It's almost 2 years ago since we asked How's Thierry Small getting on with the Saints? Things have moved on considerably since then, with the 19-year-old now into his second month of a short-term contract at Charlton Athletic.

Small became the Toffees’ youngest senior player when Carlo Ancelotti gave him his first-team debut in a 2021 FA Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday, aged 16 years and 176 days. 

But that was not enough to persuade the then 17-year-old defender to sign a very generous 3-year professional contract with the Blues, ending 6 years with the Academy when he ripped up his scholarship agreement and secured a somewhat acrimonious move to the South Coast, with Everton rejecting Southampton's £1.5M initial offer of a development fee.

The highly rated young left-back was expected to sign his first professional contract with Everton when he turned 17 on 1 August 2021, but had made it known that he felt his advancement would be stalled with Lucas Digne and Niels Nkounkou ahead of him at that time.  

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“It was unbelievable for me and my family,” Small told London News Online. “When I moved to Everton I was in digs. I made a lot of sacrifices to be there. I left home at an early age.

“So when I was on the pitch it was like: ‘We have achieved something really great – we beat the statistics (for the amount of academy player who fall by the wayside)’. It was beautiful to experience.

“It was my first year in full-time football. I had just finished school and went straight into a scholarship – everything was brand new to me.

“I was grateful to be playing football and getting your little scholar wages. I was just made up. Everything happened so quickly – but I wouldn’t have had it any way differently.”

“The way Everton was, I wish I could’ve left on better terms,” said Small. “The way it came out wasn’t completely true – there was a lot of false speculation about the move to Southampton."

It seems things just didn't pan out as hoped for, with the young Everton Academy prodigy notching up only 45 minutes for the Southampton first team before they all agreed to rip up his contract, which allowed him to join Charlton Athletic in League One as a free agent at the end of the recent transfer window.

“Going there was just a family decision to better my career. You have got to take risks – sometimes they pay off and sometimes they don’t, it’s just part of life.

“It was a good experience, in terms of being around the first-team environment at 17. I don’t think a lot of players would’ve been doing that at my age, so the experience of just that alone was unbelievable.

“It’s hard to adapt because I was new to first-team football. I went from being a scholar straight into a first-team environment in the Premier League. Transition-wise it was a little hard for me mentally to get used to that, it took a bit of a while.

“But then you have a few loans and develop, it’s a natural part of the game – you grow, not just as a player but also as a person.”

Small ended up having lengthy loan spells at Port Vale and St Mirren, joining the latter for the second half of last season and then again in August. But the signs are he may now have found his level, having played every minute of the Addicks' last seven games in League One. 

“I’ve been really enjoying my football and I really love being in London,” Small told the South London Press. “The Charlton fans are amazing. and it is a brilliant changing room to be part of.

“I’m not on the social media platforms, apart from Instagram, but a few of my friends are – it’s beautiful to get the love and be appreciated early on.

“It’s a good achievement. I hope we have many more good times and positive times.

“I’m not getting too ahead of myself. It’s still really early days in my short time here – but it couldn’t have gone any better so far.

“I need to stay level-headed, try my best in every game and put 100 per cent into everything I do. That’s the bare minimum. You’re going to see the work ethic and hard work – that should be expected of everyone.

“I’ll be honest, they’ve only seen a little bit of what I’m capable of. I feel with more experience and working under the manager, that I can reach some higher levels in my game.”

Charlton Athletic have an option to extend Thierry Small’s contract until the end of the 2024-25 season – with manager Nathan Jones saying that he has been very happy with the defender’s impact.


Reader Comments (35)

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Robert Tressell
1 Posted 24/03/2024 at 15:42:20
Interesting perspective on youth football. Moves away from his roots to join the Everton academy from West Brom aged 11 and makes his debut at 16. Linked with Champions League clubs (including Bayern) and then joins Southampton at age 17.

Now finally getting regular first-team football age 19 with third tier Charlton. Pretty hard footballing journey must have taken its toll but hope he fulfils the early promise. Can't help but think he'd have been better staying put with WBA when still a little boy.

From a more cold-hearted perspective though, it was a pretty low-cost move for us and came close to producing a player like Alphonse Davies (a left-back who was iffy defensively but looked like scoring or assisting every game he played at youth level).

It's not necessarily the best thing for the young kids but, for us as a club, the recruitment and development of youth is our best chance of building a talented side. What a horrible thing football has become.

Dave Abrahams
2 Posted 24/03/2024 at 16:36:41
Nothing against the lad but this bit about playing for the first team is well over-hyped. He came on in an FA Cup game with Everton leading 2 or 3 nil for the last 10 minutes. This was to keep him and his family sweet and try and get him to sign a professional contract.

He didn't sign the contract with Everton but signed for Southampton and Everton were entitled to compensation. Has it ever been revealed how much Everton received for him? Or for Ishe Samuels-Smith who signed for Chelsea instead of Everton, or the kid Emilio Lawrence who went to Man City.

Those three players had potential and hopefully they all make good careers out of football. It is a hard slog to get to the Premier League from the Academy, Theirry had a good start then floundered and is now starting all over again.

Michael Kenrick
3 Posted 24/03/2024 at 16:56:51
A bit odd to say he's starting all over again, Dave. It's a journey, as they say. This is just the latest stage in a series of steps, some upward, some not.

As it turned out, I think he was right about Everton. It would have taken him ages to progress if there were players in his way… and he was perhaps not quite as good as he thought he was. So he left early rather than drag out his development years in the U21s… but still did the loan stints we would have almost certainly sent him out on.

As I say, maybe Tier 3 is his level? Will he one day play in the Premier League? Who can say with any degree of certainty.

Jay Harris
4 Posted 24/03/2024 at 17:00:35

I have always maintained that the jump from Academy U21s to the Premier League is a chasm which few can make – not just for Everton but for all these talented kids.

The Premier League are too busy buttering their own bread to care but someone has to create a better pathway to the top as I'm sure many really talented kids don't have the patience to wait and end up cutting short a promising career.

Charles Ward
5 Posted 24/03/2024 at 17:09:53
Surely loaning promising young players out to Championship, League One or League Two clubs is the way forward rather than expecting them to sink or swim in the Premier League in a struggling team?
Michael Kenrick
6 Posted 24/03/2024 at 17:32:13
And just to round out the previous on young Thierry, there's this gem from the Echo, 3 years ago:

Small 'relaxed' about first Everton contract … which he never signed!

Seems his head got too big for his boots, perhaps?

Robert Tressell
7 Posted 24/03/2024 at 17:50:16
Charles, that will generally be the answer, yes. It's only the absolute stars who are good enough to go straight into a Premier League club first team without a loan. Most need about 2 loans before being ready.

In terms of fees, Dave, Transfermarkt says it is as follows:

- Small: €4.3m
- Lawrence: free
- Samuels-Smith: €4.7m

Not a bad return you might say. Although I would have very much like to have kept Samuels-Smith in particular as I think he's the classiest home grown talent since Barkley. Sadly we needed the money.

Horrible though it is, other academies don't buy these players with a view to them becoming first teamers. They buy them with a view to selling them at a huge profit later. Once Samuels-Smith has played a season on loan at, say, Reading, a few games in the cup for Chelsea and 10(+) games for England U21, he will be worth about £20M – maybe more. Liverpool have been playing this game for some time now to increase their transfer kitty.

We obviously pin our hopes on those that show a bit of promise, but really the successful academies have plenty of players of this sort of standard in every age group, doing well in the England youth set-up and being eyed up for Championship loans. Our lot tend to be a level below that, with loans mostly at the 3rd or 4th tier.

Tony Abrahams
8 Posted 24/03/2024 at 18:23:53
I don't think it will have been his head, Michael, but more his bank balance, although it's true that one can sway the other in a lot of these cases unfortunately.

Sorry for bringing Liverpool, into this but it's going to be interesting to see how many of their young players who are currently getting ringing endorsements will go on to forge a career in the top league.

When I listened to Van Dijk talking about one of those younger players, he said there will be bumps in the road and it's very important that he stays humble.

Something that should appear very natural is often the downfall for a lot of talented young footballers until you begin to realise how much money they are earning.

Marcel Brands said money can make you lazy but it often makes people believe they are much better than they actually are, and it can take away the value of hard work!

Christine Foster
9 Posted 24/03/2024 at 18:28:37
"But the signs are he may now have found his level"

I really hope in years to come this isn't true, because the highlight of his time so far has to be playing for Carlo Ancelotti, 10 mins or not.

Charlton Athletic may give him experience but it must have been soul-destroying to if he thinks about it. Not all potential is destined for greatness, but at 17 he arrived at a crossroads and chose to leave.

Perhaps all the reasons made sense at the time but, if Charlton become the pinnacle of his potential, I hope he never hears himself say that immortal cop-out phrase, "I could have been…"

Tony Abrahams
10 Posted 24/03/2024 at 18:30:04
I've just received a WhatsApp saying that Labour will restore the beautiful game by ensuring that the Premier League invests 5% of income from television rights into grassroots football.

I wonder how many professional footballers actually vote Labour?

Especially because I doubt the kid has ever had a paper-round, Christine!

Christine Foster
11 Posted 24/03/2024 at 18:41:30
Not many, Tony.

The game at grassroots level has shrunk so much, one only has to look around the greater Liverpool area at all the amateur leagues that have gone, amalgamated or are struggling.

Without the grassroots the game has lost its soul, its dreams. The Sunday league players who dream, the kids without facilities 5% at these levels are significant.

Vote for me! I will give you money! Oh, I wish it was so simple...

Tony Abrahams
12 Posted 24/03/2024 at 18:58:38
The academy system has definitely contributed to the shrinking of grassroots football, Christine, especially with regards the standard.

Really good young kid gets invited to the academy, does really well and eventually makes the grade, must be around 0.01%.

Really good young kid gets invited to the academy, doesn't do so well, and loses all love for the game because he either didn't like the environment, or didn't enjoy the pressure that was suddenly cast upon him, would probably touch around 20%.

I will still vote for you though, Christine, because I think your heart is in the right place and I don't think you would take the job if you knew there were better people more suited!!

Charles Ward
13 Posted 24/03/2024 at 19:34:28
Tony the thing is with those Liverpool youngsters is I could see Bradley making it, possibly to replace Arnold who Real Madrid are ‘monitoring', the others will have some form of professional career.

The have got them through an injury crisis and I just wish we had some capable youngsters to fill our gaps.

At least those of our top youngsters, Stones, Rooney, Gordon earned us a goodly sum.

Tony Abrahams
14 Posted 24/03/2024 at 20:03:22
They sold Nico Williams for £18 million, whilst Jonjoe Kenny, (who is imo, definitely his equal, and possibly better) left our club for zilch.

I don't know how many of them will make it, but I'm sure they will receive a lot of money for the ones they don't want to keep, because of the completely professional way they run their football club.

Paul Ferry
15 Posted 25/03/2024 at 02:26:14
Tony A: I doubt that very many of them vote at all, Tony, in their bubble.

And, of course, two-thirds of them can't vote anyway, because they are not British.

I'm going to re-read that Colin Harvey interview again. It makes me happy, proud, and nostalgic for something now missing.

I bet the proportion of top-division players who voted in the 1960s is far higher than today when so many of them were so much closer to the cut and thrust of everyday life.

Ian Jones
16 Posted 25/03/2024 at 07:13:47
Small says. “When I moved to Everton I was in digs. I made a lot of sacrifices to be there. I left home at an early age.'

So moves away from family at 11.

As Robert suggests in the first response on the thread, perhaps not the best move at that age away from home; perhaps he should have stayed at home with West Brom and developed there.

I wonder how responsible Everton were and other clubs in the same situation in taking young kids away from what hopefully was a stable family environment, seemingly in pursuit of the next best player and making sure rival clubs don't get their 'target' first.

Hopefully, any regulator of football will look into this, although I thought there were certain rules in place already.

Mark Murphy
17 Posted 25/03/2024 at 08:12:03
I've got three sons now in their early 20s. When they were 17 they thought they knew everything too.

Sorry if I sound harsh but, if Thierry Small had had a bit more patience, he could well have been in the first-team squad by now at least. The grass isn't always greener, and all that.

Dave Abrahams
18 Posted 25/03/2024 at 08:55:27
Michael (6),

Thanks for the link, the posts underneath the article are very interesting as well, with Brent Stephens getting very close to the way the lad or most probably his agent and family were thinking.

As to the lad himself, I thought he looked much better attacking and not so good defending.

I thought that whoever was responsible for the move was looking at the money side of the deal, Southampton were not an upgrade on Everton but they offered more money than Everton who had offered the lad a very good deal.

Mark (17), a good proportion of 17-year-olds think they know everything, but they live and learn and most of them have the grace to admit how foolish they were when they look back as they get older.

What were you like yourself when you were 17? I was okay myself as a good Catholic living boy!!

Robert Tressell
20 Posted 25/03/2024 at 08:56:59
Mark, I expect his family was offered money to bring him to Everton to live in digs aged 11. He and the family were, in effect, taught to chase the money by Everton.

If they had all been patient, he could have spent his childhood at home and now be playing for West Brom.

Brent Stephens
21 Posted 25/03/2024 at 09:32:27
Dave #18,

"As to the lad himself, I thought he looked much better attacking and not so good defending."

Dave, I think you're right. Maybe that's why he looked so good and such an exciting prospect?

As your point probably implies, you need to be able to defend first. Is it that defensive ability where he's been slow to develop after his move from Everton?

I suppose it also depends on the tactics a particular manager favours. I haven't kept up with managerial moves at Southampton and Charlton – it might be that later managers are less keen on attacking full-backs? So Small has to demonstrate his defensive abilities more? Pure guess.

As "a good Catholic living boy", Dave, and as George Best was once asked, "Where did it all go wrong?"

Dave Abrahams
22 Posted 25/03/2024 at 09:51:05
Brent (21),

I haven't seen Small since he left Everton so maybe he's concentrating on his defensive work as you say. Hopefully he will continue to thrive at Charlton; if he does, he's in the right area with all those Premier League clubs watching him.

As for myself, I don't think I've ever been the same since Tony came into my life!

John Keating
23 Posted 25/03/2024 at 10:03:04

I don't know about Charlton but when he was up in Scotland, he was rubbish. Couldn't get in the St Mirren team.

Dave Abrahams
24 Posted 25/03/2024 at 10:09:17
John (23),

As I say, I've not seen him since he left Everton but I think he was sent off twice in the short time he was at St Mirren, maybe he's taking a long time to grow up.

Brian Harrison
25 Posted 25/03/2024 at 10:27:52
I have said for a long time, kids shouldn't be anywhere near professional football clubs till they have left school. Let them play for their school teams or with their friends in games on a Saturday or Sunday.

These are basically children who, in Small's case, having to move from home and friends at 11, and for what purpose? If they are talented enough, they will be picked up at 15 – they don't need to have this upheaval at such a young age.

Trouble is, professional football often ruins a kid's enjoyment of the game by putting too much pressure on the kids, and sometimes parents move kids away thinking it's for the best.

I would not allow clubs to get their hands on kids till they had finished school, and I would also make it a rule that the kid had to be at a club that was less than 50 miles from his home until he was 17.

Tony Abrahams
26 Posted 25/03/2024 at 11:28:08
I personally think 14 is about the right age, Brian, and I also believe that the clubs should take over a child's education at this stage, and stress to them how important this is.

Maybe one day a football club might crack this and reap the benefits for years to come but it won't be easy because most young footballers are usually only interested in one thing and it would probably be less than 1% of these kids who are genuinely interested in pursuing their education.

Money over education – it sounds like an easy choice to make for most young kids but I'm sure a lot of people realize that education can often take us a lot further, especially because most of these kids probably won't end up having a career playing football professionally.

Brian Harrison
27 Posted 25/03/2024 at 12:31:02
Tony @26,

You have gone through this so you more than anyone would understand the process. If you think 14 is the right age for clubs to get involved, I would agree.

I can well imagine the turnover in young players is huge, and telling an 11-year-old he is being released is something he isn't equipped to deal with.

You would know better than most about how much time is set aside for education in many clubs. Mind, I would imagine if a player is still at the club at 16, then he is thinking more about being a professional than worrying about needing a good education.

Robert Tressell
29 Posted 25/03/2024 at 13:24:16
Brian @25,

Along those lines, Ajax operate a 30-mile radius model. They also school the kids – it's not just football. This is the way forward now whether we like it or not. There is no way that talented kids will remain outside of the academy system till 15.

Tony Abrahams
30 Posted 25/03/2024 at 14:23:32
I think the clubs would disagree, Brian, and point to the success the England squad is beginning to have now that the academy system has been going for a long time.

It's okay for a few kids but I stand by my assumption that they start trying to mould these kids way too early and this must surely take a lot of the enjoyment away.

That was how I sometimes felt when I was watching my stepson playing academy football but I suppose there are good arguments on both sides with the pros and cons that are connected.

I wouldn't change anything with regards my time playing football but I think, having lived through the experience, what you wrote about kids being at clubs at 16 and concentrating only on becoming professional footballers and not being interested in gaining an education is so true, Brian.

I think I had a very good chance of going to the national School of Excellence when it first opened (I was probably scared because they were stressing how important education was!) but chose to stay at home. When I was given a guarantee of an apprenticeship at 15 years of age by Forest, I stopped concentrating on my education overnight.

I wasn't the cleverest, but I wasn't stupid either, and the older I got, the more I realized I was very stupid not trying to educate myself a lot more. This is why I feel It should be taken out of a kid's hands, and be made compulsory, to continue getting a proper education by whatever club you join.

Mark Murphy
31 Posted 25/03/2024 at 14:38:59
Dave, you're right! (Again dammit!!)

As a good catholic lad myself let me paraphrase the good Lord. “Let those of us who haven't fucked up cast the first wise words in high and mighty hindsight”. UTFT

Dave Abrahams
32 Posted 25/03/2024 at 15:06:57
Tony (30),

Yes, you had a very good chance of going to the National School of Excellence.

I'd met Bobby Robson and Dave Sexton about it and me and your mam were invited to a weekend away looking at where you would stay and what the curriculum would be. You we're invited as well, me and your mam would have had to put up with that, but I allowed the people who ran Liverpool Boys to talk me out of that trip.

That was the reason you never went, plus your mam didn't want to lose her little boy… and I was the loser left with a bleedin' headache for another two years ‘til you went to Forest.

See what I mean, Mark ( 31), bleedin' kids, and this was at 14 – not 17! What I think Jesus meant was “If kids don't do as they are told, cast the first stone right over their bloody heads!”

Robert Tressell
33 Posted 25/03/2024 at 21:39:31
Tony # 30, you're obviously a bright bloke, right – and that will be the case for a lot of the kids coming through the academy system. It seems logical, as Ajax do, to support education alongside the football coaching.

Nordsjaellend (the development club in Denmark linked to the Right to Dream Academy in Ghana) also strongly supports education alongside the football.

These are two really progressive clubs doing what they do very well – but it starts young. Ajax work on the basis that you need to have mastered your technique by age 8.

The big UK academies are moving in this direction - drilling players in positional play from a very early age as they do in Spain, Netherlands and other countries.

I know you worry about over-coaching - and players not learning to make decisions for themselves. I think this is just an issue with bad coaching. The reality is that the kids wouldn't be learning for themselves anyway; they'd be glued to their screens.

I also know a lot of people find this structured approach to football distasteful - but if teamed with education it can help provide jobs (and jobs in football) for the many kids who will not quite make it. So perhaps makes a brutal system less damaging.

This is not really so different from education in general, which you could say, picks kids up from a very young age and, sadly, struggles to offer them all a decent future.

Michael Kenrick
34 Posted 25/03/2024 at 21:44:01

I thought the Everton Academy had put a very strong emphasis on general education and vocational stuff for many years.

But it has been a long while since we've heard much about it, I have to admit.

Tony Abrahams
35 Posted 26/03/2024 at 11:22:25
You just took me back to my Forest days, then Robert, and it used to always bring a smile to my face whenever Brian Clough, was on the training ground, because he used to call everyone of us “thick fucking footballers” and I used to smile and think, if you never let your dog off the lead to run ahead, you would realize we aren’t that stupid!! (Nobody raised the standards like Clough’s dog)

Seriously though, I have had a plan in my head for years that I’m certain would be worth listening to, with regards restructuring the academy system, but maybe I’m a dinosaur and it has already been happening for years? (A lot of it is about what you have written in paragraph six, Robert!)

I doubt it very much, because when you think about things logically, I think most clubs operate in exactly the same way, and I’m still not sure that any English clubs have copied those pioneers from Holland, called Ajax?

Michael K, football is a lot like politics, imo. Sure there are some very good people, but there are also absolutely loads of people, whose greatest ability is knowing how to stay onside - with the right people, and both of these industries contain a lot of lip-serving half- truth’s, imo.

Brian Harrison
36 Posted 26/03/2024 at 12:52:57
Tony @35,

I think Brian Clough was the most charismatic manager, and he didn't do it by saying and doing outlandish things. Most of what he said was just common sense, what a manager he would have been for Everton if John Moores would have had the balls to sign him.

Funny you talk about Cloughie walking his dogs on the training ground. I saw a programme of him on the training ground with his dogs, then he shouts over to John O'Hare, "Oi, lad, I signed you to score goals, not fuck about on the wing, so get in the fucking box and start scoring goals!"

alking about things we should have done, I think when Colin stepped down from managing, we should have made him head of coaching, working with all the teams. For me, Colin was and still is the best coach this club has ever had.

Now I have long argued about the role of a DoF but Colin was made for that role. What Colin didn't know about the game wasn't worth knowing. Maybe had we done that, we wouldn't have spent so many years trophyless.

Tony Abrahams
37 Posted 26/03/2024 at 14:21:27
If you are talking about Colin Harvey, then I agree Brian. Some people should never be a manager because it stops them concentrating on what they’re best at, and I’ve no doubt in my mind that Harvey, was much better working, helping and giving people home truths on the training ground, then he was ever suited to sitting in the manager’s chair.

Clough was very simple, get it and play it until it comes out your fuckn ears, was possibly his most common phrase, and like I said on the Colin Harvey thread yesterday, why Wayne Rooney, chose to be a manager, when it’s obvious (to me) that he would make a much better coach, is beyond me.

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