Its’ that time of year when, if you’re a player between the ages of 16 and 18 at Everton (or any other club with an academy) you will have your dreams fulfilled or shattered.
We have already seen an exodus of 18 year olds at Everton who have not been offered professional terms at the club. On the other side of the coin in the last few days or so we have seen two very bright prospects accept their first professional contracts with a few others still to “sign on the line”.
To further illustrate the change at this level, shortly, we will see an intake of 16 year olds looking to forge their way in the professional game under the guidance of coaches Leighton Baines and Kieran Driscoll. Some of those playing for the Under 18s last season will also jump up to work with Paul Tait’s Under 21s this season.
On the contract front, accepting their first terms were Martin Sherif and Owen Barker. Terms were also offered to midfielders Halid Djankpata and Isaac Heath plus defenders Ed Jones and Jack Tierney. Although it hasn’t been explicitly reported anywhere, Ishe Samuels-Smith, subject of much speculation with the usual Premiership giant vultures circling, must also have been offered terms as his 17th birthday has now passed. We will watch that develop with hopefully a good outcome for the Blues.
Of the new professionals, looking at striker Sherif first, I first saw him play around 18 months ago when he was still 15 but playing against teams full of players 2 or 3 years older. The first thing that struck me was that physically, he was actually as strong if not stronger than some of the older defenders he was up against.
Seeing his progress last season as he began to get some minutes in the Under 21 group, he has plenty of raw talent and a good eye for goal. He’s around 6ft 3 inches, so a good unit for a centre forward and he’s pretty quick too. What I like about him, in his formative stages, is the positions he takes up around the penalty area. You can call it a striker’s natural instinct or simply good coaching that has taught him that. Statistically, he has featured in 45 games overall at Under 18 level (including the FA Youth Cup) and scored 21 goals and provided 7 assists.
He himself acknowedges there is still work to do and listening to him you believe that he will put the effort in to improve his hold up play and other aspects of his game.
In speaking to evertontv, the humble young Dutchman who arrived during the latter stages of his compatriot Marcel Brands’ time at the Toffees, said -
“Leighton spoke to me about my hold-up play and he used Dominic Calvert-Lewin as a good example. Kieran (Driscoll - Under 18s assistant head coach) has helped with my composure in front of goal. Both of them have been really helpful to me, so I appreciate that.”
Looking next at Barker, he is an attacking midfielder who has also featured wide right despite being predominantly left-footed. The most obvious thing you notice about Barker is his control and passing with his left boot. He does not find difficulty when moved onto his right side as, like all good players, he has two-footed ability. I would honestly say though that the outside of Barker’s left is as good as the right foot of many of his peers so why worry! He has good vision for a pass and I believe we are bound to see an improvement in his goals and assists return. He definitely has the ability. At Under 18 level (again including FA Youth Cup appearances) he has featured in 41 games with 5 goals and 9 assists. He also featured in 9 games at Under 21 or Football League Trophy level.
Having the (over-used phrase time) “wand” of a left foot does not guarantee anything of course, no matter how pleasing it is on the eye to watch. I remember in recent years watching the excellent quality of Kieran Dowell’s left foot yet sadly it did not help him progress into Everton’s first team on a regular basis. It will be very interesting to see how young Barker develops playing against an older age group on a regular basis.
In speaking to evertontv Barker also acknowledged the role coaches have played in his development
“Leighton Baines is a good coach, I have enjoyed working with him. He’s very encouraging and is always trying to make me a better player. He’s always trying to help me get in the right positions to cause as much chaos as I can to the other team.
“I want to keep enjoying my football and keep impressing, but I also want to add more goals and assists to my game, while potentially getting to train with the Senior Team a few times. I want to impress the right people so I can eventually break into the Senior Team.”
Good luck to both players and there should be further updates on first professional contracts soon as well as the influx of new academy players.