When considering the positives of last season it’s very difficult to name any. The one striking omission should be the exposure the young players were afforded and how this could further impact the club positively going forward.
As of the end of June I measured the ages of all players in the Premier League and compared how many compared each Premier League club to see how much exposure they gave to young players. It is not wholly uncommon to hear most Premier League sides talk of the quality of the young players they have. This includes our own supporters though I felt it interesting to measure the substance behind such assertions. I separated players into categories of those under 22, 21, 20,19,18 & 17 as of the 28th of June.
For Everton the findings re-enforced what many of us already knew; that Everton provide more opportunities for young players than any of their competitors in the league.
Most Premier League minutes given to players 19-years-old and younger last season:
⏱2,088 minutes – EVERTON
⏱1,619 minutes – Crystal Palace
⏱1,582 minutes – Liverpool
⏱1,426 minutes – West Ham United
⏱720 minutes – Stoke City pic.twitter.com/qYOYpio4FE
— GrandOldTeam (@grandoldteam) May 22, 2018
Of the above categories Everton are first in terms of players under 22, 2nd in terms of those under 21 (though comfortably top in terms of minutes), 2nd in terms of those under 20. If Europa league appearances are included Everton are first in every category, including being the older team to give game time to a player under 17 (Anthony Gordon). To give some context, we have provided more players starting a Premier League game who are under 22 than Liverpool, Tottenham, Burnley, Newcastle & Southampton combined. If you include European football, we have given more games (minimum of 10 minutes played) than Liverpool, Manchester United, Burnley, Newcastle, West Ham, Southampton, Brighton, Huddersfield & Bournemouth combined.
Given the media will often populate a narrative that Liverpool, Tottenham, Southampton and Bournemouth are favourable places for young players to sign for if they wish to get opportunities to develop, the hard evidence disproves this theory. It also illustrates that we are a very favourable option for young players and one which the entire club should push more. Perhaps more importantly, it shows we have an abundance of talent within our ranks which if coached and developed properly presents an enticing opportunity for the club to move forward.
So far this summer, which as indicated above has been frustrating and underwhelming, we have done 2 things right. The first is we have appointed a Director of Football who is from a footballing culture that isn’t just au fait with young players being given opportunities but one that places it at the very centre of their method of operations. For PSV and Alkmaar central to their approach is to provide opportunity and time to younger players and it is a method that Brands himself has re-enacted at both to great success. The second thing they have done is find a coach who not only looks comfortable working with Brands but also looks the sort of hands on coach who will prioritise his work on the training pitch, walking players through drills. In both instances it is only a start, but it is a start which suggests some degree of joined up thinking that has been sorely missing from the club over the last 2 years.
The 7 players who were under 22 (as of June 28Th) who started a Premier League game were Tom Davies, Jonjo Kenny, Beni Baningime, Ademola Lookman, Nicola Vlasic & Mason Holgate. For differing reasons the all go into the season in a similar position, that while there is potential for all of them to break through there remains a question mark over all of them. It feels a big season for all of them, and with the exception of Beni Baningime you sense if they don’t make an impact this season there may not be much time left for them at Everton
Koeman arrived at Everton with a similar situation, in his first season he had Barkley, Deulofeu, Stones and Lukaku who at 22 all looked like they had the potential to be leading players in the league. The next 2 years are a lesson in how plans can and often do go astray. Stones would be sold that summer, Deulofeu the winter after, Lukaku left the following summer and while Barkley would remain until the following January however would not kick a ball again for Everton after May of the season before.
It is a useful comparison for a number of reasons and is a cautionary note to what is hoped is an optimistic article. It was suggested Koeman would need to build a side around those 4 players, implanting some necessary experience to help that process as appropriate. What looked a fairly simple task became over complicated from the start and we seemed to move significantly from what looked a logical approach to a chaotic one where competing ego’s seemed to dominate the thinking as opposed to a collective sense direction. Not only that, but all 4 of the above players I believe were ahead of the 7 players we have on the fringes of the squad this season, and in spite of that only Lukaku of the 4 has really gone on to become a leading Premier League player. While the players must shoulder much of the blame, however the manager must take his share of the responsibility and we can only hope that the appointment of Brands/Silva can mean we avoid repeating the sort of chaos as witnessed over the last 2 years that has not helped players develop.
While it probably requires significantly more probing to do the subject area justice I would suggest Lookman is in the best position to kick on. His spell in Germany was very impressive, he has a host of clubs looking at his signature, but he also looks a carbon copy fit of the sort of player Silva recruited into his system at Watford in Richarlinson. Both players are right footed, operate from the left, look to move inside and pose a goal a threat. You sense players like Vlasic, Calvert Lewin and Davies will need to work on their consistency if they want to pose a threat to a regular place and iron out some of their areas of weakness. Kenny and Baningime will be looking for an opportunity to show their abilities with neither likely to start as first choice.
While there is much reason for optimism for Silva in having such a group of players, it also poses a challenge for him. There is a lazy and poorly researched stereotype that abounds around football that Everton have an “ageing squad”. The reality is, Everton have a greatly inexperienced squad heavily reliant upon young players learning on the job, with a smattering of older players. Just a couple of years older than the names we have discussed above you have Sandro (just turned 23) Klaassen (25), Keane (25) & Pickford (24). You have also got young players returning from loan, including Keiran Dowell (20) & Antonee Robinson (20) who has impressed on international duty up against the likes of Greizman, Mbappe & Dembele. It is being reported that loanees Callum Connolly (20) and Joe Williams (21) have also made a positive impression on the new manager.
While this presents a very positive picture for how the club can move forward in the medium term it puts a lot of pressure on Silva who will have to rely upon younger players to deliver for him. It is within this context that players such as Sigurdsson (28) need to find their best while Gana & Schneiderlin (28) need to find their first season form for the club. The front pairing of Tosun (27) and Walcott (29) continuing where they left off last season would also be a big win for manager Silva. While reams can be written about last season it could easily be summarized into observing that senior players didn’t reach the levels they were expected too. To help the young players we need to avoid a repeat of this.
There are undoubtedly challenges that are presented by the age demography of the squad. I always noted that under Moyes we tended to field an entire outfield who were between 25-30 years of age (often towards the latter end of that scale). He was often rewarded with regular consistent performances but also a glass ceiling that we were unable to break through (and would never have been able to do so with said players, as by the time you reach your late 20’s there isn’t much more you can improve). What we have currently is a large layer of young players, significantly above what any side in the Premier League have available to them within our squad, with a DOF committed to their development and a coach who relishes in improving players. While there are certainly no guarentees from the situation, we have as good an opportunity as any to develop a group of players together to challenge for the top 4 if the coach can bring the best out of them. In lieu of spending hundreds of millions, this may be the best chance we get to compete at the top end of the league. I wish Marco Silva every success and implore the club to avoid the mistakes that have left Moshiri’s project meandering 2 years in.