Fly the Nest: what now for the Under-23 stars?

Martin O'Connor 26/06/2019 14comments  |  Jump to last
With two Premier League 2 titles in 2016-17 and 2018-19, David Unsworth and his team have been doing a good job at Under-23 level. But as always, the question is what is the main aim for the Under-23s? And the answer is obvious: to produce players for the first team.

If this is not the case, then to produce players who can be moved on, sold for a fee, to have careers in the game at some sort of level. It is not to keep players around the club who have next to no chance of ever becoming first-team player.

Which brings us back to those two PL2 titles. It will be 3 years on from the 2016-17 title-winning team when the new season starts. Who from that team has made it as a first-team player?

Tom Davies certainly has become part of the first-team squad, making the step up half-way through the 2016-17 season. Jonjoe Kenny is the only other player from the 2016-17 team to make any impact on the Everton first team.

After 3 years, the question has to be asked: Why do we still have so many players from that 2016-17 team on the Club's books, when they are nowhere near the first team???

Beni Baningime
Still only 20, Baningime was a major part of the midfield which won the title in 2016-17. Since then, he has made 11 first-team appearances and was with the first team last pre-season but an injury meant he never got the chance to play in any of the pre-season friendlies. He eventually went on loan to Wigan Athletic. Injury and an inability to force himself into the Wigan team meant first-team football was limited last season, which was a write-off for him. That said, Baningime is probably the one player from the names below who – if he can get fully fit – may have a future at the Blues, although another loan may have to be what comes in the new season.

Callum Connolly
Connolly has had one first-team appearance, replacing Seamus Coleman for 30 minutes against Southampton in 2017. He has also had loan spells at Barnsley, Wigan Athletic, Ipswich Town and Bolton Wanderers. He did nothing special during last pre-season and is nowhere near the first team.

Kieran Dowell
Dowell has had quite successful loan periods with Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United but has never taken his chance when given cup games for the Blues. Time has run out on Dowell at Everton. He looked the best prospect from the 2016-17 bunch, but sadly his potential has not been realised at Goodison. A good career lies ahead for Dowell if he moves on.

Antony Evans
A year younger than most of the other 2016-17 players, Evans actually moved to Morecambe on loan for the 2nd half of the 2016-17 title-winning season. He has been one of the better players at Under-23 level in the following two seasons and spent the second half of last season on loan at Blackpool. A player with undoubted talent, but again – can anyone make a case for him being anywhere near the first team?

Morgan Feeney
Feeney was one of the youngest players who won the 2016-17 PL2 title. He also was one of the many young players to play at Apollon Limassol in the Europa League dead rubber. Centre-back Feeney has been a mainstay of the Under-23s since the 2016-17 title triumph, picking up a second title in the season just gone. Feeney is still only 20, so may have time to make an impression, but this season, for me, will be make or break for him at Everton.

Jonjoe Kenny
No need to cover Jonjoe’s record. A very competent player who should have made the right-back spot his own during Seamus Coleman’s long injury absence, but lost his place once Coleman was fit and he then dropped from the first-team picture. He has signed a year-long loan for the new season with Bundesliga outfit Schalke. If he is not really in Marco Silva’s plans for the next season, then I would rather we had tried to cash in on him than sending him out on loan. Will a good season at Schalke give him a chance to claim the right-back spot in 2020-21? Maybe... but I have my doubts.

Matthew Pennington
Contracted to the club until 2021, centre-back Matthew Pennington has made 7 first team appearances and always looked out of place in the first team, in my opinion. While at the Blues, Pennington has had two loan spells at Prenton Park with Tranmere Rovers, as well as loans at Walsall, Coventry City, Leeds United and last season Ipswich town. Absurdl,y Pennington will be 25 in October, there are late developers but... !!! It is clearly time for him to find a proper home away from Goodison Park.

Antonee Robinson
Left-back Robinson moved on loan to Bolton Wanderers the season after the 2016-17 title win, where he did well. Last season he spent on loan at Wigan Athletic, where again he was a regular in the team. Robinson has also gained a number of full international caps for the USA. With Leighton Baines being given a 1-year contract to keep him at the club as back-up to Lucas Digne for the 2019-20 season, Robinson will have a choice to either move on or take another season-long loan.

Bassala Sambou
Signed from Coventry City, forward Bassala Sambou overcame an injury to score 6 goals in the latter half of the 2016-17 title-winning season. He has been a leading light up front for the Under-23s in the subsequent two season but looks a player below Premier League level. His contract is up this Summer; Everton are prepared to offer him a 1-year extension... why, I don’t know, but it does seem that Sambou his looking to his own future and will be moving on from the Club, which will be the right decision.

Joe Williams
Williams has had successful loan spells at Barnsley and Bolton Wanderers and appeared to be on Silva’s radar before joining Bolton on loan last season. He will be 23 at the end of this year and needs at that age to be finding first-team football somewhere.

The question is: Can anyone really say that any of these players still have a future at Everton? For me, Baningime has a chance and there may be a possibility for Robinson... but that is it for me. With Marcel Brands now a year into the job and the whole academy structure working more to his liking, it is hoped that, in future earlier decisions on Under-23 players will be made so we don’t have players hanging around the club for three or more years with no prospect of ever making a dent on the first team.

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Reader Comments (14)

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Sam Morrison
1 Posted 27/06/2019 at 13:00:36
I can't claim to have any real knowledge of these players outside Kenny, but in the few appearances he made in centre-mid (not right-back!) Baningime impressed me. I'd like to see him stick around.
Kevin Prytherch
2 Posted 27/06/2019 at 13:42:22
Including Feeny and Sambou is a bit harsh, they were U18 players who featured for the U23s at the time.

Other players not mentioned...

Calvert-Lewin (played 9, scored 4)
Gethin Jones
Holgate (played 7)

Out of all of them, we will probably have a good number at the very least making a good career in the Championship. If we plaster sell in clauses with them then it's been worth it.

I reckon there's 9 who should make a career at least in the Championship. That's a phenomenal return for any youth system. (Granted some players were bought as youngsters).


Fran Mitchell
3 Posted 27/06/2019 at 13:43:32
Feeney at 20 should be in the squad this season as 4th choice. If we sign another 'youngish' centre back, I assume that signals a lack of faith in his potential.

Joe Williams should also be getting a chance in the squad as back-up.

Dowell maybe making himself into a deep-lying midfielder, back up to Gomes is worth looking at. If it doesn't work, we sell. If it does, we may save ourselves £20+million.

Connolly seems a bit of a jack of all trades type. They were more common 10-15 years ago. Now it seems players have to be specialized in their positions, so he should move on.

Evan, and Broadhead too, I wonder if they lack that X-Factor to be top-level players in their positions.

Steve Ferns
4 Posted 27/06/2019 at 14:14:00
The players I expect to challenge for the first team are:

Joao Virginia – but in a couple of years
Morgan Feeney – he should be 4th choice this season
Antony Evans – intriguing player who needs a loan to show he can step up
Anthony Gordon – superb young talent but he's still a young 18
Ellis Simms – discussed on his own thread.

Sadly, I'd forgetten about Beni Baningime. I have no idea where or how it's all gone wrong but it clearly has. He's not played at all this season for us but, at his age, that wouldn't matter. The fact that he's 20 and went out on loan in January and couldn't get a game for a poor Championship side is very worrying. We need to let him slip back down to the U23s quietly and rediscover his mojo and give him time to come again.

The other one after Simms to potentially bypass the U23s is the excellent young Korede Adedoyin. However, there is some reservations over him though. So perhaps he does need to go into the U23s and prove himself at that level.

More I think won't make it unless they come good elsewhere are:

Joe Williams – getting too old now.

Dennis Adeniran – really like this kid but he's now 20 and he needs to be closer to the first team.

Josh Bowler – again 20 now. He's only just younger than Richarlison. That says a lot about his levels. He needs to explode this season or it's never going to happen.

Fraser Hornby – still only 19. But he lacks the finishing skills in the box and still plays like a centre mid playing up front. He's great in the air and he's good from long range, he just lacks the penalty box game of an out-and-out striker.

Con Ouzounidis – 19 years old. He should take Feeney's spot in the U23s and needs to step up a level. He still has time on his side.

Manasse Mampala and Bassala Sambou – neither score enough goals for the U23. They won't make the step up. Sambou is almost 22 now, ie, a year younger than Calvert-Lewin and far behind where Dominic was at this age. Both should be loaned out to clear the pathway for more talented younger players.

Fran Mitchell
5 Posted 27/06/2019 at 15:08:55
Steve, I think that is incredibly harsh and precipitated to say 'he's 20 now'. And suggest they must 'explode' into the scene or they are write-offs.

There are numerous examples of players breaking through at 21/22 or even later.

Bowler, for me, looks a player.

Steve Ferns
6 Posted 27/06/2019 at 16:42:45
Fran, Josh Bowler is not as good as Anthony Gordon. Whilst Gordon is more of a number 10 and Bowler is more of an out and out winger, the reality is both will contest the wide positions. Therefore, if it's a choice between one or the other, I can't see anyone selecting Bowler over Gordon. Gordon is two years younger as well.

I know you say there are numerous examples of players breaking through at 21/22 or later, I think this is not quite the case in 2019. I think that you need to be in or around the first team by the age of 21. To be playing in the U23s and nowhere near the first team is a gap too far to bridge. Sure, some at 22 might bridge it, but it requires the explosion I was talking about. Bowler is not good enough, and nowhere near good enough on current ability. He can make it, but he needs to develop a lot this coming season and really that needs to be in first team football and not the U23s. If he has a good season for the U23s and then goes out on loan the season after, then we're talking about a 22-year-old and his time has gone. Really he needs to go on loan now, or in six months time and he needs to be delivering.

Don't forget the lad has struggled to cement a place in the U23s at the age of 20 and has spent a lot of time on the bench watching younger players like Gordon who are clearly better than him, and he only really got a shot when Evans was moved out on loan. Evans is a year older than him.

Let's be clear though Fran, I am not writing Bowler off. As you say, he is a good young player with a bit of trickery about him and after wrestling a place in the side in the latter part of the season he kept it, and then had Gordon watching him. I just think Bowler needs to and has to kick on over the next 12 months. He must make massive strides.

Evans is a player I really like, but as 21 it is now or never for him. And he must show he can break into the first team squad. He is not good enough right now, and so he needs a good loan move and to hit the ground running and show he can step up another level again.

Dave Abrahams
7 Posted 27/06/2019 at 16:53:39
I think there are one or two clubs asking to take Bowler on loan with Hull City being one of them Steve (6).

Regarding Anthony Gordon I would putin the same class as Keiran Dowell, bags and bags of skill, makes you sit up and take notice with his dribbling and shooting ability, then when he loses the ball the almost complete lack of fight to win it back, I’m still hoping Dowell will find that fight and will to win, not sure he will or can, just doesn’t seem to be in his nature, fear Gordon is made in the same mould.

Rick Tarleton
8 Posted 27/06/2019 at 19:26:39
This is a universal problem for many of the better teams.

The hugely acclaimed Foden is a bit-part player at Man City. Alexander-Arnold is the first to break through at Anfield since Gerrard did 20 years ago and the much vaunted Chelsea youth set-up has not produced a regular first-team player since John Terry.

In the old days when players came through the school system, one player out of every two years of England Schoolboys made it to regular First Division, as it was then, status.

Academies produce players, but clubs are reluctant to develop them when they can afford established players from abroad. Most Academy players end up in the Championship or Leagues One and Two. What is wrong is the way they are kept hanging around on the fringes of the club.

Mike Gaynes
9 Posted 27/06/2019 at 19:41:28
Martin, good article that should provoke a lot of debate and great posts, like those from Steve and Fran. I'm much more optimistic than you are about Kenny and Robinson... but less so about Beni.

I haven't seen nearly as much of the U23s as stalwarts like Steve and Dave, but personally I saw a lot to be excited about in Bowler, and as Dave mentions there are multiple Championship clubs lined up to borrow him... not just Hull but Wednesday, Boro and Derby as well. He's definitely going to get his chance to "explode" this season.

Michael Kenrick
10 Posted 28/06/2019 at 06:10:45
Kevin @2,

I think Gethin Jones left us around 18 months ago, for Fleetwood Town.

Mike Gaynes
11 Posted 28/06/2019 at 07:42:19
Yep, Michael, and then was loaned out to League 2 Mansfield.
Frank Crewe
12 Posted 28/06/2019 at 17:31:22
I always think that, if you are still in the U23s when you actually hit 23, then you're finished at the club and need to move on. Look at Shane Duffy, loaned out 3 times before moving to Blackburn Rovers. Now he's back in the Premier League with Brighton and has 29 caps for the Republic of Ireland. So moving down a division or two doesn't mean the end of your top-flight career.

I think maybe some of these youngsters like the prestige of playing for a Premier League club even if it's stunting their careers and turn down the opportunity to move to less prestigious clubs because they think it's a backward step. But sometimes, to make two steps forward, you have to take one step back.

Alex Gray
13 Posted 29/06/2019 at 07:45:49
Far too quick to write off Dowell. As you said, he's done well on loan, laterally helping Sheffield United to automatic promotion. He's still in the England U21 squad too, starting in a competitive central midfield group.

Being thrown into a cup game and expected to perform without a run of games isn't easy. That's a wider criticism I would put to Silva, he doesn't give the youngsters enough chances... but let's not make this thread about him.

The ideal situation would be for Dowell to stay with Sheffield Utd on loan and establish himself a Premier League pedigree.

Mike Gaynes
14 Posted 29/06/2019 at 08:04:49
Alex #13, depends on what you mean by "laterally helping."

In this case it appears to mean "being glued to the bench during the final critical run-in to promotion."

Of the Blades' last 11 games, which determined their season, Dowell started three -- and in two of those he was subbed out at half-time, which generally happens only if you're playing poorly. The most he played in any of those 11 games was 63 minutes, and four he sat out completely. So he was hardly critical.

Count me as one of those who has written him off.

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