Tom Davies: A Very Everton Kind of Problem

‘Tom Davies doesn’t get in a single midfield in the prem but captains Everton and starts every week. Absolute dog s**t him’

‘I fuckin hate Tom Davies… I’m an Everton fan but I don’t play for Everton because I’m s**t at footy……just like Tom Davies’

‘Why is Tom Davies anywhere near this Everton team he is absolutely s**t’

If patience is truly one of the seven virtues, it must be one that some Evertonians don’t particular value when it comes to our Academy players. In just a few seasons, one of its brightest recent graduates has gone from the ‘Ketwig Kaiser’ beloved by all, to a player regularly receiving abuse such as the above.

Tom Davies has come to symbolise a very Everton sort of problem, a capacity to hold some of our youth players to the very highest standards and then tear them apart when they fail to meet them.

There is little doubt that Davies has not yet become the player he threatened to be when he first broke into the squad a few years ago. Perhaps, part of the problem was that he started so well. The image of him navigating his way through Yaya Toure and Gael Clichy with an exquisite heel chop is one that few Evertonians will ever forget. The audacity of what Davies did, combined with a succession of impressive performances and an off the pitch attitude that seemed to chime perfectly with the crowd, appeared to have him marked as an inevitable terrace favourite.

And then came the 2017/18 season. Looking back at what was a tumultuous campaign for the Blues, it’s hard to pick out any outfield player who covered themselves in glory. Some simply lost their form, others should have been nowhere near the club, and the rest bounced around erratically, playing well one week, stinking the place out the next.

Gradually, as the season progressed, like lightning brewing up in a storm, the fan’s understandable ire began searching for places to strike. Some players, like the hapless Martina, the lethargic Schneiderlin and lamentable Williams became obvious (and justifiable) targets.

Less obvious was the targeting of Davies. Although he had a challenging season, he was not alone in that.  And at least Davies had the defence of being a young pro trying to break into first team football. A challenge made all the more difficult by the toxic environment that surrounded him. Hard enough for an Academy graduate to make it in a thriving team but doubly so in one that is characterised by chaotic management, crumbling confidence and a listless mentality.

What’s more, Davies never tried to hide. Unlike so many last season, his energy and desire was endless. Offering, working, supporting; if work ethic alone could be the judge of a player’s quality, Davies would stand alone during that campaign.

It must be despairing for a boyhood Blue like him to take stock of the abuse he received from his fellow fans and then compare his contribution to the likes of Niasse and Calvert Lewin, players  who contributed much less and yet appeared to emerge unscathed from the ordeal of 2017/18.

Although the ‘Silva-era’ might only be in its earliest days, some of the fans’ toxicity towards Davies that was apparent last year appears to have survived the cleansing process of the summer. The quotes above are pulled from random tweets that have appeared this season. Despite gaining the captaincy, showing more quality than he did in the previous campaign and displaying signs that he is maturing as a footballer, Davies seems to have been singled out as a totemic emblem of anything that is wrong with the side.

We’ve been here before of course. The crowd’s attitude towards Davies is almost a carbon copy of that directed towards Barkley during his time with the club. Like Davies, Barkley was a promising graduate who broke into the side with performances of quality and energy. And like Davies, he then started to struggle.

His form dipped, his confidence ebbed and many Blues turned against him. It didn’t seem to matter at the time that there were several other players performing poorly, Barkley became a lightning rod for the angst that was infecting the crowd.

That he left, albeit in pretty unsavoury circumstances, probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. He was in an abusive relationship, one in which he could almost do no good for the other half. Getting out, no matter how ugly a way he did it, likely seemed the only option.

Most youth players never make it at our level. Everton’s history is littered with ‘hopes for the future’ who ended up disappointing and dropping down to the lower leagues. But occasionally some do. But more often than not, they need time. Players can take years to reach maturity and on the way will inevitably suffer periods when things do not go right.

Tom Davies is still young. He has shown flashes of what he can do and a willingness to confront his limitations head on. Despite his difficulties, he still made the short list for the nominees for this years, creepily named ‘Golden Boy award’ (chosen by Italian newspaper Tuttosport). He sits alongside emerging talents like Ryan Sessegnon, Phil Foden and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Clearly there are others out there who recognise his potential.

We are not alone as fans in berating players who we feel fail to live up to the standards we expect of them. But I doubt very much if many of the others who made that short list have spent the last year being call ‘dog-shit’ so often and with such ferocity by their own supporters.

In berating him so much are we helping? In expecting more from Davies than we do from others are we being fair? Does a lack of appreciation regarding his age and the trying circumstances of the past year  reflect well on us? The answer to all of the above is probably no.

Tom Davies might not make it at Everton. The chances of any Academy graduate making it at their clubs in the higher reaches of the top flight are after all, disappointingly small. But if he doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of effort. And if he’s willing to put in the graft, the least we can do is give him the time.


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