With the oil driven financial powerhouse that is Manchester City set to slam the door on the Champions League places the opportunity for progression in the Premier League is harder than ever.
This is especially the case for a team like Everton, who actually rank as one of the poorest clubs in the Premier League but thanks to David Moyes successfully and consistently punch above their weight.
The squad does though require constant improvement and investment if they are to progress, the relative decline since the 2009/09 season is evidence of that.
The board and the club in general have come in for a lot of stick from fans for their failure to provide the revenue and funds required to back David Moyes in the transfer market, so much so that we have not had a cash positive transfer window (i.e. spent more than we brought in) since 2007.
But there is one shining beacon in the gloom and that is the Everton Academy. Ray Hall and his fellow youth coaches have done a magnificent job - not just now but over the past 20 years - to supply the first team with young talent.
Wayne Rooney, Francis Jeffers, Michael Ball, Richard Dunne, David Unsworth and Gavin McCann to name a few, have all won international cap(s) since coming through the Everton Academy. That is without mentioning current Blues Shane Duffy, Tony Hibbert, Victor Anichebe (don’t laugh) Jack Rodwell, Leon Osman and the injured but extremely highly rated Ross Barkley (if we sell Rodwell this guy is more than able to replace him, believe me). And not forgetting the on-loan James Vaughan or the likes of Peter Clarke and Danny Cadamarteri, former Toffees who went on to forge successful lower league careers.
In this age of ‘money takes all’ the importance of producing your own talent – especially for a club like Everton – is as crucial as ever. David Moyes regularly alludes to that in his press conferences and the signings of Velios, Gueye and Eric Dier shows how he is keen to support Hall and the Academy guys as much as possible.
Ask most Manchester United fans and they will point to the ‘golden generation’ of players in the mid 90s as the corner stone of their sustained success in the ensuing years. Who knows what Everton could achieve if they could produce – and keep hold of – a generation similar to Scholes, Beckham, Giggs, Butt and the Nevilles?
Thankfully the results coming from the youth and Academy sides seem promising. The Academy team reached the national final of the FA Premier Academy League, finishing above the likes of Liverpool, Man United and Man City in the northern division before defeating Aston Villa 3-2 in the semi-final. They play Fulham or Sunderland in the final at the weekend.
That progress has also been recognised internationally and in a European Under-17 Championship Group stage clash with Serbia, Everton striker Hallam Hope took a star role. The 17-year-old bagged two goals in that game (the first of which at 1:01 is an absolute beauty, even if the graphics credited the goal to the wrong player!). England now progress to the semi-finals with Hope the tournament top scorer and in with a great chance of reaching the final.
There is, of course, a huge step up from Academy to reserve football and then an even bigger jump to the Premier League. But Moyes knows how to bring players through gradually, giving them enough first team football to develop and grow without suffering from burnout. It is that opportunity for progression that the Scot desperately hopes can be the ace card Everton hold over their super rich rivals in the Premier League. He is appealing to young player’s hopes and dreams rather than their wallets, tricky in this modern era I know. But my argument is if a youngster chooses cash over first team opportunities he isn't worth having anyway, which should mean we have young players with the right attitude as well as raw talent.
We don't want to put too much pressure or expectation on these kids, their careers could be ruined before they have even started otherwise. But I do believe there are some real gems in the current Academy ranks and should they come through to become first teamers, that would be far more satisfying than any over priced, over paid ‘mega star’ found at some of our more illustrious rivals.