Kevin Kilbane has revealed how Sam Allardyce was integral to unlocking his attacking talent – and he is convinced that the Everton manager will continue to help the Club’s current core of young stars realise their potential.
Tom Davies, Jonjoe Kenny, Mason Holgate, Jordan Pickford and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have all featured regularly under Allardyce since he took charge at Goodison Park in November.
The number of senior playing minutes Everton has given this season to young English performers who represented their country in age-group tournaments last year currently stands at 9,644 – more than any other professional club in the country – and is on course to race past the 10,000 mark for the season within the next two matches.
That number does not include Academy graduate Davies who was rested from international action during the summer. The midfielder has played 1,848 minutes of football for Everton this term – to add to the 9,644 minutes accounted for by the likes of Calvert-Lewin, Kenny, Holgate and Premier League ever-present goalkeeper Pickford.
Allardyce has used 13 players aged 21 or under of all nationalities in his 15-match reign – which stacks up to 3,986 minutes of playing time for those players, at an average of 266 per game.
None of this comes as a surprise to former Everton winger Kilbane, who understands how the development of exciting young footballers is woven into the Club’s fabric – and has always been a crucial factor for Allardyce, who signed the ex-Republic of Ireland international as a 16-year-old at Preston North End.
“Sam was my first coach in professional football, he took me to Preston and I could never speak highly enough of him for what he did for me in my career," Kilbane, now a BBC Sport pundit, told evertonfc.com.
"He nurtured me through the early part of my career and encouraged me in every way, certainly from an attacking point of view.
“When I started to grow physically and develop some pace, he identified the attributes which were starting to shape me as a player. That was how my game developed under Sam, when I was still learning it all.
“He was a huge influence on me, a great coach, and I learned so much from him.”
Nineteen-year-old Davies could potentially be set for his 50th Premier League match in Saturday’s encounter with Watford. Furthermore, Under-20 World Cup winning pair Calvert-Lewin and Kenny have both cemented themselves in Allardyce’s plans – and along with 21-year-old central-defender Holgate, penned long-term contracts with the Club earlier this season.
Calvert-Lewin has the highest number of appearances for Everton this term, his 37 outings in all competitions putting him two ahead of next-in-line Pickford.
Right-back Kenny has started 10 of Allardyce’s 13 Premier League matches at the helm and was recently described by the manager as an “outstanding young man at full-back”, who is “first-class” in possession of the ball.
“Sam has a history of developing young players, even back to when he was at Notts County [Allardyce led the East Midlands club to the Third Division title in 1997/98]," said Kilbane, who scored five goals in 120 appearances for the Blues after joining from Sunderland on summer deadline day in 2003.
“Steve Finnan [part of that Notts County team and who forged an enormously successful career as a right-back with Fulham, Liverpool and Republic of Ireland] speaks extremely highly of Sam and how he improved him and helped him mature into a top player.
“Sam has a history of helping to develop top footballers – players who have gone on to have very good Premier League careers.
“Everton has a long history of developing players through the Academy system and getting them into the first-team.
“That is part of the remit if you manage Everton and something Sam would have spoken about prior to taking the job.
“There is that history of developing within the Club. They will not just throw someone in if they are not good enough. You have to prove you are good enough on the training ground and then again on the pitch.
“And you have to prove you are good enough over a long period of time. It is about having 10 to 15 good games on the bounce, then you look to 50 games and 100 games. That is the point at which a player can feel he is really establishing himself.”
Allardyce has overseen a revival in Everton’s fortunes since being appointed to the manager's post three months ago. The Toffees have climbed from a position two points above the Premier League’s bottom three on the eve of the 63-year-old's official unveiling to within two points of Burnley in seventh – with a trip to play Sean Dyche’s Clarets next on the agenda following this weekend’s visit to Watford.
Kilbane has been impressed by the improvements under Allardyce and is certain Everton have the right man in charge to help the Club target the success it craves.
“Sam immediately got results and stabilised the Club, which was crucial,” said Kilbane, who featured in every top-flight match when Everton finished fourth in 2004/05.
“There has been some upheaval this season and a lot of new players have come in, so it was always going to be a hugely difficult task to get the team to gel quickly.
“They have a manager now who has great experience of motivating and getting the best out of players.
“This is the biggest club Sam has managed and he will be determined to make a really good go of it.
“I think he is the sort of manager to get the best out of the players he has there – and to win trophies with Everton in the coming years.”