Over his long coaching career, Carlo Ancelotti has been responsible for taking a number of young players under his wing and grooming them for future success. Now at Everton, the Italian manager seems to have taken a shine to youngster Anthony Gordon and is tipping him for the big time, though not quite in the position we’ve gotten used to seeing him in.
In an interview with the Times, Ancelotti had quite a bit to say about the 19-year-old.
“Anthony is a player with a lot of talent. It is not difficult to trust a young player when the player has quality and ability. Of course, the fact that he is so young means he has to improve but that is absolutely normal.
“But he has all the quality to play in the first team. In the last games we have until the end [of the season], he will have possibilities to play again.”
Gordon has been a regular fixture on the bench this season, but has only featured as a substitute thrice, playing a total of 64 minutes in two Premier League games and one League Cup game out on the left side of midfield.
“First of all, he has a lot of technical skills. He can combine this with a good physical condition and resistance and so I think he has no problem to play as a midfielder.
“I put him, when he started to train with us, on the left side. He did really well, but I also think he can play as a No 10. In the final third, he has a lot of ability. I have patience. All the players who come from the academy are really important for us. The more players you have from the academy, the more possibility you have to have success.
“The experience I had in [AC] Milan when I was a player — it was a fantastic team and it was built on the players of the academy.
“It is true that after [Ruud] Gullit arrived, [Marco] Van Basten and [Frank] Rijkaard [we did well], but in the beginning [Franco] Baresi and [Paolo] Maldini were all players from the academy, and these players have a sense of belonging which is different to the others.”
Ancelotti’s formation at the Toffees right now is a 4-4-2 which doesn’t have room for a #10, hence the shoehorning of an ill-suited Gylfi Sigurdsson into the lineup in the middle, but the veteran manager is also renowned for changing his formation to fit his strengths versus the approach many other coaches take.
There has been some talk that Gordon has been adding some muscle to his wiry frame, but Ancelotti doesn’t appear to be impressed.
“I didn’t see a lot of changes. He worked but he does not have to change his body. Maybe if he has more power, more strength, he can lose some ability.”
Gordon has come up through the Academy ranks, jumping up to the Under-23s in the 2018-19 season where he led David Unsworth’s side from the front with 8 goals and 4 assists in 27 appearances. Unsy has taken some time to impress upon the player the virtues of work rate on the pitch, drilling him to develop that side of his game.
“With young players you have to tell them what you want and show them what you expect, You show them videos of their own game and clips of people in the first team that go above and beyond.
“One afternoon, myself and Marcel sat down with Anthony and went through all the players in our first team in wide areas and showed their physical output, and we set that against what Anthony was doing.
“He recognised he had to do more. It is my job to pinpoint that in games and in training, and so we might stop a session and he could be five yards out of position. That might seem nothing, but that might be the difference between the full back running off you and scoring a goal.
“We did hundreds and hundreds of hours of this. That is an example of something you can coach into young players: positional sense, an expectation of where to be and how to do it off the ball. Everything off the ball didn’t come naturally with Anthony, but it will become second nature. He has taken to it fantastically well.”
Surprisingly though, the article mentions that Rhino believes the youngster is best suited to a striking role, possibly a second forward playing off the shoulder of a lead striker such as Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
“We sort of left his final-third stuff to develop naturally. He has outstanding technical ability, electrifying pace and can do things which not many players can, which is score goals and create opportunities.
“He has got better and better as he has progressed up the ranks.”
Everton’s once-famed youth pipeline appears to have dried up in recent years, especially in the attacking half. Kieran Dowell was touted as the next Academy great but floundered on the biggest stage and appears destined for a career in the lower leagues.