The ability of a player is often questioned with whether they could cut it on a cold, wet Wednesday night at Stoke.
Well, how about a scorching hot Saturday morning in Spain?
Everton Under-23s can do both.
Matchday against Hull City’s own Under-23 side could not have been scheduled for more challenging conditions. A temperature in the mid-30s, not a cloud in the sky and a distinct lack of breeze meant there was no shade or cool air on offer. There was nowhere to hide and an expectancy of everywhere to run.
David Unsworth delivered a short and sweet team talk to his troops moments before kick-off. It had been a magnificent week, he said - ‘let’s finish it off with a win’. One sentence stuck with me as the players took to their positions: ‘There’s no such thing as a friendly when you’re wearing the Everton badge’.
And the lads didn’t disappoint the motto on that famous crest. Everything that had been worked on throughout this week was clear to see. One and two-touch passing in possession, persistent pressing to regain it, counter-attacking, movement and runs, working the flanks and, crucially, finding a route to the back of the net.
Video from David Henen's Instagram Story.
I wrote a match report of the game here
, but in short, the team were impressive to a man. I was surprised with how much they still had left in the tank and how they refused to let the heat prevent them from winning each and every ball. The 4-2 scoreline flattered Hull as it could have been any number in the first half. What was most important though, was every available outfield player getting minutes under their belts.
After the match, Unsworth thanked his players for their ‘fantastic’ efforts, commented on their ‘unbelievable’ fitness levels and told them all to rest and relax before the flight home on Sunday evening.
If ever there was perfect weather for a barbecue, it was this - and so one had been arranged for players and staff before the first-team game against Genk was projected onto the big screen. Another glimpse at what they are all striving to be a part of - and this week will have done their chances no harm.
Rewinding quickly to yesterday’s diary entry on the topic of initiation songs - special mention must go to Friday evening’s ‘entertainment’. Club chef Chris Lomas busted out ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by Sugarhill Gang, but a surprise headliner came in the form of assistant manager John Ebbrell. Volunteering himself to the captive audience, his rendition of Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’ was masterfully delivered - he later revealed he had now done it three times at Everton - and it was certainly the best performance of the week.
Video from Antonee Robinson's Instagram Story.
The trip was coming to a close and all objectives had been achieved. Back to base in 24 hours ready for another busy week of preparation. It’s been a truly wonderful experience to be a part of once again and to witness the hard graft and meticulous efforts of the Under-23s squad and entire backroom staff. A real privilege.
I remember watching the reserves at Finch Farm when I first started as Tyias Browning was emerging, when Jonjoe Kenny and Joe Williams sprung up at a game at Southport as schoolboys and Tom Davies cycling down to a village shop in Austria to buy everyone cakes on his 17th birthday. Those lads have since gone on to achieve what we all dream of - and with the track record of Everton’s pathway, it’s fair to expect some of those present this week will follow suit.
In Unsworth, John Ebbrell and Francis Jeffers, the next wave of Everton stars are in good hands - ones that have been there, done that, got the Royal Blue shirt and their hearts have led them to return in new capacities. They live for the badge and to get more players into the senior set-up.
And that Evertonian mentality, along with the talent they are working with, makes the future very bright indeed.