It was the kind of nightmare that every young footballer has always dreaded. Your team are down at halftime, when the manager beckons you over in the dressing room. “Lad,” he says putting his arm around your shoulder, “I’m going to need you to go on and hold down the fort in the second half, okay?”
This is it. This is your debut. Everything you have been working towards until this point in your teenage life has been for this very moment. The players troop back to the pitch through the tunnel, a couple of the seniors fist bump you and give you encouragement. The fourth official holds up the board and you run onto the pitch, to your position in the backline and the ref blows the whistle to start the action.
You’re raring to go and as the ball comes into the area in front of you, your nervous energy gets the better of you and you make a rash challenge. It’s fine, you’re letting them know you’re here and won’t be pushed around. A foul is given, and you run back into the box, pick out your man and get a shoulder on him. Frustration, with a pang of guilt, gnaws at you for giving away a freekick in a dangerous position.
The ball is curled into the box, a moment’s hesitation and the pro you were marking is away but even as you scramble to catch up, the ball kisses his forehead and nestles into the far corner of the net. It’s barely been a minute into your debut, and now it’s 2-0.
You put on a brave face, steeling yourself that you are better than this, and will not let this moment define you.
While the creative writing above is embellished prose, the plot is unfortunately not, and this is exactly what youngster Jarrad Branthwaite’s senior debut for Everton went like. To his credit, he did not fall apart and continued to fight in the second half. The Blues would eventually lose 3-0 in a feeble effort from the whole collective out on the pitch, but manager Carlo Ancelotti knows this experience will only help Branthwaite improve.
Speaking on his Aston Villa pre-match conference call, the veteran manager talked about how this is a good learning situation for the youngster.
“I think he showed his quality and his inexperience. He went on the pitch, we conceded a goal from a set-piece and it was a mistake, but after that he showed personality, quality, no fear with the ball.
“He’s an intelligent player. He has quality. We don’t have to put a lot of pressure on him. He’s a really humble guy and his character is good, so for sure he’s going to improve and will be part of the squad in the future.”
Ancelotti then added that the pressure being off the Blues for the remaining three games would help blood some of the youngsters in the squad now.
“I think this is the best environment, they are playing with us and learning a lot from more experienced players. As I said, they are training with us not because we like to have young players, because they have the quality to be with us.”
“It is important for everyone not to expect to much from these players. They need time to be comfortable with the team, we have to be patient with them.”
Encouraging words indeed from the Italian as the Toffees have a number of players in the 23 and under region, and while Richarlison, Mason Holgate, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Anthony Gordon are taking most of the plaudits, others like Moise Kean, Tom Davies and even Alex Iwobi to some extent could use some of his sage advice.