David Unsworth says he will never stop looking for the next Everton first-team player after seeing six Blues youngsters recognised for making their top-flight debuts in 2016.
Callum Connolly, Tom Davies, Kieran Dowell, Mason Holgate, Jonjoe Kenny and Matthew Pennington were all presented with commemorative Premier League footballs at Finch Farm on Wednesday to acknowledge their maiden outings in the competition over the past 12 months.
Unsworth, who handed over the accolades alongside the Premier League’s Club Support Manager and former Manchester City footballer Paul Lake, said: “I have to say I’m proud every day when I look at these players and I think about what they’re achieving, what they’ve done and what they’re going to do.
“It’s a great day making your debut and it’s fantastic that the Premier League have recognised that and awarded them a small momento. I think it’s a lovely touch and we thank the Premier League for that.
“They’ll always treasure these footballs because everyone remembers their debut. I remember mine like it was yesterday, even though it was all those years ago and it’s a big moment in their lives, something they’ll never forget.
“I’d like more now, I’d like double figures to come through and I’ll never stop searching for that. I’m greedy as a coach and I want every single player who works with us to be afforded the opportunity to play in our first team.
“I know what it’s like and there’s no better place to play. I tell them that on a regular basis, probably to the point where they’re sick of me saying it. But we aspire to have every single player who comes through our ranks get to the stage where they are a potential first-team player and I’ll never stop until that happens.”
Connolly and Davies both made their debuts as substitutes against Southampton at Goodison Park in April, before Pennington and Dowell followed in their footsteps when Bournemouth travelled to Merseyside later the same month.
Kenny, who spent much of the 2015/16 campaign on loan at League Two Oxford United, returned in time to be handed a first Everton run-out in the final-day win over Norwich City, before Holgate started the opening game of the 2016/17 campaign, a 1-1 draw with Tottenham.
Last week, Ronald Koeman outlined how he continues to work closely with his Under-23s staff to monitor the progress of the Club’s youngsters and Unsworth says the players now need to step up again and prove they can be called upon regularly at the top level.
“I say it all the time but they’re a very, very special squad of players that we’ve got here with the Under-23s and it’s a real pleasure driving in every day and working with them,” he said. “But I expect big things from them and they know that. I’m a bit greedy and I want them all to be in the team at the same time - I’d love a team full of homegrown players.
“But they’ve got to be patient and we’ve got to be patient with them. The level has gone up, so they have to get up to that level as quick as they can and impress Ronald to make sure that they can be regular first-team players.
“It’s wonderful that they have made their debuts and we all sit in the stands on those days like proud parents. But my challenge to them now is to get in the team every week and that’s got to be their aim.”
An Academy product himself, Unsworth went on to make 350 appearances for Everton over two spells.
With that knowledge in mind, he knows exactly what it takes to make the grade and is optimistic the Club is getting it right when it comes to unearthing talent for the future.
Asked about the significance of having six players break through in a calendar year, he added: “It means we’re one of the top producers of young talent in this country and, I’m biased, but I think we’re the best at it.
“It’s now really important that we continue that conveyor belt of talent coming through and we’ll never stop searching for the next player, be that from other clubs at lower age groups or those coming all the way through our own system.
“I think we’ve got a great group of players at the moment, I think there’s more to come and I think there’s more to come from the lads that you’ve seen already in terms of really racking up some appearances for our club.”