Over 20 years later, Alan Hansen’s infamous outburst that ‘you can’t win anything with kids’ remains a poignant moment in modern football.
Sir Alex Ferguson proved him wrong with Manchester United, taking a rag-tag bunch of youngsters, including David Beckham, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes, and turning them into European champions.
The collective group of players went on to become all-time greats. It was fitting that it was United, whose very own Sir Matt Busby once said: “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”
In the two decades that have since passed it’s become nothing new to see teenagers, like 18-year-old Arsenal transfer target, Kylian Mbappé, controlling and taking over games. He wasn’t the only reason, but he was crucial as Monaco lifted the Ligue 1 title and made it to the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League.
Many clubs in Europe have now centred their recruitment around players younger than 23 with high potential. If you can spot them early, a few years development in the right surroundings can lead to a huge profit, or een trophies and silverware. Rather than promote within, it’s no common-place to cherry-pick the best youngsters from poorer clubs.
However, Everton, with their latest clutch of academy graduates, may have struck gold. The players that helped England win the Under-20 World Cup in South Korea could save the Toffees millions in the transfer market.
As the Premier League TV deal grows, £50million is becoming the new £25million and it’s nothing when average clubs splash £15million on very average players. There tends to be a premium on homegrown players with top flight experience; buying clubs aren’t just paying for quality and potential but also to meet domestic and European requirements.
It’s a lucrative market for sellers and a nightmare for buyers. Everton’s current crop of graduates could see the Merseyside club come out on top in both areas.
Under Ronald Koeman, it’s likely that the Merseyside club will be challenging for European football every season. This will see an increase in fixtures for the club as well as increased exposure for the youngsters as the Dutch coach looks to manage his squad to keep them fresh and provide vital experience.
As we have seen from Ajax’s Europa League journey this term. Make it far in the competition and the vultures will start to decide, looking to pick the flesh off their bones.
Invest Rather than Waste Money
While other clubs will invest in squad players, those at Goodison Park have the perfect opportunity to promote their own. Why spend £8million on a Fabian Delph when you can just call upon the services of Tom Davies?
The 18-year-old, who looks like a throwback from the 1980s, making his debut during the 2015/16 season under Roberto Martinez. Last season he really came to the fore, establishing himself as an important part of Koeman’s midfield. Davies brought energy to the Everton team, and his inclusion began to help West Ham transfer target, Ross Barkley, make a greater impact.
Named Man of the Match as Everton knocked four past Manchester City on New Year’s Day, the box-to-box midfielder scored his first goal for the club. He didn’t look back, putting in his great performances and was named as the Toffees; Young Player of the Season.
Davies would be joined by fellow academy graduate, Matthew Pennington. The 22-year-old defender making his senior debut in the Merseyside derby at Anfield. Although they lost 3-1, he did manage to grab a goal.
When Everton lost Seamus Coleman, one of their most dynamic, broke his leg, Mason Holgate, a £2m signing from Barnsley, filled in almost effortlessly. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who arrived in 2016, became an important squad member and January signing Ademola Lookman joined for £7.5m and began to show glimpses of excellence.
Under-20 World Cup Success Built at Everton
Costing less than a combined £10million, the former two were part of England’s Under-20 World Cup squad. Lookman scored in the semi-final win over Italy, then Calvert-Lewin popped up to bag the winner in the final.
It wasn’t just those two though, Everton had five players in the squad.
Everton’s Under-23 coach, David Unsworth would have been proud to see Jonjoe Kenny, Kieran Dowell and Callum Connolly join the aforementioned duo. All of which played their part while out in South Korea.
Dowell and Kenny, who Jamie Carragher described as outstanding’ after his part in the win over Italy, were prominent members of Unsworth’s squad as they won the Premier League 2 title last season, while Connolly spent the campaign on loan at Wigan Athletic.
Santiago Arias has been mentioned as a Everton transfer target, the Colombian right-back touted as possible cover for the injured Coleman, but it looks like they already have significant options in that role in the form of Holgate and Kenny.
That’s around £13million saved if Koeman sticks with his youth first approach.
Everton look to target local talent, kids that already understand the history of the club and know and respect the values of the city and the people that come to watch them. Kenny, Connolly and Dowell are all from the Liverpool area, and have enjoyed tastes of the first-team.
This success puts Koeman, and director of football Paul Walsh, in an ideal situation. They can save money by using youth talent were applicable and then used their increased funds to upgrade with quality, rather than quantity.
Farhad Moshiri’s millions will definitely help Everton compete at the top, but it’s their dedication to youth development that could help them bridge the gap and become challengers for a place in the Champions League.