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Ever since Ken Bates launched a typically outspoken criticism of Everton’s capture of Luke Garbutt, the aspiring full-back has been burdened with greater expectation than most Academy scholars should face.
The Blues paid a substantial fee – determined by a tribunal – but Bates’ media diatribe threw a spotlight on a kid.
Football’s fascination with potential stars of the future can engender the sort of debilitating hype capable of mortally wounding a nascent career quicker than you can say ‘wonderkid’. Just ask Freddy Adu, Johan Vonlanthen or even perhaps Franny Jeffers or Danny Cadamarteri.
Protecting young players is something the staff at the Everton Academy do exceptionally well, and Garbutt has been allowed to learn his craft, develop his natural athleticism and hone the range of his potent left boot amid the enriching surrounds of Finch Farm.
And if the first transfer of his fledgling career attracted an inappropriate level of press interest, his second was much, much more low key.
There was no national newspaper interest, no acrimony and certainly no vitriol from a former chairman as the 18-year-old sealed a temporary switch to League Two Cheltenham Town.
Three loan extensions and 25 starts later – and the team firmly in the mix for automatic promotion – it is clear the move has been beneficial for both parties.
“Luke slotted in straight away and has been a real pleasure to manage,” explained Cheltenham boss, Mark Yates.
“I had seen a lot of Everton’s reserve games and knew about his quality. I knew they were looking to get a few of their younger players out on loan and we really fancied Luke.
“David Moyes was absolutely brilliant in making it happen, as was everyone at Everton. They were obviously keen to look out for the best interests of the player and the move has really worked out. It has been brilliant for us, in my opinion brilliant for Luke and hopefully in the long run, brilliant for Everton.”
Anyone who has seen Garbutt play would describe a footballer whose style is very easy on the eye. A young player with a good engine who can get up and down the flank, do his defensive work first but also with the technical ability to provide an attacking threat and deliver effective final balls.
But as is always the case with a top-flight academy youngster dropping down the divisions, there is the issue of the physical challenge they will invariably encounter.
“He has great quality on the ball,” Yates continued. “He has a superb left foot, he is mobile, he does not get beaten easily by wingers and he also helps us play. We look to play football and Luke likes to join in.
“Obviously his first job is to defend and he has really stood up to the test of senior football and playing against men week in and week out. That was probably the only question mark with him coming here and he has answered that.
“He is learning all the time and hopefully his experiences here will stand him and Everton in good stead for the future.
“He has scored a couple of cracking goals recently and not long ago got four assists in one game from a mixture of dead balls and open play.
“And on the defensive side he has been really tested as well. There was going to come a time when he would come up against a big, ugly League Two forward and the question was whether he would be up for it and he has been. No question.”
Naturally with Garbutt being away from Finch Farm, the Club is keeping a close eye on his progress.
But Yates, who works with the player every day, is seeing another side to his development as the 18-year-old copes with the non-footballing side to his stint in the Midlands.
“We have got a real mixed group with some older lads and some younger ones, it works for us and Luke fits in well with it” he added.
“We have got another lad on loan from Huddersfield called Jimmy Spencer and we got them an apartment together. They are like an old married couple. They are constantly bickering but they love each other and it is great experience for both of them.
“I know Luke is from Harrogate and is away from home being in Liverpool but he has people around him and coming down here is a great life experience for him.”
Yates added: “I know Alan Stubbs is taking a real interest in how he is doing. We send DVDs and reports of every game to Everton. I know they send people down to watch him as well. It is far from a case of him being farmed out. I think they see this as very much a part of his development and coming down here has been a real learning curve for him.”
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