There has been much talk of Everton’s Youth Academy moving to brand new, state of the art buildings in Halewood lately.
However, while there is talk of new premises, the staff and players at Everton’s current Academy premises have carried on about their business, providing manager,David Moyes with a stream of young, talented players to pick from.
Everton’s academy, in the last seven years, has had no less than EIGHTEEN of it’s graduates make their first team debut for Everton.
Speaking to NSNO, Ray Hall, Academy Manager, was quick to impress just how much more than a Youth Development scheme, an Academy needs to be than a nice building and freshly painted fences.
“An Academy isn’t just a building. It’s a way of life, it’s about the development of the player not only in a footballing sense, but every aspect of them growing as a person.”
He’s been at the club working with Everton’s youngster’s for nearly 16 years now, the last 6 years as Academy Manager, and takes a great deal of pride in the footballers he has helped develop into the players they are today.
“Tony Hibbert joined when he was 11, Leon Osman when he was 10, James Vaughan has been at the club since he was 7,” he said.
“A lot of time and work goes into the personal, as well as football, development of the player.”
One player who came through Everton’s youth system, and contributed almost half of the massive amount the club has recieved through it, is Wayne Rooney, a player that Ray Hall still has a lot of pride in.
“Wayne Rooney will always be an Everton Academy player,” he says. “You don’t spend 10 years of your life somewhere and then forget all about it just because you are transferred.”
“He is the yardstick by which our Academy players must measure themselves…..he is the best player of his age in the world.”
The current crop of players at the Academy fill Hall with hope for the future as well. “We always aim to have at least one player from our academy make their first team debut each season,” he continued.
“Our manager has given four of our Academy players their starts, Tony Hibbert,Wayne Rooney,Leon Osman and more recently James Vaughan.”
“Our job is to provide the manager him with the quality of player that puts them in his mind for selection…..they must stand out from a crowd and almost demand selection through their ability.”
“Some of our Academy players we have here at the moment have chance of making a huge footballing future for themselves provided that they work hard, have the right desire and stay free from injuries.”
“If a player has the potential to play in Everton’s first team, he will be given a chance through the academy.”
Asked about difficulties within his role Hall questioned the role that agents play with young players. While not all agents are the ogres they are painted out to be in the press, he likes to remind his players that some offers may be better for them than others, “Too much money, too soon, can be detrimental to a players’ development,” he said.
The Under 18 side I watched were giving trials to a young Italian striker, who looked very busy and hungry in the first half, and scored late on in the second, and Ray is off to Canada in late July to watch the Canadian National championships, although more of a “reccy” than a scouting mission, and he is very much aware that youth football is now a global concern.
Everton have taken three more young Thai players into the academy as part of the sponsorship deal with Chang Beer who Ray describes as very technically gifted, but who also face the massive challenge of moving to a new country.
“It’s hard enough when a 16 year old lad moves to a different part of the country, but to move halfway around the world and not speak a word of English is a major upheavel,” he said. “I’m sure that this experience will be very good for these players though, and that they will be very strong characters by the end of their scholarship here.”
Bringing in international players is something that Ray knows is now almost a necessity in modern football, although he emphasises that Everton will always have the majority of the players from the local area, and that looking further afield doesn’t mean that the club are ignoring the lad in Toxteth or the lad in Kirkby.
So, while Everton are preparing the land to build the new Academy buildings on in Halewood, Ray Hall and his coaching staff have already laid the foundations strong and deep that the Academy can continue to produce International quality players, and continue to meet their own goals of making sure manager,David Moyes is spoilt for choice when it comes to home-grown talent.