The dawning of the new season at youth level usually means a variety of departures from the squad, a batch of loanees returning and opportunities for stepping up a level (e.g. from Under 18s to Under 21s). For Everton’s Under-21 side, it will be Paul Tait’s second full season in charge and he will already be making his plans along with the other management at the club including Sean Dyche, Kevin Thelwell and Leighton Baines.
There has been a fair amount of personnel change already at youth levels.
Dealing with the departures firstly it has already been reported that new Northern Ireland cap midfielder Isaac Price has turned down a new contract in favour of testing his development in Belgium with Standard Liege. Of the more senior Under 21 players the talented but injury-plagued young Norwegian Einar Iversen has left the club along with a number of 18 year-old players who have not been offered professional terms. These included midfielder Shae Cahill, son of “Blue Kangaroo” club legend Tim and also, surprisingly, forward Troy Smikle-James. Goalkeeper Harry Tyrer has also just agreed a loan with Chesterfield.
Extended professional terms have been offered to goalkeeper Jack Barrett and returning loanee defenders Lewis Gibson and Ryan Astley.
First-time professional terms have been offered to defenders Ed Jones and Jack Tierney plus midfielders Halid Djankpata, Isaac Heath and Owen Barker. Some other players who have broken through into the Under 21 set-up already include Ishe Samuels-Smith who has now left for Chelsea and Martin Sherif who just signed his first professional contract.
In trying to assess what this will mean for the squad in the coming season there are probably four categories of player. The core of the squad, those stepping up to the Under 21s, those who may go out to develop further and those, interestingly, who may step up to Sean Dyche’s squad. Having watched these players closely I have given my best guess below as to what the numbers might look like:
Consolidate place in Under 21s: Leban (GK) Defenders Samuels-Smith (Ishe), Dixon Midfielders Apter, Djankpata, Metcalfe, Heath, Barker Forwards Whitaker, Beaumont-Clark, Sherif, Kouyate
Promotion to Under 21s: Graham (GK) Defenders Jones, Tierney, Maher, Samuels-Smith (Odin) Midfielders Bates, Patterson (Jack) Forward Ebere
Loan to another club: Barrett (GK) Defenders Hunt, John, Welch, Campbell, Mallon Midfielders Onyango, Butterfield Forwards Dobbin, Okoronkwo, Higgins
Stay around for potential breakthrough to 1st team matchday squad: Defender Astley Midfielders Warrington, McAllister Forwards Cannon, Mills
The two categories which are most critical are the players on the cusp of their next steps in professional football where they may get new or further development loans or they may just break through into the match day squad thinking.
Of those that I have suggested loans to another club, it is often more a case of proving themselves week-in and week-out in a senior environment against seasoned, often physical opponents and in an environment where results really do matter! I think it goes without saying that any of those who do not make the cut into Sean Dyches’ thinking may also be better served going out on loan.
Besides the prospects for Tait’s young men, one change we do know about is the way the Premier League 2 will be set up from August 2023 with the abolition of the two tier (Division 1 and 2 system) meaning all 25 Category One academies compete against each other in a single division. Essentially, a ‘Swiss-style’ model will be introduced which mirrors how the UEFA Champions League group stage is set to be decided from 2024/25.
Teams will be seeded and drawn into separate pots based on historic performance, with each club playing one another as well as ‘four or five’ sides from other pots, home or away. In total, this will produce a 20-game regular season, while a combined table will be produced that determines end-of-season play-off positions.
Quite how this new format will benefit the clubs is anybody’s guess at the moment. It’s a similar number of games overall to be played assuming Everton continue to take part in the other competitions like the Papa John’s Trophy last season.
Some of those I tip for a potential breakthrough this season feature in another story to follow. In the meantime, good luck to all the young Blues who might make a difference this year!