On the 2nd January 2017, Ronald Koeman’s Everton managed a Premier League first in their clash with Koeman’s former club Southampton. With starts handed to youngsters Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the Toffees became the first of the twenty top-flight sides to name two teenagers in their starting line-up. The former of the two is remarkably another of Everton’s academy graduates, who will look to follow in the the footsteps of the most recent successes to come off the Goodison production line, Ross Barkley and John Stones.
That said, Davies has made the perfect start to his senior career at the club that has nurtured and developed him from the age of 11 and handed him a professional contract back in 2015. In only his second start for the Toffees, in a match-up with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at Goodsion Park, the 18-year-old was a thorn in the side of the Catalan’s men, covering more ground than any other Everton player, creating two goals and getting onto the scoresheet himself in a man-of-the match performance that already looks to have him touted as England’s next great youngster in waiting.
His goal was a delight to watch, carrying the ball from deep within his own-half down the right, before avoiding the attentions of Gael Clichy and Yaya Touré with a sublime rabona flick inside between the two which he proceeded to run onto. He then left Clichy and former Toffee John Stones trailing within his wake before squaring the ball toward Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian let the ball run behind him to Ross Barkley, who spotted the run of Davies, and threaded a diagonal ball into the box to play the youngster through on goal. Then, the coup de gras; Davies waited for goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to rush off his line, before delicately chipping the ball over the top of the Chilean and into the bottom corner to send Goodison Park into pandemonium. It was a glorious goal to put the gloss on an excellent performance, and if he can maintain this consistency, Everton undoubtedly have a very special young player on their hands.
Calvert-Lewin, despite not having the same instant impact, has also earned rave reviews after his four appearances for the club so far, having been snapped up for £1.5million from the academy at Sheffield United. Another Yorkshireman, Mason Holgate, is another youngster who has raised eyebrows after a string of appearances at right-back in the absence of Seamus Coleman, and at left-back with Leighton Baines missing. He was brought to Merseyside for roughly £2million from Barnsley, featuring in six Premier League games including an impressive draw with Tottenham and a turnaround win at West Bromwich Albion. He too started and played the full 90 minutes in Everton’s victory over Manchester City.
The cherry on the top of that victory was applied by yet another youngster, Ademola Lookman, a 19-year-old who signed this January for £7.5million from League One Charlton Athletic. He was given his chance by Koeman late-on, making his debut from the bench in place of Barkley. Within minutes he had his first Premier League goal, threading the ball through the legs of Bravo to round-off a stunning 4-0 victory.
A surprise it may seem that young players can come into the fold of a Premier League side and make such an impact, but under Ronald Koeman’s tutelage, this is something that the football world has come to expect. When Koeman first arrived in Premier League management with Southampton, the very club against which Davies and Calvert-Lewin made their first starts, Koeman quickly made his mark, and part of his brand of football whichever club he is at is a philosophy of bringing through and blooding youngsters by having them train with and feature in and around the first-team. In many ways he continued with a trend set down at St. Mary’s by now Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, but his own trust in youngsters soon became apparent, with James Ward-Prowse a continual regular in the Southampton fold, whilst he integrated Harrison Reed and Matt Targett into the Saints side for their first starts for the club.
When Koeman decided to swap St. Mary’s for Goodison Park at the end of last season, what was obvious is that he had a club with a strong academy system to work worth, even if the first-team was in need of more than a mere patch-up. Ross Barkley and John Stones- who moved to Manchester City for £50million in the summer- were the most recent products from a system that has produced names such as Wayne Rooney, Joey Barton, Victor Anichebe, Adam Forshaw, Leon Osman and Leighton Baines in the past.
Barkley and Stones were slowly brought into the first-team picture in a very similar manner, but Koeman now seems to be implementing his own philosophy with this latest crop of youngsters and taking that policy of youth development into the next phase, by integrating them into the first-team and giving them opportunities to feature in League and Cup. In today’s Premier League climate, it is undeniably all about results, and to be battling in the top ten with three young, homegrown players around the first-team picture, either starting or as substitutes, is some achievement. Yet, it has worked so well for Southampton in recent years, and it is a policy that has been continued on the South Coast by Claude Puel, so why should it not bear fruit for Everton? After all, they themselves have implemented the same tactic of giving youngsters chances before. Wayne Rooney was 16 years and 360 days old when he netted his first Premier League goal with a last-gasp winner against Arsenal. Their youngest goalscorer, James Vaughan, is their youngest at 16-years and 271 days when he scored his first league goal for Everton. He too emerged from the academy system on Merseyside.
The future looks a bright one for this latest crop of young players at Goodison, if the impact Tom Davies made over the weekend is anything to go by, and it is club’s implementing such policies and exercising a willingness to find, develop, produce, and gamble on young players which will secure the future of the England National Team. Emerging talents from elsewhere such as Dele Alli are other perfect examples. The Premier League’s current cutthroat mentality of results meaning everything, unfortunately ensures that youngsters aren’t always given chances to impress. But managers such as Koeman and Pochettino who have made the development of young players a core part of their philosophy of running are club, are now beginning to reap the rewards of the emphasis they put on young players. It is an example of which managers everywhere should sit up and take note, for the results are looking very promising indeed, and that can only bode well for the future of English football as a whole.
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