Neil Dewsnip - Mental Strength
Succeeding in football is not just about how much talent you have on the field. If you don’t have the mental strength needed, your ability can only take you so far.
Everyone who has played football at any level, even just a Friday night kickabout with their mates, has seen someone whose talent stands out amongst the rest.
The Academy is full of players who would run rings around the average park footballer, but only the youngsters with the right frame of mind go on to become professionals. Neil Dewsnip says that to become a professional, a young player needs to make football their life.
“To make it as a player, they need massive desire. If they really don’t live it, eat it and drink it, then unless they’re incredibly talented, they don’t get there in the end.
“We’re very fortunate in our area on Merseyside that the youngsters who are coming in the door really badly want to be footballers. I think that’s down to the culture and we are very, very lucky. Clubs in other areas of the country will tell us that as well, so long may it continue.”
That desire often manifests itself in a willingness to play anywhere, in any position required by the manager. The likes of Mick Lyons, a hero of the 70s, has set the standard for versatility in the royal blue shirt, while today, though he is more often used as a right back or a central midfielder, Phil Neville made many appearances for Manchester United as a left back.
The current Everton captain has even filled in as a central defender for the Blues in emergency situations.
Flexibility is useful at first team level. But at Academy level, when you are fighting for your chance to impress the manager, being able to play in more than one position could be the difference between getting your break or not, and Neil and the Academy staff are fully aware of that.
“In terms of the players’ education, we try and give them as much variety as we can. We’re realistic of course; we don’t have the goalkeeper playing at centre forward or anything silly! But if the manager says we need you to play here today, he can do that.”
The Academy may teach their pupils the basics of how to play in a number of positions, but there is no way of knowing for sure where a player’s best position is until they get older.
Tony Hibbert began his career as a midfielder, even making his debut for Everton in that position against West Ham in 2001, while Leon Osman spent much of his time in the youth system as a striker. Today, Hibbert is established as a right back, while Osman has become one of Everton’s key attacking midfielders.
Neil added: “There are no rules on spotting a player’s position. There are players even now in the system who are quite old and starting to get in and around the manager, and he might say, I fancy him playing in this position.”
For all their hard work in producing top class defenders, midfielders and strikers, the Everton Academy has yet to produce a goalkeeper who went on to make his first team debut.
Just as the culture on Merseyside injects a healthy dose of desire into youngsters, Neil feels that same culture is what prevents kids wanting to play between the posts.
While it’s true Everton have had some legendary goalkeepers over the years, the most recent terrace idols have been outfield players. From Duncan Ferguson to Kevin Campbell to Tim Cahill, the days of youngsters idolising Neville Southall and his ilk have gone, although Tim Howard’s excellent form may see that change.
“It could be as simple as the culture of the area. I don’t know the stats but I can’t think of a goalkeeper at either Liverpool or Everton, so maybe it’s a cultural thing and the youngsters grow up and prefer to be outfield players as opposed to goalkeepers.
“That said, we do have one or two talented goalkeepers in the system right now. Maybe that process could change in the future. I hope so.”
By Andrew Tuft