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Ray Hall - Making It

Ray Hall - Making It

The chance to become a first team regular at a Premier League club is not one that every young player gets. But the boys at Everton’s Academy don’t need to look too far to see a couple of players who got their chance and grabbed it with both hands.

Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert may still be in their twenties, but they are Everton’s longest serving players. Both were recently given new, long-term contracts, and both are Everton Academy graduates.

When they were breaking through, their role models were the likes of David Unsworth and Mark Pembridge, who both featured heavily in the 2000/2001 season when Hibbert made his debut in an away game at West Ham. Hibbert received rave reviews for his performance in the heart of the Everton midfield that day.

Leon OsmanOsman in an early Everton appearance

Osman’s progress was slowed by a serious knee injury. After spells on loan at Carlisle United and Derby County, Osman was given his first Everton start in 2004 by David Moyes and responded with a goal. Since then he has gone on to make over 100 appearances for the Blues.

They are the role models for the boys in the Academy now. Both first team regulars, Osman and Hibbert were recently rewarded for their contribution to Everton’s excellent season with contacts tying them to the club until 2012, and both featured in Everton’s 1998 FA Youth Cup winning side that also contained Richard Dunne, Michael Ball and Francis Jeffers.

In the 11 years of the Academy system, there have been 18 players go on to make their first team debut, and 24 players playing at clubs between the Premier League and League Two. Ray Hall says he is pleased with the Academy’s record, but wants to do better.

He said: “We’re doing okay. We all want more players coming through but there are reasons why it is difficult to players to break in: the number of foreign players, the high stakes that are involved, it’s now far more difficult to wait for boys to develop. They have to get thrown in and survive rather than wait for a long time.

“Somebody told me that you can’t class yourself as a first team player until you’ve played 100 times. Well Victor Anichebe has made over 50 appearances and he’s still so young, so he’s on his way but now we’ve got to find the next one. It’s almost like a conveyor belt; as one as establishes himself and goes beyond the 100-game barrier we need to bring another one through.”

One of the advantages of working at Everton’s Academy is the amount of opportunities given to youth team graduates.

Ray said: “We play the opportunity card very often. It’s not for me to comment on other clubs and the work they do, but we’re in a good position for young people to think, ‘What a fantastic club, I want to be a part of that’. We’re in a fortunate position that we can give our boys an opportunity to play, although it is getting harder. That’s maybe not as easy in some other clubs.”

For some of the young players who learn their trade at Everton, their future lies away from the club. But Ray believes that a lot of the time, a player’s perceived failure to make the grade at the club is wide of the mark

He added: “I get asked about some of the players who’ve come in and not made it. Well what’s not making it? If playing 20, 30 or 40 games for our first team is not making it, then I’m not sure what is.”

By Andrew Tuft

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