Apparently, Everton are now open to offers for 22-year-old winger Nathan Broadhead, who spent this season on loan at League One Burton Albion.
And it makes sense. Although promising, Broadhead’s still some way off being ready to play week-in, week-out for the Blues and this is their last chance to get a reasonable fee for his with one year left on his deal.
Whether Nathan Broadhead will ever be a Premier League player, we don’t know.
But why has a promising player, now aged 22, only just been sent out on loan for the first time?
Indeed, have the Blues mismanaged the development of this – and other - youngsters?
It’s fair to say, on the pitch at least, Broadhead couldn’t have done much more to try and earn his first team shot. He came on for a few minutes in a bizarre mid-season ‘SportPesa Cup’ match against Gor Mahia, scoring and providing an assist while doing so, then made a very positive impact during Marco Silva’s final pre-season in charge before being sent on loan to Burton.
Now, on the face of it, there’s nothing to wrong with that. Until you look at the timeline - Broadhead was 21 when he went out on loan for the first time – and even then it was only to a League One side.
Injuries restricted his effectiveness at the Pirelli Stadium in the end, but even if he’d had the season of his life, it would be tough to make the case for him to be thrust into Everton’s first team on the back of that. He’d surely have to replicate that in a Championship loan the following season – by which time he’d be 23 – hardly a baby.
But Broadhead isn’t the subject of this post. Everton’s approach to the under-23s is.
Everton Under-23s Setup
It’s fair to say that the under-23s level is about on par with League Two football – albeit more technical and less physical.
With that in mind, it’s unlikely that many players – apart from exceptional talents like Anthony Gordon – are going to be able to deal with a jump straight up to the first team without a loan deal to a Championship side.
The trouble is: Everton seem to be holding players back in the under-23s for too long.
For example, Everton U23s played Man City U23s at the end of January. Everton’s team consisted of five players older than 20, while Man City had just one player north of 18. City won 4-1, but that’s not the issue.
The issue is, that this ‘mature’ line-up isn’t an uncommon thing. The likes of Beni Baningime (21), Nathan Markelo (21) and Dennis Adeniran (21) are mainstays in Everton’s U23s midfield, but it seems highly unlikely that any of them have any significant future with the first team.
This raises two issues: how are these players going to get the experience they need to play at a higher level when they’re still effectively playing at League Two standard in their twenties, and are Everton blocking the pathway of younger players?
As mentioned previously, sending players out on loan is typically a great way to see what level promising players are really at, while also giving them the chance to develop and improve at a competitive level.
Everton sent 19 players out on loan this season – a promising sign of an abundance of talent that is knocking on the door of the first team, surely?
Well, sadly not. Obviously, Everton have had a lot of deadwood to deal with, with which a loan spell seems to be the only option (see Shani Tarashaj, Sandro Ramirez, Yannick Bolasie, Luke Garbutt and Cenk Tosun).
But what is concerning is that the likes of Broadhead (22), Josh Bowler (21) and the now-released Morgan Feeney (21) have only just gone out on their first loan spells, when they should have been doing this at no older than 19. The only player that got sent out this season that seems likely to have a shot of first team football is Lewis Gibson (now 20), who enjoyed his first spell after joining Fleetwood in January.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be sending these players out on loan. But we should be sending these lads out a lot, lot earlier.
Another interesting point to consider is the fact that Everton’s under-23s have won two of the last three (completed) Premier League 2 titles. Again, that’s good, right?
Well, it should be, unless Everton are holding onto players with the aim of winning youth leagues rather than improving the players themselves with the hopes of sending them to the first team.
When Everton won the Premier League 2 title in 2018-19, the team’s key players included Matty Foulds (then 21), Tyias Browning (24), Brendan Galloway (22), Bassala Sambou (21), Harry Charsley (21) Broadhead (21) and Antony Evans (20). With the exception of Broadhead, all of these players have since been released or sold by the club.
So why were these players taking such a significant spot in our development side if they had no prospect of a future at the club?
Everton need to be changing their development timeline. The under-23s should rarely have a player aged over 18, just like Man City, just like Liverpool, just like United and every other big side.
To give you an idea of the extent of this problem, take a look at this worrying stat below:
Players above the age of 20 who played 10+ games in PL2 in 2019/20:
Man United: 1
Man City: 0
There’s no doubt about it; Everton are holding players back for far too long in the under 23s, which is delaying (if not preventing) the development of these players, as well as players in younger age groups.
We should be treating Everton’s under-23s more like an under-18s team, with players ready to go out on loan by the age of 19, otherwise we’re going to keep seeing players go to waste.