Proud of our past, focused on the future.
The ethos which runs throughout Everton Football Club, and a mantra encapsulated by its world-class Academy.
For decades, the Club’s youth system has been one of the most respected and renowned in football. And its vision to develop young players who are technically and tactically capable of playing for Everton or having a career in the professional game remains as focused as ever.
There is an enormous amount of planning, preparation and care invested in ensuring this progressive operation – overseen by Academy Manager Joel Waldron - functions so smoothly and prosperously.
Waldron is responsible for establishing the Academy’s culture, with its four principal tenets, which focus on family, ambition, determination and authenticity.
“These values are implemented from top to bottom of the organisation and employed as a tool to help develop good footballers and well-rounded individuals,” he explains. “The values underpin the day-to-day workings of our Academy: how we behave, how we represent our Club across the world of football and how we look after each other.”
At the age of 28, Academy Manager Waldron is the youngest head of a category-one academy in the country, and his strong desire and passion to keep Everton at the forefront of developing young talent is replicated among his team of more than 50 full-time staff.
“Our Academy staff work tirelessly to plan and deliver a development programme which gives our players the best chance of achieving their footballing goals,” he adds. “Our programme is designed to incorporate the technical, physical and psycho-social aspects of development, thus equipping our young players with the skills and attributes they need to play professional football at the highest level.
“Everton play a significant part in shaping the boys. They have to work very hard. And we have to work very hard to give them the best learning opportunities and make sure those are as individualised as possible.
Academy Manager Joel Waldron
“As staff, we all recognise we play a leading role in the boys’ football development – and a supporting role in their wider development, with their parents, schools and friends.
“Off the pitch, we are equally committed to help develop well-motivated and well-balanced youngsters in a safe and secure environment.”
There is good reason why plaudits rain down on Everton’s Academy.
The Club handed debuts to seven of its graduates in 2017/18 and fielded 12 homegrown players in all.
This is Everton’s Academy in action, meticulously cultivating individuals’ skills, developing strong and rounded personalities and opening up a clear and defined pathway to the peak of professional football.
Martin Waldron has headed up Everton’s Academy recruitment since 2014, having worked as head of local schoolboy recruitment from 1998.
He has overseen the scouting and subsequent development of a raft of footballers and emphasises the imperative of a comprehensive talent-spotting model.
Equally vital is to ensure the players identified by Everton as potentially capable of forging a career at the elite end of the sport elect to sign for the Club, a significant challenge on this ultra-competitive north-west patch. Everton prioritise recruiting the best footballers in the Club’s catchment area – within one hour’s drive of its USM Finch Farm training base.
“I sell it this way,” says Waldron. “’You want the best school for your son. We think, and a lot of people around the country think, that we are the leaders – we are the best school.
“It is like Oxford and Cambridge - and it is harder to get in here than into Oxford or Cambridge.
“We do not change. We do not butter you up to get you signed. We have more scouts than anyone else in the north west – roughly 200, which is more than United, City and Liverpool combined. And we have about 300 scouts in all across the UK. That breadth of expertise gives you the upper hand, because you see more than anybody else.
“We have a recruitment dashboard which shows our coverage of every team and every league we have watched – and how many times we have watched them.
Martin Waldron, Everton's Head of Academy Recruitment
“So, hopefully, we will not miss anything. The earlier you can identify the players the better. The golden ages are between five and nine. They take in a lot more and are like sponges… and if they are at Everton from a young age they have a really strong grounding.
“It is a disciplined sport and our boys are brought up the right way. But we look for talented individuals right up to 16 and beyond.”
Waldron adds: “I always say to the families, ‘We are a team: without you, he will not make it, and without us, he will not make it, so we have to work together’.
“I am always honest with the boys. We push them but I say, ‘If you want to come in here and ask anything… I will never lie to you’.
“And they appreciate you being honest.”
Everton remain at the forefront of the evolution of professional football academies, no longer comprising merely – in the words of Paul Tait – “recruitment, coaching… and that is it”.
Under-18 manager Tait is a key driver in the Professional Development phase of Everton’s Academy, the final leg on the journey for players making the transition from youth football into the professional ranks.
“We want players to be confident and have personality and character but they have to do things the right way,” says Tait.
“Our culture is great. When I play against teams from different parts of the country, their coaches will say, ‘You are lucky because of the lads you have got’.
I say, ‘It is not luck, it is by design’. As soon as they walk in the building we start instilling that discipline and humility.”
Tom Kearney has viewed the Academy experience through two different lenses.
Kearney was an Academy player for 11 years before leaving for Bradford City aged 19. Today, he is Foundation Phase Lead Coach. His remit covers Everton’s Under-9 to Under-12 teams.
“Fundamentally, our programme for the younger age groups focuses predominantly on technique,” says Kearney.
“As the boys get older, it is more tactical and the emphasis is more on the game.
“We create a demanding culture and environment. We want every player skipping into training, looking forward to coming in, but when they are here we want them to work hard. We want them to leave with a sweat on.
“It is so important to develop the boys. The journey they will go on will be very bumpy – hopefully long, but bumpy.
“We have to develop good people. Resilient boys who are able to enjoy the highs but also bounce back from the lows. We have to develop the boys to be humble in terms of being a team player.
“They must have high standards, a real work ethic and willingness to push themselves.
“But it is vital they retain their love of the game. At whatever age, whether it is nine or 18, they have to love football and have hunger and enthusiasm to play.
“We have a massive part in their life, so it is important we influence in a positive way.”
The all-encompassing care and support for each individual is furthered in the extensive, dynamic work of the Academy’s sports science and medicine department.
There is a heavy onus on ensuring each boy is supported individually and comfortable with their environment and its demands – that they are happy and able to show the best of themselves, essentially.
“The Academy Sports Science and Medicine department includes physiotherapy and everything medical: strength and conditioning, sports science, which is the numbers aspect of it – the analysis of the numbers we collect from GPS monitoring, for example – psychology, nutrition and performance analysis,” says John McKeown, Everton’s Head of Academy Sports Science and Medicine since 2015.
“All those sub departments feed into sports science and medicine.
“The aim of the sports science department is to oversee the boys’ physical and psychological development. It’s not just a case of working with the boys in the gym to help their physical development; our nutrition staff teach the boys how to make the right choices and psychology staff help the boys to develop a performance mindset.
“We have tie-ins with a number of universities: John Moores, Edge Hill, Liverpool and UCLAN.
“We have people there constantly looking at what is coming next in our field. We are looking at the development in the game and how that might change.
“We have to monitor all the statistics around the boys’ development. We look at changes in speed, strength, maturation. We are constantly assessing how quickly they are growing, the percentage of their estimated adult height.
“We use scientific equations which enable us to know roughly how tall a boy will be.
“Everything is individual. Although the programme is developed around each team, the elements of the programme are tailored around the individual.
“The wider objectives will be the same for every player: to get faster and stronger, and better tactically, technically and psychologically. But the way they get there is different for each individual.”
John McKeown, left, and Dan Manning
Sean Lundon nods furiously. Head of Academy Coaching Lundon has been asked if the Club’s proven faith in its young players is integral to the success of this formidable youth structure.
For the boys in the Academy, there can be no greater motivation than observing their predecessors playing first-team football for Everton. Equally, staff know the untold hours and emotional energy they sink into their work count for something very important.
This is not a club paying lip-service to developing footballers. Everton’s Academy is the lifeblood of the place. In addition to those seven homegrown first-team debutants in 2017/18, Tom Davies, Beni Baningime and Jonjoe Kenny established themselves in the senior squad, emulating a stack of alumni, including the likes of Wayne Rooney, Francis Jeffers, Leon Osman, James Vaughan and Tony Hibbert.
“If you do not get buy-in from the Club and first team then it is difficult for any player,” says Lundon.
“The Club have significantly backed the Academy throughout my time here (former player Lundon returned to Everton as an Academy coach in 1999). I have never known them say ‘no’ to anything we have asked for, which is a massive stimulus for us.
Equally, the first-team managers we have had have always promoted youth and known and bought into the culture of Everton in terms of promoting young players.
“Every manager we have had has been prepared to put young players in his team.
“We believe what we do here sets us apart in many ways. If you are a young player and want to go all the way on that journey, then we have shown over the years we can make it a reality – or they can make it a reality for themselves if they put in the work.
“The pathway, environment and programme are all here.
“The staff and coaches work incredibly hard and get to know the players and their families.
“A lot of people feel a lot of satisfaction with the input they have had along his journey.”
As the man charged with overseeing a fluid coaching programme, where coaches and phase leads are bound together in a tight-knit cohort to ensure seamless movement for players through the Academy, Lundon was one of the key players in instilling the Academy’s overarching coaching philosophy.
“We have a clear philosophy which we created together as a staff,” says Lundon. “It is rooted in what we felt was the Everton way, from looking at players who historically have come through and Everton as a club.
“A lot of the staff are Evertonians and have a real feel for the Club and its culture and the demands of the fans.
“We want hard-working, honest, team players. But, equally, everyone is an individual. We are not looking for a particular type of player in terms of their technical, tactical or physical capabilities.
“They will bring whatever their quality is. But they must have honesty and a strong work ethic.
“If they are technically good or physically good they have a chance. If they are mentally strong that can get them there.
“But we expect hard work from everyone.”
THE COACHING PROGRAMME
Paul Bennett oversees the Pre-Academy phase for five to eight year olds, Kearney heads the Under-9-Under-12 model in the Foundation phase, the Youth Development phase for Under-13s-Under-16s is led by Simon Jennings, while Tait takes charge at Under-18 – the first stage of the Professional Development phase, which continues with David Unsworth’s Under-23s.
“It is all technical coaching in pre-academy,” says Bennett, whose players – or more accurately, perhaps, their parents - are still weighing up where their development will be best served once they are permitted to sign for a club aged nine.
“There are lots and lots of touches of the ball and detail on the techniques we are asking them to produce, but also ones they bring themselves.
“It is about receiving and striking the ball, using both feet and manipulating the ball, being able to protect it and dodge defenders.
“We want players who can handle the ball.”
Simon Jennings, left, and Paul Bennett
Kearney assumes the baton from Bennett. “Right the way through from nine-18 the players are being drilled technically,” he says.
“They move from small-sided football to 11v11 when they are 12.
“But there is no cut-off point. We are looking to link it all. There is never a drastic change, it is a steady progression – a layered approach right the way through.
“As they get older, the coaching is more tactical and the emphasis more on the game.
“They start to wear GPS monitors at 12, so the planning for sessions is periodised in terms of how intense they are.
“Between 9-11, generally, they come in for an evening session and work as hard as they can.
“The players are growing more from 12 onwards, so you must manage that.”
When players advance to Jennings’ Youth Development Phase outside factors are more pronounced, variables are multiplying.
Academic education reaches a crucial juncture and matches football development in its importance. The necessity to form good, durable and strong characters continues to underpin the programme.
“It is a demanding time for the players,” says Jennings. “They have the fitness and tactical and technical aspects to consider, the social and psychological elements, too.
“And it is not just about the player. The boys doing well at school is paramount to us. We want to hear they are reaching their aims and targets and on course to maximising their education.
“It is a holistic approach. While we are pushing them and being so demanding of them, we have to get that balance right.
“They are going through a lot of change physically as well… we have to be really patient and careful in how we judge the players.
“We have to look at potential, not just performance.
“A key dynamic within the programme is that we are working with the individual.
“We will work technically and tactically with each player and develop their personal fitness. We will put them on an individual nutrition plan or one-on-one education programme if they need it.
“In terms of motivation, it does not get better than seeing the likes of Tom Davies and Jonjoe Kenny playing at Goodison Park.
“It adds more substance to what we are delivering. Parents and kids will see they have a chance because there is an open door and a pathway to a career. That is evident at Everton Football Club.”
The players who progress to work with Tait, by extension, experience a considerable shift in their lives. They are now full-time scholars at the Football Club but there is a strong emphasis on their academic studies. In fact, classroom learning influences what happens on the pitch.
“The lads know, if they do not treat their education seriously, they will not play in the games,” says Tait.
“Everything has to be spot on. It all goes into forming the good person, as well as the player.”
Tait recognises his players’ first-team chance could be “around the corner… so we have to get them ready for that next step”.
That preparation entails refining tactical understanding and the ongoing nurturing of proactive, decisive individuals; solid, dependable characters.
Tait wants his team to win and they do just that rather regularly. Likewise, he says, his inherently competitive players routinely study the league table and enter the field every Saturday morning desperately keen to achieve a positive result.
The real positive result, however, is the successful development of the individual and the footballer. Tait explains the concerted, joined-up effort which is invested in achieving this end goal.
“There is a common theme running through what we do from nine-18,” he says.
“I am the Under-18 coach and share an office with the Under-13, 14, 15 and 16 coaches, so we are brainstorming all the time.
“The other coaching room is the same, different age-group coaches working together.
“At Under-18 the programme shifts to having a tactical and psychological emphasis. It is about systems of play, analysing strengths and weaknesses of the opposition.
“We put the game on software for the players on a Tuesday, then set them tasks in units. We will ask the midfielders to watch our opponents’ midfield, then feedback on Friday in the pre-match team meeting.
“The front players will analyse the back four they are going to face and tell us where we can exploit them.
“We have a tactics board at the front of the room and expect players to detail how we should approach the match.
“And you often find the players have the best answers – they are the ones in the thick of it.
“When they get to Goodison Park with 40,000 people there and cannot hear anything, they have to make those decisions themselves. We are setting them up for a fall if we do everything for them.
“That is filtered down as well, in terms of giving the younger players more ownership.
“It is a gradual process. Then, when they get to 18, we want them to be independent decision makers.”
Tait is convinced Everton boast two compelling selling points when the Club recruit young footballers.
“It always comes back to opportunity and our young players are getting the opportunity to play first-team football,” says Tait.
“Everton thrive on putting their own young players in the team.
“The lads who move on have the foundation of being a better person. They are shown how to do things the right way, be that through the coaching system or the education system we have.”
Paul Tait, Everton's Under-18s coach
A PIONEERING FACILITY AND COHERENT OPERATION
The Club was an authentic trailblazer when it designed its vast USM Finch Farm training complex – the Blues’ headquarters since relocating from Bellefield in 2007 – to house all of its footballers in one facility.
The attendant benefits of this arrangement are myriad, chief among them the ability of players to move fluidly between teams and, consequently, expedite their development. Baningime hopped across to train with Unsworth’s Under-23s long before he turned 18 – and featured six times for Unsworth’s team ahead of his coming-of-age birthday.
That progressive outlook is replicated in the ongoing modernisation of Finch Farm. An education block was opened in January 2017. Advanced gym equipment, meticulously-cared-for pitches and first-rate dining – “the food is great,” Baningime laughs, without forgetting to apportion praise where due, “the chef is amazing” – combine to ensure Everton leave nothing to chance with their young players’ development.
Away from the grass and USM Finch Farm’s superior indoor football facility and fitness rooms, staff pour through a mountain of work to keep the Academy purring along. And to ensure it remains ahead of the game.
Lifelong Evertonian Dan Manning is the Academy’s Operations Manager.
“We have 150 signed boys,” says Manning, “and we want to ensure the delivery of all our Academy activities is as efficient and effective as possible. Designing a programme that is as individualised and specialised as it can be involves a lot of work.
“Staffing wise, we are up to more than 50 full-time and around 100 casuals in different roles, be they physiotherapists, scouts or teachers.
“I deal with everyone across the entire academy. We look after everything other than football: the coaching programme, which is seven days a week, the games programme, which varies depending on age and all the tours and tournaments our teams attend during the season. We plan a long way into the future. Finch Farm has significantly developed in the past 18 months but we are always assessing how we can improve the facility and everything we do.
“We have a personal development programme throughout the season, too, which includes a number of things: mental health awareness, social media, finance and safe motoring. It is a holistic approach, which goes beyond the football. It has gone from boys turning up to play football for one and a half hours to a completely different world.”
Manning has been with the Club four years and, as such, is well-positioned to evaluate what separates Everton’s youth programme from the rest.
“The people,” he says, without hesitation. “We have good people. And good values, which underpin everything we do.
“The decisions people make are, without exception, for the benefit of the players.”
“Everything we do is geared towards the development of boys to play professional football – in each area, technically, tactically, physically and psychologically,” says Joel Waldron.
“But there remains a focus on not losing our family feel and being personable.
“As the boys move through that programme it will become more of a performance environment but that should never be at the expense of it being fun and enjoyable and staying true to all the reasons which attract kids to football in the first place.
“We are in a hugely competitive market place. The key to us attracting and retaining the best players is demonstrating why we have strongest development programme. That is what we all work hard at every day.”
Baningime was identified and signed by Everton aged nine. He was a Premier League 2 title winner with Everton Under-23s in 2016/17, joining the likes of Davies, snapped up by the Blues when he was 11, Kenny, with the Club since he was nine, and Kieran Dowell, who was seven when he linked up with the Academy, in Unsworth’s triumphant side.
The 19-year-old featured for the first team on 12 occasions in his 2017/18 breakthrough campaign and had his maiden Premier League start in the 3-2 victory over Watford back in October.
“Every player that comes to the Academy has ability,” says Baningime. “The coaches make the difference and help you get this far.
“As you get older, you appreciate, ‘It is serious now, it is work, you need to focus or be left behind’. But it is still fun. I have always loved coming in to work at Everton.
“I remember Sean Lundon telling me I wasn’t getting on the ball enough. I thought I was. But you take stock and think, ‘You know what, I can do more’.
“The coaches have greater insight than you and see you have more to give. They are demanding but it is for the right reason, to help you maximise your ability.
“Everton bring you up to respect people. My mum and dad are huge influences as well. They tell me I cannot change and would let me know if they thought I was.
“You are playing football, yes, it is a dream. But how does that change who you are? I don’t understand. You are still the same person. I come in and work hard. I am humble.
“You are constantly learning and want to reach the top. I want to be playing in the Premier League until I retire.”
Family-oriented, ambitious, determined and authentic, Beni Baningime is testament to the work of Everton’s Academy. Further proof of why this exceptional organisation is consistently setting the pace at the front end of an elite field.