Everton youngsters who have caught the eye as summer transfer plan takes shape
Everton’s academy enjoyed an entertaining season in which several young stars highlighted serious potential for the future.
The Under-21s finished eighth in the 14-team Premier League 2 and it was in the cup competitions that Paul Tait’s players excelled. The youngsters defeated Paris St Germain on the way to the quarter finals of the Premier League International Cup and reached the last 16 of the Papa John’s Trophy, many of the players showing they were capable of competing with senior Football League sides.
The second half of the season was more experimental after several of the more experienced players moved on elsewhere, Tom Cannon securing a valuable loan spell in the Championship and Joe Anderson and Seb Quirk, who each featured on the first team’s Australia trip in November, moving permanently to Sunderland and Accrington Stanley respectively. Those deals did offer opportunities for some of Leighton Baines’ Under-18s to step up and impress, however.
Giving his assessment of the campaign, Tait said: “Particularly in the first half of the season, I thought the football we played was really good, as we showed in the Papa John’s Trophy. Winning a lot of games, competing against men, and then similarly with the International Cup as well. Those two tournaments were great for the players’ development.”
Jarrad Branthwaite and Ellis Simms were among the academy stars who had positive seasons but, of those who had not previously made a first team appearance, here are some of the names that enjoyed breakthrough campaigns.
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Tom Cannon was exceptional for the U21s, hitting 12 goals in the first half of the season alone. Standout moments included an early brace against Manchester United’s U21s and goals in wins against PSG and Manchester City. But it was at senior level that he really impressed, almost skipping a development phase as he showcased he could score goals against defences from each tier of the Football League. One of the best was an emphatic strike at League One Lincoln City in the Papa John’s, a goal that came after he had made his senior debut in the Carabao Cup defeat at Bournemouth and then scored for the first team against Western Sydney Wanderers during the Sydney Super Cup.
On that November trip, Cannon told the ECHO of his rise to first team consideration: “It was a tough result [against Bournemouth] for the team but for me, personally, it was nice to get on and make my senior debut, it’s a moment I’ve been working hard towards – me and my family – so for them to see me going on the pitch was nice.”
Cannon received Premier League minutes in the league defeat at Bournemouth and the Boxing Day loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers before going to Preston North End and collecting eight Championship goals. Preston boss Ryan Lowe worked hard to secure that move and is keen to link back up with Cannon this coming season. Before then, Dyche is expected to look at the 20-year-old in pre-season after 12 months in which his performances have led to England launching a campaign to encourage him to switch allegiances from the Republic of Ireland.
Lewis Warrington rose to prominence during pre-season, when he earned minutes in each of Everton’s first team friendlies, including against Arsenal and Minnesota United on the US tour. Frank Lampard waited until the final day of the transfer window – after confirmation of the signings of Idrissa Gueye and James Garner – before he would sanction a loan move for the centre midfielder. Before he was allowed to leave for Fleetwood, Warrington made his senior debut against the Cod Army in the Carabao Cup. He then built on a previous loan spell with Tranmere Rovers to enjoy an impressive campaign in League One, cementing a starting position under iconic former Celtic and Scotland midfielder Scott Brown.
He told the ECHO after a 2-1 win over Lincoln City: “I’ve loved it, it has probably been the perfect loan up to now. I’ve learned loads off the gaffer and his staff and have got loads better as a player in a positional sense… It’s been really successful. I’ve learned loads, how keeping it simple is sometimes best, playing quick and keeping it one-two touch then finding new spaces to get onto the ball, and also putting more tackles in and reading the game well and landing on second balls. My whole game has improved.”
Warrington is highly thought of at Everton and is likely to attract significant interest from clubs looking to secure him on loan for the upcoming season. But the departure of Tom Davies leaves a gap in the centre of midfield in Dyche’s squad and there is hope he will seriously consider whether Warrington can fill it.
Stanley Mills made his first team debut in the cup game at Fleetwood and then added further senior minutes in the knock-out game at Bournemouth. He won the title of Player of the Seaon for the U21s, capping a remarkable 12 months that started with a surprise call-up to the first team’s pre-season tour of the US. The 19-year-old winger scored 15 goals across all competitions for the U21s and was the subject of clamour for involvement in the final weeks of the Premier League season – though his momentum was halted by injury.
Mills was another player to get an opportunity in Australia, where he told the ECHO: “I just turn up, play football, that’s what I do, but it’s going well at the moment so I will just keep working hard and keep continuing. I’m very happy, it was good to come on in a competitive game [at Bournemouth]. It was a disappointing result but a good personal milestone for me to come on and get more minutes in the first team.”
A loan move is likely to be the next step in his development with the teenager potentially heading into the Championship providing the right setup can be found to support his progression.
Francis Okoronkwo was signed from Sunderland and is another striker considered a hot prospect. The 18-year-old scored in the 6-3 win over Manchester City and came to the fore when he stepped up from the U18s to take advantage of Cannon’s departure in the second half of the season. Before then he did link up with Cannon in the second half of the Papa John’s Trophy game at Lincoln. Okoronkwo’s introduction changed that game as he and Cannon scored two quick second half goals to take Everton back into the tie.
Okoronkwo travelled with the first team squad to Crystal Palace and will get more opportunities under Tait next season. After the Lincoln game, Tait told the ECHO: “We really like Frankie, he’s got real potential. He’s got lots to do – he’s not the finished article. He’s got real physical attributes but he is also really technical so he can handle the ball and he’s a number nine, a really good number nine, he can run behind, he can link into feet. There are still bits he needs to do better at, which he is working on, but he’s working hard so he’s got a chance at getting better at those things.”
Ishe Samuels-Smith attracted the interest of both Lampard and Dyche last season – both managers naming him in senior matchday squads. This milestone was first achieved at Bournemouth in the cup. The young defender would have been the youngest player to represent Everton had he got onto the pitch. The defender was later named on the bench by Dyche in the Premier League game against Fulham.
The following day he was sent off for the U21s in the Merseyside derby, after which Tait still heaped praise on the England youth international, saying: “I’m not having a go at him because I thought he was magnificent and he and I thought he and Ben Doak going up against each other were two top young players going toe-to-toe and it was great to watch. He’s 16 and he’ll learn from that bit of lack of discipline or being out of position.”