Times are changing at the Everton Youth Academy. Gone are the days of David Moyes largely ignoring the development of young players, with Roberto Martinez's philosophy of building through the youth ranks firmly in place. Everton has been able to develop some of their own talent in recent years: Wayne Rooney, Tony Hibbert, Leon Osman, Jack Rodwell, and Ross Barkley are names that spring to mind. However, that output is not nearly as prolific as it could be, and it is refreshing to see that Martinez realizes improvement is needed in this area.
Until Everton is bought out by a Middle Eastern oil tycoon, a limited supply of money is going to be a fact of life. Without the ability to regularly splash £20 million or more on top players (Romelu Lukaku being the exception), Martinez has smartly realized that investing in the Academy is a necessity if Everton hopes to have any chance of competing with the high rollers. The reason? Young players are cheap, and the ones that develop either provide terrific value for the price or else can be sold for huge profits.
The good news is that there is a ton of promising talent coming through the Academy at the moment, and much of that talent appears to be close to ready for the first team. Not all of these players are going to make an impact at Everton and many of them will ultimately live out careers as journeymen in the lower leagues, but with so many promising up-and-comers the chances are high that at least a few will pan out. Here's a quick preview of what's in store for the Everton Academy this season:
What to Watch For
There has been some upheaval in the administrative and coaching ranks of the Academy over the summer, as youth academy manager Alan Irvine was hired away to become West Brom's new manager and Under 21s coach Alan Stubbs left to take over at Scottish side Hibernian. David Unsworth, formerly the assistant manager for the Under 21s, has taken over Stubbs's duties for the time being.
If you've been following Everton's preseason campaign, you're likely already familiar with many of the top names from the Under 21s: defenders Luke Garbutt and Tyias Browning, midfielders John Lundstram and Matthew Kennedy, and forwards Chris Long and Hallam Hope. Garbutt might be the most promising talent in this set of six, with many describing him as a Leighton Baines clone due to his natural ability to get forward and provide excellent service into the box from the left back position. Long, meanwhile, just scored an absolute stunner over the weekend and could work his way into the first team plans before too long (no pun intended). Lundstram will spend the season on loan at Championship side Blackpool while Kennedy will be at Hibernian until January (where he will be reunited with his former boss Stubbs).
Ryan Ledson is another player who appears to have a huge future with the club. The sixteen-year-old has already captained England's Under 17s to a European championship, and last May he even made the bench for Everton's late season fixtures versus Southampton and Manchester City. Ledson has drawn rave reviews for his passing, tackling, and maturity beyond his years, and although Everton's defensive midfield situation is currently crowded, he could become the eventual replacement for Gareth Barry at the position.
This summer has also seen the arrival of defender/midfielder Brendan Galloway (18) from Milton Keynes Dons, forward Sam Byrne (18) from Manchester United, and (hopefully) forward David Henen (18) from Anderlecht. It will be interesting to see how the new boys settle in, but regardless of how they perform it's great to see that Martinez is forward thinking in his transfer dealings. For every ten Apostolos Vellioses out there, it only takes one Seamus Coleman to make all of the scouting and development worthwhile.
Last season, Kevin Sheedy guided the Under 18s to the Barclays Under-18 Premier League championship, a hugely impressive achievement and an encouraging sign that the future is bright. Several of the players from the side signed their first professional contracts back in mid-July, including goalkeeper Richard Griffiths, defenders Jonjoe Kenny, Curtis Langston, and Gethin Jones, midfielders Joe Williams and Harry Charsley, and forward Calum Dyson. Kenny in particular looks like a real keeper, having impressed for the same Euro winning England Under 17 side that was captained by Ledson.
Finally, keep an eye on 18-year-old prodigy George Green. Signed three years ago from Bradford City for £300,000 rising to £2 million based on performance bonuses (a huge deal for a player of that age), Green has shown flashes of brilliance for both the Under 18s and the Under 21s. While he has not quite developed at the rapid pace of a Rooney or a Barkley (both of whom deputized for the first team before their eighteenth birthday) like some expected, the attacking midfielder still has time and the results so far have been promising enough that you don't have to squint too hard to see the makings of a possible star. Green will likely spend at least part of the coming season on loan.