The 2022/23 season will be all change on the managerial front as, following recent appointments, Paul Tait steps up from his position as Under-18s head coach to take over the Under-21s while club legend Leighton Baines takes charge of the younger group. The familiarity and close relationships that both managers have already forged with their respective age groups will give continuity as well as an injection of much-needed optimism for the coming season.
Looking forward, we are getting to the time of year when, at junior levels of football, there will be equal amounts of joy and despair as new scholars are inducted into the academy at Finch Farm while others at Under-16 and the other end of the spectrum at Under-23 levels will be released. Everton have yet to announce the new young players who will join the U18 squad but it’s fairly clear that some of the young men who graced last year’s FA Youth Cup tournament will be invited to make the step up. The impressive young Dutch striker Martin Sherif and full back Ishe Samuels-Smith stood out and have been offered terms.
On the “despair” front it has been interesting to see, following the youth managerial changes, that several players who were not regulars last season at U23 level have been offered (and some have already accepted) fresh terms to remain with the club.
The likes of midfielders Mackenzie Hunt, Sebastian Quirk, Liam Higgins plus goalkeepers Zan-Luk Leban and Jack Barrett seemed to be heading for the exit door but have signed fresh terms to play under Paul Tait who they will know and respect very well. Promising defender Elijah Campbell has also finally accepted terms to play under Tait. He was eligible to sign a contract quite a while ago but had not done so until this week. In similar vein, Matthew Mallon, Under 18s captain earlier in the season but not getting a chance under David Unsworth, had been “released” with a view to joining Blackburn Rovers but has now signed a professional contract following the managerial changes. That move certainly seemed to have had the Tait seal of approval!
Fresh terms have also been offered to the talented but luckless young Norwegian midfielder Einar Iversen, now 21, who missed the entire 21/22 season through injury. Also offered terms are Irish midfielder Sean McAllister who trained with the first team under Frank Lampard, defender Joe Anderson, who actually played in last season’s pre-season friendlies under Rafa Benitez and young goalkeeper Pat Nash.
One can only assume that with most of the above the prospects for next season may have been very different had Unsworth stayed in charge? I’ll leave that there!
In looking back at last season, the fortunes of the U18s were frighteningly similar to those of the first team and the U23s. The headline facts make fairly grim reading.
They finished 10th out of a group of 14 teams but had the second worst goals scored with just 28 from 26 games (average 1.08 per game). For comparison purposes, the first team average goals scored per game was 1.13 and the U23s was 1.27, so scoring goals seemed to be an unhealthy situation at all levels of the club during last season. Form at this level was topsy-turvy all season although just 2 wins out of the last 11 games dragged the team down the table.
Key difference from the other two mens’ sides was that the U18s conceded only 37 goals which actually was third best in the division. At this junior level, goals conceded always seem to run at higher rates than more senior levels so it is actually an achievement of sorts!
To put the U18s’ performance into context, you have to consider the unusually large number of players who were promoted early to the U23 level following a high number of exits from that group the previous year. Maybe that is something behind the fresh terms for such a high number this season, to have greater continuity and avoid players being pitched in to the higher level when they might not be physically ready?
Top scorers for the team were Martin Sherif (9), Emilio Lawrence (7) and Francis Okoronkwo (6). To further illustrate the youthful make up of the squad it should be noted that both Sherif and Lawrence were actually just 15 years old when the season kicked off!
I believe with the changes at the helm and with the clear support of Director of Football Kevin Thelwell and manager Frank Lampard, there is real promise for the year ahead. I will be watching the Class of ‘22’s progress eagerly.