Rooney, Jeffers, Rodwell.....Lundstram, Hope, Dier?  

In this age of billionaire owners and €50m transfers teams outside of Europe’s elite few must find a way to compete that does not break the bank. Everton FC has managed to stay consistently in the Premier League’s top eight because of an emphasis placed on their youth development programs. In other words, they have found significant success in a league dominated by big spending by doing things the ‘right’ way.

Everton’s board and the club in general have not been able to provide first team manager David Moyes the funds he needs to take the club the next step. Conceivably the only reason there has been any consistency to Everton’s league placements is because of the Everton FC Academy. A telling statistic is that in the last four years Everton has never spent more than they earned, a commendable stat especially with their impressive league finishes in that time.

It is called by those in the club “The Everton Way”, a philosophy and culture that is committed to creating a successful club the sustainable way, building up from grassroots football that translates to good things for the first team. The club’s motto is “Nil Satis Nisi Optimum” which translates to “nothing but the best is good enough” and this relates directly to the philosophy of excellence within their academy. The Everton Academy develops players from all over the world but there is a special focus on local talent which has seen many Everton graduates get capped for the English national team. Unfortunately for English football the Toffees are the exception to the rule and most of the Premier League’s top clubs look for talent abroad instead of developing local ability. This has a direct effect on the national team however with more clubs prioritizing youth development in England the future looks brighter for the Three Lions.

Academy prospects train at Finch Farm, Everton’s state of the art training complex that hosts all of the club’s teams. The £14m complex opened in 2007 and replaced the legendary Bellefield as Everton FC’s training ground. The world class facility is a suitable home for Everton’s world class development system that will help entice young player to join the Blues and stay. Of course that is a difficult task with your best young players as we saw when Rooney was tempted away from Goodison Park to Old Trafford. Maybe the most notable graduate from Everton FC’s academy, Wayne Rooney was a local talent (from Liverpool) that joined the club at 9 years of age and came through the academy to become England’s youngest ever goal scorer. He has since gone on to make Everton FC’s academy proud with his countless successes with the Red Devils and the rest is history.

Other notable academy graduates include Francis Jeffers, Michael Ball, and Richard Dunne who have all been capped internationally and have had success after leaving Goodison Park. It is not the past that has me interested and thousands of their supporters excited, it is their current crop of first teamers and academy prospects that could be making a splash in the Premiership for many years. Current Toffees include notables such as James Vaughan who became the youngest goal scorer in Everton’s history in the 2004/05 season and has represented England throughout his youth career. Academy graduate Leon Osman is a starter for the Blues and a key part of their midfield, adding thirty-eight goals in his seven years at the club. Defensive midfielder Jack Rodwell may be the first team’s brightest young player.  He joined Everton at 7 years of age and at 20 years old he has captained the U16 England squad, become the youngest ever player to represent Everton in Europe, and scored his first Premier League goal against Manchester United and will only improve in the coming years.

It is likely that Everton will have to sell a few of the names above in the next year or so, that is just the reality of being a team outside of the big five in the Premier League. Consolation for fans of Everton comes in the form of their U18 side. In the U18 Premier Academy League, Everton finished the 2010/11 season top of Group C. Ahead of the academies of Manchester City, Manchester United, and a highly acclaimed Liverpool U18 side that were favourites. Everton went on to defeat Aston Villa and Fulham’s academies to land them their first academy title and national recognition. They achieved this with nine English youngsters in their squad, a promising side for the future of the English game. The competition turned out a few notable performances and a number of names to watch who could be making a big splash in England in the coming years.

Eric Dier is only on loan to Everton from Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon, but the 17 year old central defender was a top performer for Everton’s academy team this season and a multi-million pound transfer could see him a permanent member of Finch Farm. He captained every junior Sporting Lisbon side up until he played with the U19s (at the age of 16). He is not a typical English center-back; he is good with the ball at his feed and has developed in a country where they value technique and he provides and aerial threat at 6ft 2in tall. He is definitely one to watch and do not be surprised if Portugal tries to convince him to play for their national side as he is yet to be recognized by the English FA.

John Lundstram is a talented, left footed player that plays in the center of midfield for the Blues. He combines a strong work ethic with great passing ability. He can read the game well and distributes the ball accurately. He has been with Everton from early on and won Everton’s U16 Player of the Year for the 2009/10 season.

Last but not least, Hallam Hope follows Wayne Rooney as another young forward coming out of Everton’s academy. He moved from Manchester City to Everton in 2005 where he has been a regular goal scorer for the Toffees. His record with the English national team is very impressive averaging just under a goal a game throughout his international career.

Everton will continue to do things the right way and will remain contenders for the Europa League spots. The UEFA Financial Fair Play rules might just help clubs like Everton to climb the standings but we will have to see. In a league and sport where money often speaks loudest, Everton might just be bucking the trend.

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