There was some bright news for Everton when one of the brightest talents in Paul Tait’s Under 21 squad committed himself until 2026 to the blue of Everton on Tuesday.
I have followed his progress closely since he signed from Sunderland’s academy just over 2 years ago. Still only recently turning 19 years old, he can be a future first teamer for the Blues if he knuckles down and continues his learning under Paul Tait. The Blues Under 21 boss was himself a centre forward who plied his trade in a long career in the hurly burly of the lower divisions of the Football League. Having been released as a player from Everton as a 19 year old himself, Tait knows only too well the stage of development Okoronkwo is at.
Frankie has started all league games at Premier League 2 level this season and has also been part of Sean Dyche’s training group, featuring prominently in some of the training videos along with the seniors. Although he has only scored twice this season in 9 games cross-competition, there is more to his game than just goals. He has versatility in that he can figure quite clearly as a #9 but also is very capable on the left wing, as a second striker or even occasionally on the right. His obvious strengths are his size and power but he is also quick and has trickery with his footwork which serve him well wide of the penalty area especially.
It may be that Okoronkwo has to stick to one position for a prolonged period to fully realise his potential and signs are that the Blues are recognising this as he has featured exclusively at centre forward this season. He is 6’3” and powerfully built so you would tend to think he will flourish most of all in that central area. I also think that he would be better served by resisting his tendency to drift wide even though he is more than capable of taking a man on in wide positions. I recall the same being said of Blues’ top striker of 15 years ago, Louis Saha, who often bamboozled opponents wide but the team were left with too few bodies in the area. I’ve been following Everton long enough to remember the marvellous Bob Latchford, a prime predator of a centre forward and top scorer for the Blues for 6 successive seasons. He very rarely vacated the penalty area!
Essentially, Okoronkwo has all the “tools in his locker” to be a success so long as he listens to his manager’s advice. He had a tendency to snatch at chances last season especially, meaning that his goals return across all Under 21 and Under 18 games was just 6 in 29 games, hardly prolific given his obvious potential. In fairness, he did play wide on occasion and I have to remind myself that he is still just 19 despite having the powerful upper body strength to overpower opponents older than him.
“Patience” is probably the key word for us as supporters, for the coaching team and most of all for Francis himself. The future is potentially a very bright one. The video clips below are typical examples of what he can do.
Given that he has Calvert-Lewin, Beto and Chermiti ahead of him at the moment, it remains to be seen if Okoronkwo stays with the Under 21s or, more likely, goes out on loan to a League One or Two club in January or next summer. That decision and the “conditioning” of playing regular men’s football, if it happens, will be vital to his progress.
He recognised the value of being close to the first team in training also as he told evertontv -
“I think going up to train with the Senior Team has been great for my learning. The speed and the tempo they play is very different. But I feel like after a few weeks in pre-season, I got better. I just want more opportunities with them.”
“I like to watch DCL and everything he does. I love watching him play. I feel like the one thing he does most is he always helps the team no matter where he is on the pitch.”
Everton Director of Football, Kevin Thelwell, also added:
“We’re delighted to have Francis extend his deal. He’s a very promising young player and he’s progressed well since joining the Club.
“As a striker, he’s really well-rounded and he’s already earned valuable experience at a young age, so we look forward to watching him continue his development at Everton.”
Good luck Frankie!