England’s Under-20 World Cup winning manager Paul Simpson says Everton’s commitment to producing and developing young talent is “brilliant for the national team”.
The Blues have given more minutes of playing time to England youth team representatives this season than any other club.
That follows four Everton players starting the Under-20 World Cup final against Venezuela in South Korea last summer – with a fifth, Callum Connolly, on the bench – as the Young Lions won 1-0, courtesy of a goal from Toffees forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
England’s astonishing roll of honour in 2017 also featured a World Cup triumph for the Under-17 team, while the Under-19s claimed their European title.
The Three Lions’ Under-21 side reached the semi-finals of their European competition and a predominantly Under-18 team won the prestigious Under-20 Toulon Tournament.
The players who represented England across those competitions had accumulated a total of 59,468 minutes of first-team football before the latest round of domestic fixtures.
And the playing opportunities provided by Everton for their emerging English talent far exceed those granted to the homegrown youngsters at any other club.
Prior to playing Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, the Toffees had given 8,634 minutes’ senior playing time to their collection of Young Lions this term – 2,757 more than next-best Nottingham Forest. Indeed, of the 5,877 minutes spent on the pitch by Forest’s young Englishmen, 2,264 – 38.5 per cent – were accounted for by on-loan Everton attacker Kieran Dowell.
Jordan Pickford, Mason Holgate, Jonjoe Kenny and Calvert-Lewin accumulated another 298 minutes between them in the Toffees' game at Spurs. Dowell, meanwhile, started and finished Forest’s clash with Midlands rivals Aston Villa.
“The opportunities Everton give their young players is fantastic,” Simpson told evertonfc.com.
“When you look at Everton’s side, it is brilliant for the England national team. You see Pickford in goal, Holgate, Kenny, Ademola Lookman, Tom Davies and Calvert-Lewin.
“And Morgan Feeney, who is part of my Under-19 team now, has been involved recently as well.
“It is a real positive for the England teams.”
Right-back Kenny was ever-present in Simpson’s world-conquering side in Korea and, after making his Premier League debut in October, has become a fixture in Everton’s first-team.
And having worked at such close quarters with 20-year-old Kenny, Simpson is not the least bit surprised to see the Kirkdale-born Academy graduate flourishing at Goodison Park
“He had to wait a little while for his chance this season but he has done extremely well,” said Simpson, now masterminding England Under-19s' bid to qualify for the 2019 European Championship finals in Armenia.
“Whenever I have seen him play, he has performed exactly how he did for us in the summer.
“He is fully committed, wears his heart on his sleeve and tries to do things the right way.
“He is fearless and consistent. He does not have any airs and graces. He just does his job and keeps things nice and simple. He is prepared to go and tackle and put the work in. And he is prepared to have a go at people as well, if he thinks they are not doing their job properly.
“He just seemed like a really old pro when I met him in the summer.
“He goes about his business quietly and did it so well for us. And from what I have seen of him at Everton this season, he is doing it very well for them, too.
“Without a doubt, he was one of the leaders in our group in the summer, on and off the pitch. He was one of those characters who wanted everybody to do things properly. If anybody tried to take a little bit of a short-cut he was quick to let them know.
“He was one of a small group I used to get together to see what their thoughts were; if they felt there was anything we needed to do differently and what they were wanting from us as coaches.”
The only other Premier League club to feature in the top five for playing opportunities afforded to England youngsters is Swansea City – with the Welsh team fourth on the list and sandwiched by League One Charlton Athletic and Ipswich Town of the Championship.
And of the 2,831 minutes played by the crop of young Englishmen at Ipswich, it was another Everton loan player, the versatile Connolly, who was responsible for 57.6 per cent of that time, the 20-year-old having spent 1,631 minutes on the field for the Suffolk club before the weekend, when he added another 90 in Ipswich’s 1-0 win over Leeds United.
And Simpson has been impressed by the strong impacts made by both Connolly and 20-year-old Dowell at their respective loan clubs this term.
“Callum is playing in a central midfield role for Ipswich and he has popped up with a few goals, which he is more than capable of,” said Simpson, a former winger with Manchester City, Oxford United and Derby County.
“We knew Callum was a real threat from set plays, but a couple of his goals have come with strikes from outside the box as well.
“I have watched Kieran Dowell on a few occasions this season and he has been excellent. It was a great move for him. He was a little bit further down the pecking order with regards to Everton’s first-team, so to go to Forest, a really good Championship club, and get that experience, will be invaluable for him.
“Hopefully he can keep it going for the remainder of this season and come back an even stronger player for Everton.
“You just look at his strength of character to step up and take the penalty last week against Arsenal [which sealed Forest’s 4-2 FA Cup success against the Gunners]. That takes some doing for a young lad – and he deserves enormous credit.
“I believe he has the quality to break into the first-team at Everton. Technically he is outstanding, he has great character and work ethic. And he has a wand of a left foot.
“Every team is crying out for that type of player, who can get the ball out of his feet and stick it on a sixpence for somebody to go and put it in the back of the net.
“Kieran definitely has that ability. Hopefully, as he matures and gets a little bit older, he will become even stronger.”
Calvert-Lewin has additional competition for a starting berth in Everton’s forward line following the arrival of Turkish striker Cenk Tosun.
And with Seamus Coleman edging towards a return, Kenny will soon have a direct rival for the right-back spot.
But Simpson – who also reserved praise for dashing winger Lookman – expects the two younger men to embrace the challenge for places.
Furthermore, he says Everton’s crop of talented young stars have the perfect manager to oversee their development.
“There are not many more experienced people than Sam,” said Simpson. “And with Craig Shakespeare and Sammy Lee at Everton as well, the Club has some really top people to bring these players on.
“Those guys have all worked at international level and come up against the best. They are great coaches and Sam is a great manager to have working with those players.
“And hopefully they will continue to get those opportunities. But it will be a huge challenge.
“Everton want to go places. They are a club that will look to buy the best players in the world.
“Ademola has the ability to run at people and go past people – and I am quite sure with the experienced staff Everton have, they will knock those little raw edges off him; hone his exciting ability and make him into a top player.
“Playing at the level they are at now, for a club like Everton, all of those players have to accept there will be competition for places.
“They have had a taste of it now. I am sure they have enjoyed it and will want more of it.
"It is up to them to make sure they keep working as hard as they have done to get to where they are now, and then the opportunities will keep coming for them.”