This week on evertonfc.com, we are profiling the five Academy graduates who made their Premier League debuts in 2015/16.
With a whole host of talent in the youth system at Finch Farm, we have spoken to the people who have worked closest with the quintet to find out more about their development as individuals - both on and off the pitch.
Having started with Jonjoe Kenny on Tuesday and charted Tom Davies’ rise on Wednesday, today we focus on a youngster who most Evertonians first encountered on a European evening under the famous floodlights…
Place of Birth: Aughton, 7.8 miles from Goodison Park.
Date of Birth: 10 October 1997.
On that day in history…
- England were on the eve of their final World Cup ’98 qualifier and needed to avoid defeat against Italy to guarantee a place in France the following summer.
- ‘Candle In The Wind’ by Elton John was top of the UK music chart following the tragic death of Princess Diana.
- And number one at the UK box office was ‘Kiss The Girls’, a psychological thriller starring Morgan Freeman.
Date of first-team debut: 11 December 2014 (v FK Krasnodar at Goodison Park)
SIGNED AT SEVEN
A boyhood Blue, Dowell often sat in the Main Stand at Goodison as a child.
He was there when Lee Carsley scored a derby winner in 2004, oblivious to the fact that a few months later he would himself sign for the Club.
Martin Waldron, Everton’s Head of Academy Recruitment, recalls receiving a tip about a talented youngster from Aughton, near Ormskirk.
“We picked Kieran up when he was about seven from the Skelmersdale League," he says. "He was playing for Town Green and we sent one of our scouts, John Hunter, down to watch him. As it was, another Everton scout turned up as well, so they both got credit when he signed!”
For the players that join at an early age, one of the regular faces they see is that of Paul Bennett.
A mainstay of the after-school hours coaching team for almost a decade, Bennett was among the first to work with the left-footed prospect.
“Kieran was in the Under-9s team when I joined Everton," he remembers. "Even then he looked a class act. He was silky on the ball and a lovely mover with it. It was just natural for him. You could see he was different - he spotted things others didn’t and had class about him, even at that age.
“We want them to be learning the game straightaway, so they have to pick up tactical nous and there’s lots of technical work as well. But he was already technically gifted.
“We’re always assessing the players and Kieran was a standout. But when we used to do the parents evenings, I don’t think his mum and dad realised what a talented son they had. They were quite laid back about it and just wanted him to enjoy the experience of being at Everton. They didn’t seem to have any specific aspirations for him - they only wanted him to be happy playing football. He and his family are very grounded.”
'IT WAS LIKE HE COULD SEE INTO THE FUTURE'
In an age group full of potential, Dowell continued to develop and showed no signs of faltering.
Every coach at Finch Farm became familiar with his natural aptitude and match-winning ability.
Paul Tait worked with Dowell in varying spells from Under-14 to Under-18 level and noted the teenager was shining consistently.
“Kieran has been top drawer all the way along," he assesses. "He's very intelligent - that’s what I remember putting on all his reports throughout the development programme. He was ahead of the game, like he could see into the future. He’s just a top, top player and there’s loads more to come from him. I always thought that the better the player he played with, the better he became. I bet when he trains with the first team he’s on their level, because he has that intelligence and awareness.”
As far as left-footed Everton players go, they don’t come much better than Kevin Sheedy.
The Blues legend is, of course, now coaching in the Academy and watched over Dowell as the Under-18s lifted the league title in 2013/14.
“I’m a bit biased towards left-footed players but he does strike a ball really sweetly, he has a deft touch for his final pass and he’s a danger off set-plays as well," says Sheeds of his protégé. “I started working with him when he became a first-year scholar, although I already knew of his talents. We had high hopes for him to progress as he has done.
“As an attacking midfielder, we always encouraged him to try things and look for that killer pass. It helped that he had the right temperament and attitude, was spot on everyday in training and he wanted to make himself the best player he could be.”
A FIRST TASTE OF THE BIG STAGE
In December 2014, Everton had already sealed a place in the last 32 of that season's Europa League.
Their remaining group game – at home against Russian side FK Krasnodar – therefore turned into an opportunity to rest senior players and blood some exciting new talents.
Midfielder Ryan Ledson started the contest and was quickly joined on the pitch by Dowell, who replaced an injured Christian Atsu on 11 minutes.
And, despite a 1-0 defeat, the number 51 offered glimpses of his ability on the big stage.
That highlight fell during a first full season with the Under-21s which saw Dowell’s game fine-tuned in preparation for what all at Finch Farm hope will be a long and successful career.
Such was his tender age on that winter evening against Krasnodar, he was still a scholar playing alongside established internationals. A first professional contract duly arrived in March 2015...
A SEASON OF TWO HALVES
As the first team travelled to Scotland in pre-season last summer, so did Dowell.
A late cameo against Hearts and an hour against Dundee will have certainly buoyed his confidence and hopes for the new campaign. Disaster, however, struck in August.
“I went over in training on my ankle and someone fell on it, which snapped the ligaments,” explained Dowell. “The nerves had gone, so I couldn’t feel it. I didn’t think it was serious at first but a scan showed I’d needed an operation. I was out for 14 weeks from August to late November, and then it took me another three months to get back to full match fitness. It was a tough time.”
When he did get back up to speed, there was no stopping Dowell. In fact, he finished as top scorer for the Under-21s, hitting 11 goals – many of them eye-catching. The best can be seen in the video below.
The reward for such form after a long setback? A return to the first-team squad and a late substitute appearance against Bournemouth, before a first senior start against Norwich City under temporary boss David Unsworth.
Still only 18, Dowell’s 70-minute runout at Goodison on the final day of the season was met with a standing ovation as he made way for another Academy graduate in Ross Barkley.
With such diamonds, the future looks bright.
Stay tuned to evertonfc.com this week as we continue our profiling of this season's Premier League debutants.