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Looking back at David Unsworth’s three decades at Everton

A man of many talents, ‘Rhino’ will be leaving the club to pursue his managerial ambitions

Everton v Newcastle United: Premier League Cup Final
David Unsworth and chairman Bill Kenwright following the Under 23 title winning season triumph
Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Everton Academy Director and the Under-23s manager David Unsworth has taken the difficult decision to leave the club to pursue a first team managerial role elsewhere. It is not clear at this stage whether he has a position lined up at another club or whether the decision has anything to do with a review by recent Director of Football appointment Kevin Thelwell.

What is known is that a new appointment was announced yesterday, namely Kevin Nicholson who will be joining the club as “Academy Coach educator”. The post appears to be a very different one to the overarching role that Unsworth has held and is primarily focused on leading a Coaching Development Programme. With that announcement of course, if Unsworth was maybe not fully in agreement, then it is not a surprise that a parting of the ways has emerged.

All the speculation aside I, for one, will have really good memories of a dedicated and proud Evertonian who will undoubtedly be missed by many players, staff and supporters.

From his first game away as an 18 year old player at Tottenham in 1992 — a whole 30 years ago — you could sense Everton had an emerging talent as a player even if he did change where he lined up on the pitch from his original left wing position! He actually scored with a great left-footed volley during that game to mark a remarkable comeback from three-nil down away in London to level the game 3-3 late on.

The youngster took a couple of years to become a regular in the Everton first team squad, but flourished on the international stage including a goal in the third-place playoff of the Under-20 World Cup in 1993.

Unsy blossomed as a player a few years later under the direction of former manager Joe Royle, playing as a left sided centre back alongside stalwart captain Dave Watson. A few of his highlights in his long playing career would include the 1995 FA Cup triumph where he played a massive role in both the final and the semi-final especially when, as a 21 year old, he shackled one of the best strikers in the game at the time, Jurgen Klinsmann.

Soccer - FA Cup Final - Manchester United v Everton - Wembley Stadium
Unsworth was on the pitch for Everton’s last trophy, the FA Cup triumph in 1995
Photo by Sean Dempsey - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

He also scored the first goal after just 27 seconds in David Moyes’ first game in 2002, was an ice cool penalty taker and was affectionately known as “Rhino” in recognition of his trademark charges from the centre back or left back positions. He played 304 games in all, scoring 34 goals for the Toffees across two periods, having briefly left the club in 1997. For a defender, even though most of those goals were spot-kicks, that return is impressive.

Having retired as a player in 2009 he twice took temporary charge of Preston North End and briefly as assistant manager at Sheffield United before he returned as a coach to his home club Everton in 2013. Initially an assistant to Alan Stubbs in charge of the Under 23s, he became Stubbs’ replacement a year later and this announcement effectively ends a period of 8 years in total charge of the Under-23s and of course his more recent role as Academy director.

In between all that he of course took temporary charge of Everton first team on two separate occasions, following the departure of firstly Roberto Martinez in 2016, and then a particularly challenging time following Ronald Koeman’s sacking 18 months later. He championed youth players being given opportunities during those two brief difficult stints, giving chances or debuts to Tom Davies, Callum Connolly and Beni Baningime. Other first team players include Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Mason Holgate, Jonjoe Kenny and Anthony Gordon who made their way through the Under 23s under Unsworth’s guidance.

Although it’s widely accepted that it’s the transition of players through the academy and youth levels that was responsible for his coaching highlights, he managed some fantastic triumphs, namely the Under 23 title-winning seasons of 2017 and 2019.

Everton v Liverpool: Premier League 2
Jonjoe Kenny, captain of the Everton Under-23s, lifts the Premier League 2 trophy in 2017
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Despite receiving criticism from many quarters for the dearth of young players breaking into the first team squad, he has always had the strong backing of club chairman Bill Kenwright. Unsworth has always been effusive in his enthusiasm and full of praise for his young charges, and today Everton as a club and fanbase are bidding a fond farewell to one of their own as he seeks to progress his career as a first team coach.

Good luck Unsy, you will be missed but take the good wishes with you of all those Evertonians who have seen what the Blues have meant to you over the three decades of your association. When you return to Goodison as a fan there should be a rousing chant of “Rhino”. I’ll start it if nobody else does!!