Everton have a proud tradition of bringing young players through into the first team, but what happens to them once they get there?
Ross Barkley has shone a light on the fact that there aren’t too many who have gone on to enjoy long careers in the Everton first team once they make the breakthrough.
When Tom Davies made his debut and shone, going on to make more appearances under Koeman, one fan told his son – who was raving about how good Davies was – that “won’t be long before you’re slagging him off the same way you slate Barkley.” He was right.
Davies is the latest in a long line of young players to make the breakthrough from the Everton academy and is facing the same flak that his predecessors faced. Backwards or sideways passes are met with groans from the stands, before misplaced – some might say impossible – forward passes are met with anger.
Barkley faced the same before Davies, and before Barkley, Jack Rodwell went from gliding across the pitch in his first season to hiding from the ball in his second.
Victor Anichebe and James Vaughan were promising young strikers, although the latter’s Premier League career was guillotined by injury, the former often celebrated goals by cupping his ear at Evertonians and asking them to repeat their critique of his performances. Although perhaps less politely than that.
You have to go all the way back to Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert and, with a decade in between, Wayne Rooney to find a homegrown Everton player to make a real, lasting impression on the first team.
They made their debuts over 15 years ago.
So why have Everton been able to produce a plethora of young players considered good enough for the first team, but got no further since then?
Barkley says that he was asked to play roles he had not played in before, and given no real instruction. But that doesn’t happen to all young players at Everton. Conversely, of the three mentioned above, only Tony Hibbert was allowed to play in his preferred role for most of his career, with the odd appearance at centre back thrown in for good measure.
Leon Osman was regularly asked to play on both wings, despite being a natural central player, while Rooney played wherever he wanted.
In those 15 years since Osman’s debut, Everton have had five different managers.
David Moyes was criticised by many a young player for being barely interested unless he was desperate. Roberto Martinez declared undying love for players he had hardly seen, while dreaming of Ross Barkley lifting the World Cup for England. Ronald Koeman couldn’t remember Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s surname in an interview, and Sam Allardyce is Sam Allardyce.
Marco Silva will need to offer his young stars much more in the way of coaching and nurturing if we are to avoid the likes of Tom Davies from becoming another nearly-man. Giving him the armband isn’t enough, he needs to be given the same level of guidance that players his age who are still playing at Under 23 level are afforded if he is to progress well enough to keep the captaincy for any length of time.