Everton Under-23s centre-back Con Ouzounidis revealed the encouraging atmosphere among the Blues’ emerging talents has helped drive his game forward as he marked signing his first professional deal with the Club.
The 18-year-old Australian youth international has penned a one-year contract with the Toffees and insists “all the players are fighting for each other and pushing each other to do well”.
The defender also praised Under-23s boss David Unsworth for how he has passed on his vast experience “to help me become the best defender I can be”.
Ouzounidis has been rewarded with a professional deal after taking significant strides during the 2017/18 campaign.
He started the season in the Blues’ Under-18 set-up and – after making his Under-23s debut against Derby County in February – went on to produce a string of accomplished performances for Unsworth’s side.
The Australian is now determined to build on this momentum and continue his progress.
“For anyone who is aspiring to become a professional footballer, to sign your first professional contract is a dream come true,” Ouzounidis said.
“I feel like I’ve came on a lot over the past year. I got injured, which was a blow, but I was in the gym a lot with the physio so that helped me develop physically.
“Coaches like [Under-18s boss] Paul Tait and Unsy in the Under-23s have helped me out a lot, too.
“Unsy used to be a centre-half and he’s been there and done it for the first team, so he knows what it takes to get there. I just have to take what he says on board and put it into my game.
“He always manages to get the best out of his players, he pushes you because he wants more and wants you to succeed. He wants to help me become the best defender I can be.
“The players are all pushing each other on to do well, too. We’re one big group. Everyone gets on well with everyone.
“It’s important that we all get on. It’s good for team spirit and, when we’re on the pitch, we’re all fighting for each other. Everyone wants the best for each other.”
An imposing centre-half, Ouzounidis also provides a threat in the opposition area, as he proved by netting twice in his six Premier League 2 appearances for the Under-23s last season
The teenager says boss Unsworth – who scored 40 times in his 350 appearances for the Toffees – has emphasised that he can make the difference at both ends of the pitch.
“He says to me that he sees me as a presence going forward into the box,” Ouzounidis explained. “He says it’s a really good attribute to have as a centre-half.
“Last season I scored a couple of goals for the 23s towards the end of the season. I love scoring goals and I want more next season.”
Ouzounidis is currently on a warm-weather training camp with the Under-23s in La Manga, Spain. He admits the sessions have been intense but is convinced the players will reap the benefits from their hard work as the season progresses.
“You’ve got to put the work in because during the season we want to be able to work harder and run further than our opponents, to get the best advantage possible,” he added.
“Physically, I‘ve still got areas to improve and on the pitch, too, there are always areas you can get better.
“You can never be satisfied. I want to improve my game as much as possible on and off the field.”