joe, but I'm not sure that Joey Barton turned out to be a "well rounded individual"!
Martin Nicholls
3 Posted 17/01/2017 at 15:41:41
Jim (#1) – at a function a few years back, Leon Osman remarked that EFC had "a few good young lads". When pressed and asked to name names, the one he singled out was Kieran Dowell!

I have the same high hopes that you do.

Dean Adams
4 Posted 17/01/2017 at 15:43:51

One of the many reasons that EFC makes us proud. Long live the academy success.

Joe Duffin
5 Posted 17/01/2017 at 16:19:45
I've seen Kieran Dowell a few times, but I personally think it's much harder for a striker or forward type player to break through – If they don't score in the first few games they have less of a chance to make an impact. Same goes for goalkeepers.

However, you see more defenders/midfielders having the opportunity and mistakes are more easily forgiven and quicker to get back into flow.

I have seen some cracking players, and in my view the two most likely to break through are Antonee Robinson -– he has electric pace, a great reading of the game and two good feet. Liam Walsh would be the other one, and great to see him back on the teamsheet for U23 last night.

I hope I am wrong on Kieran, but the same was said about Conor McAleny, James Vaughan etc.

Peter Gorman
6 Posted 17/01/2017 at 16:30:50
Great read, Joe, and like you I've been following some of these kids from back in the good old days of the Milk Cup.

It is so hard to know for certain which youngsters will fulfill their talent; the silky George Green and JP Kissock practically drop out of the game whilst midfield also-ran Hibbert gets a chance at Barkley and goes on to cause a riot (sort of, in a friendly).

I watched Hallum Hope top the scoring charts in the Milk cup (14 or 15 years of age) in successive years and thought the sky was his limit but it didn't work here for him.

There is good news however; the club has a crop of kids on the cusp of the first team who just stand out as possessing more fire than average. Perhaps it is coincidence and innate, perhaps it is a credit to the immense work put into them by Sheeds and Unsy, but it is patently there and I would love to see them come through at Everton rather than drop down to come back up as I'd bet anything they would.

Joe Duffin
7 Posted 17/01/2017 at 16:51:29
One thing I forgot to include, again in my view its extremely important that not only having qualified staff, but also that they have roots in the club.

It's all well and good bringing in the best coaches, but if they don't have the history it can lack the underlying desire to do well for the club as opposed to self-ratification.

Having the likes of Unsy, Sheeds or Joe Ebbrell and many others, is fantastic option for the club.

Steavey Buckley
8 Posted 17/01/2017 at 17:24:24
I have watched Everton all my life, since the early 1960s, and the usual home grown players such as Joe Royle, Colin Harvey, Wayne Rooney, Jack Rodwell, James Vaughan, Victor Anichebe, Ross Barkley and Tom Davies were ready to play for the Everton 1st team by at least 18 years of age.

Yet, the Everton Under-23s are not increasing the possibilities of others playing for the 1st team, but following FA rules to have such a team without any real need, because the Everton squad and reserve teams used to fulfill the aspirations of up and coming younger players.

Tim Drake
9 Posted 17/01/2017 at 17:48:14
Is Anthony Pilkington a product of the Everton Academy? I think you may be confused with George Pilkington who currently plays for Macclesfield Town.
Gerard McKean
10 Posted 17/01/2017 at 18:53:31
I'm not particularly against Ronald Koeman but sometimes I wonder why managers can't see "the bleedin' obvious" (eg Martinez with Howard in his last two seasons).

But what has made Tom Davies suddenly so selectable when just a few weeks before Christmas Koeman pronounced that he and others mentioned above were "not ready"?

It makes me wonder just how much dialogue there is between the manager and David Unsworth. On the basis of what we are seeing and hearing, not a lot methinks?

John Raftery
11 Posted 17/01/2017 at 23:38:33
Tim (9) You are correct. Anthony Pilkington currently at Cardiff has never been at Everton. George Pilkington was at Everton in the late nineties and the last I heard he was playing for Macclesfield.
Martin O'Connor
12 Posted 18/01/2017 at 04:01:44
Nice article. The one thing that stands out for me is the number of players from the academy who, if they don't make it with us, go on to have good careers in the game. Ryan Ledson going to Oxford being the latest. It shows that we are doing things right for both the club and the individual players.
David Ellis
14 Posted 18/01/2017 at 08:26:52
Joe, this is an excellent OP.

From – Liam Walsh, JonJo Kenny, Dowell, Callum Connolly, Gallagher – hopefully a couple more will make it with our first team. I re-call 1984 when suddenly we had a crop of young players (admittedly not all from the academy, several were acquired on the cheap from other lesser clubs) who suddenly all became internationals at the same time.

Sadly most don't make it through – but it seems we have a chance of outperforming with this current generation. In particular I can see (dream of) Kenny and Connolly being the eventual replacement for Baines and Coleman as wing backs – with Walsh and Davies dominating midfields for both England and Everton for years to come. I agree, it may be harder for strikers to come through; hopefully we've bought a golden ticket in young Lookman or Calvert-Lewin

Steve Carse
15 Posted 18/01/2017 at 12:53:59
Let me throw in another 'one for the future' – Harry Charsley. A massive plaudit indeed, but I liken him to the great Alan Ball.

Okay, at his age Ball was playing first team and international football but his continuous movement and harrying is, like Ball, married to great skill, an eye for the killer pass, and a very good eye for goal.

Maybe, ridiculous as it sounds, we've ended up producing too many outstanding youngsters and that for some their pathways will end up being blocked not by seasoned pros but by fellow Unsworth graduates. So, for example, can anyone seriously see Koeman selecting a side with Walsh alongside Davies?

Barry Pearce
16 Posted 18/01/2017 at 16:29:47
We truly have some gems in the academy. I don't think it's beyond the realms of Tom & Liam bossing the midfield for Everton & England, for years to come. In fact I think it's really likely.

Also JonJoe Kenny Callum Connolly, Antonee Robinson, Kieran Dowell, Harry Charsley. The list goes on and on... apologies to some I may have missed.

Great future lies ahead for these lads. COYB

Peter Gorman
17 Posted 18/01/2017 at 17:38:42
Charsley is an interesting one – initially he never exactly stood out from his peer group yet, for the past couple of years at least, his progress has been on a highly consistent upwards trajectory.

His level of performances too have been quietly, consistently great. Why not give him a chance this season?

Danny Broderick
18 Posted 18/01/2017 at 18:19:05
I remember some people knocking the academy a few years back, but to be honest, there are few academies who can match ours. I believe ourselves and Arsenal have had the most teenagers score goals in the Premier League.

We have always produced young players, there have been some fine ones like Osman & Rooney, lots of average ones who have been sold and earnt the club good money, and a load of lesser talents who went on to have good careers further down the leagues. If there is one part of our club that has consistently produced, it is the academy.

Everton Wint
19 Posted 19/01/2017 at 16:12:25
School of Football Science.


Jeff Armstrong
20 Posted 19/01/2017 at 21:53:42
Gerard, I agree with you in regard to Davies coming through in the last couple of weeks, whilst fans on here were calling for him for months previously.

I honestly believe we've wasted money on Schneiderlin, especially as McCarthy was beginning to show again.
Alasdair Mackay
21 Posted 19/01/2017 at 23:27:53
I remember going to the Premier League U18 Final a few years back when we won at Fulham – that side had Dier, Bidwell, Garbutt, Ledson, Forshaw and others in it (if memory serves) – they all looked promising and many of them made 1st team appearances for the Blues, but most left or didn't quite make the grade.

It is clearly the last step that is the biggest for these lads.

I hope Dowell goes the way of Davies and Barkley. I hope Robinson, Pennington and Connolly do, too; but it's unlikely they all will.

Imagine if in 3 years time we had 6 academy grads in the first team. Unheard of in modern times.

Be great, though!

Steve Ferns
22 Posted 21/01/2017 at 15:40:30
If you look at a number of indicators our academy is the best, number of teenage scorers, number of graduates playing for the first team, but most importantly for me, the number of England internationals (both all time and premier league era) is a the big one.

Okay, maybe one cap wonders like Jack Rodwell, Francis Jeffers, David Unsworth and Michael Ball might not the legends we desire, but the academy is doing it's job very well when there is a stream of players of this quality coming from at least every other year.

If the academy produces a player of England quality at least every other year, then that saves us a load of money, and more importantly for me, it keeps Everton, Everton.

I just hope Koeman and his successors continue to be strong enough to pick them and continue to keep a place in the 16 for a teenager or two.

Dave Abrahams
23 Posted 21/01/2017 at 15:53:40
Peter (17) Harry Charsley never looked outstanding but to be honest usually came up with a goal, I think he scored the only one when we beat Man City two or three years ago, and like you say his progress has improved over the last couple of seasons.
Thomas Surgenor
24 Posted 21/01/2017 at 16:02:33
Don't we still have the US guy who can determine if a kid is gonna make it or not?

I assume that's why we let Ledson go. I would have thought it was the US guy who said he wasn't hitting the marks.

Steve Ferns
25 Posted 21/01/2017 at 18:21:27
Thomas, I was told Ledson was released as he was behind (the younger) Davies. The American is still directing the academy, but he's not coaching the players, his role is to ensure the likes of Unsworth, Sheedy, and co are performing, rather than the players.
Mike Dixon
26 Posted 31/01/2017 at 13:24:03
I watched an interview with Kevin Blackwell back in 08ish, he had just been appointed Manager of Sheffield United. Neil Warnock had built a fantastic academy system at the club and Blackwell was asked if he would support the scheme and did he think that he would bring any players through. His reply was a sad reminder of the pitfalls of football today.

He said: 'The life expectancy of a Football League Manager is 17 months, so it is unlikely there will be anyone in the academy who can keep me in a job'.

I am guessing that the life expectancy is shorter now, so you can understand why statistically, Academy players, rarely make the grade at the Club they get taught to play at. Interestingly he lasted 30 months!

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