Next Generation: Who's Next?

by Daniel Alston
@efc_danalston

The 2015/16 season saw five Academy graduates make their Premier League debuts.

Earlier this week, we profiled each of them in full, looking at their progression with the Blues and burgeoning careers to date.

Click here to check out our Next Generation series >>>

Yet while that figure may amount to a great achievement for the youth development team at Finch Farm, the work never stops.

The question will always be, ‘Who’s next?’. Here we look at some of those who will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Kieran Dowell and co.


JOE WILLIAMS

Given David Unsworth awarded him Player of the Season for the Under-21s, Williams would have surely had a good chance of being involved in the last game of the season.

Yet just weeks before that game and the temporary boss handing first league starts to Kieran Dowell and Tom Davies, plus a senior bow for Jonjoe Kenny, the young Blues skipper sustained knee ligament damage.

Now facing six months out, it was a cruel end to the campaign for the technical centre midfielder, who exhibited real leadership qualities and tenacity from box to box.


Unsworth shared his disappointment but backed his skipper to bounce back and said: “He got injured after 20 minutes and, typical of Joe, he carried on, played the full 90 and was man of the match. 

“We found out afterwards he had injured his knee. He’s already had his operation and he’s on the road to recovery.

“He’s been outstanding all season and quite rightly won the Under-21s Player of the Season, which we will present to him when he is back on his feet. 

“He’s got a lot of work to do now in the gym and a lot of rehab work to get fit. But he will get through it - he’s a great lad and we wish him speedy recovery.”

RYAN LEDSON

As far as calendar years are concerned, Ryan Ledson had a pretty memorable 2014.

At the age of 16, he appeared on the Everton bench for two away games at the end of the season, before an international call-up left him thinking what might have happened in the remaining fixtures.

That thought didn’t linger long though, as he was soon lifting the European Championship as skipper of England Under-17s in Malta.

Then, in December, came the highlight. A first senior involvement – a start no less – as the Blues faced Krasnodar in the Europa League at Goodison.

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Playing alongside a midfield veteran almost twice his age in Gareth Barry, the youngster did not look out of place.

In 2015/16 he joined Cambridge United on loan, becoming a key figure for Shaun Derry’s side and making 28 starts.

The experience will have benefitted the 18-year-old greatly and he’ll now hope to be one step closer making his league debut for the club he has been at since the age of five.

MASON HOLGATE

Not a product of the Everton Academy, but certainly a player who has kicked on in his development since joining the Blues from Barnsley in summer 2015.

Able to play at centre-half or right-back, the athletic and composed 19-year-old inevitably drew comparisons with fellow former Tyke John Stones on his arrival, but he has shown no signs of suffering from such hype.

A season under Unsworth in the Under-21s will have done wonders to his awareness and ability to read games at the back.

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LIAM WALSH

Another talented midfielder who spent much of 2015/16 out on loan, Walsh admits he ‘became a man’ during his time with Yeovil Town.

He may be small, but the lively youngster does not shirk a tackle and has the technical ability to outfox opposition of any size.

With a superb passing range, Huyton-born Walsh had caught the eye enough to earn a place on the bench against Krasnodar and will hope his form for the Glovers will put him in good stead next season.

Having joined the Blues as a five-year-old, he has represented England at youth level but is also eligible to play for Italy.


COURTNEY DUFFUS

From being on the bench for the first team in Switzerland in February 2015 to a season-ending knee operation within weeks.

Duffus, whose younger brother Tyrone is also at Finch Farm, was agonisingly close to making his debut against Young Boys. In fact, he was due to come on before the Blues were suddenly reduced to 10 men forcing a tactical reshuffle.

A subsequent training ground injury sidelined the powerful centre forward until partway through the 2015/16 campaign.

Duffus shot back to form following the turn of the year, however, and after goals and tireless performances for the young Blues, he was named the Premier League’s Under-21 Player of the Month for March.


GETHIN JONES

Another who made their senior debut in that game against Krasnodar, albeit only touching the ball once in injury time.

Jones is a right-back with pace to burn, so much so that he has also been deployed as a right-winger. It was an attribute so strong that caused him to be shifted from his previous role in central midfield.

With good stamina for getting up and down the flank akin to Seamus Coleman, the Welsh Under-21s captain earned a spell on loan at Plymouth Argyle in the second half of 2014/15, but endured much different fortune last term.

A freak injury caused him to break four metatarsals in his foot, putting him out of action for much of the campaign, making less than a dozen appearances for Everton Under-21s.

With competition seemingly hotting up in the full-back areas, a fully recovered and rejuvenated Jones will be hoping to impress in pre-season.

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CONOR GRANT

Nephew of another Academy graduate, Tony, this left-footed midfielder has been with the Blues since the age of 13.

A regular in his age group throughout the years, his displays for the Under-21s earned him a pre-season trip away with the first-team ahead of 2013/14.

Injuries then hampered his progress that season, but loan spells at Motherwell and Doncaster Rovers since have showcased his talent in professional football.

ANTONEE ROBINSON

After travelling with the first team to Singapore and for the remainder of pre-season, Robinson even managed to get on the pitch in friendlies against Dundee and Leeds United.

But it was at Elland Road where he would sustain an injury that ruined his campaign before it had even begun.

The athletic 18-year-old left-back, who was named Academy Players’ Player of the Year in May 2015, had to undergo an operation on the cartilage under his kneecap and did not kick a ball competitively in 2015/16.

Born in Milton Keynes but with the Toffees since the age of 11, Robinson has been part of a United States youth training camp after it was discovered he was eligible through family.

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