Everton Under-23s title-winning attacker Josh Bowler says the pathway into the Club’s first team for young footballers convinced him to join from Queens Park Rangers.
Bowler completed his transfer to Goodison Park in July 2017, one month after four Everton players started England Under-20s’ World Cup final victory over Venezuela.
The 20-year-old right sider featured 16 times for David Unsworth’s team in 2018-19 as they regained the Premier League 2 title won by Everton Under-23s two years ago.
Bowler emerged as a talismanic figure in the season's closing months and capped a period of tremendous individual form by scoring the goal which clinched the championship for his team.
Cutting infield, Bowler unleashed a cleanly-struck, curling effort beyond Brighton & Hove Albion keeper Rob Sanchez to defeat Everton's nearest challengers – and leave Brighton unable to reel in the young Blues at the Premier League 2 summit.
And Bowler, who has watched Under-20 world champions Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jonjoe Kenny, Ademola Lookman and Kieran Dowell all reach Everton’s first team, is intent on trying to follow in that quartet’s footsteps.
“I joined in the summer when England won the Under-20 World Cup and there were four Everton players in that team,” Bowler told evertontv.
“That had a big influence on my decision because I saw there was a pathway – and as soon as I came here, I realised that was the case.
“Unsy wants to get the young players into first-team training.
“As much as we like winning Under-23 games, and however good it was to win the league, you can still see the main aim for Unsy is to push as many players into the first team as possible – so it is great to be here.”
Unsworth was named Everton Giant for 2019 at the end-of-season Dixies, the 45-year-old recognised for his substantial on-and-off-field contribution to the Club.
A defender who played 350 matches for Everton and won the FA Cup in 1995, he returned to Goodison as assistant to then Under-21 boss Alan Stubbs in September 2013.
And since assuming the head coach job full-time in 2014 following Stubbs’ exit for Hibernian, Unsworth has helped a succession of players efficiently bridge the gulf between Academy and first team.
Tom Davies and right-back Kenny graduated from Unsworth’s 2016-17 title-winning group to Everton’s senior set-up.
All of that squad – including Callum Connolly, another member of England’s Under-20 World Cup winning party and someone who signed a three-year Everton deal last August – are playing professionally.
Bowler scored three league goals last term and delivered a mesmerising performance as Everton Under-23s claimed an unprecedented double with victory over Newcastle United in this month’s Premier League Cup final.
And the Surrey-born starlet, who turned out once for QPR's first team – two months before moving north – hopes his success at development level can yield the same returns as for Unsworth’s class of 2017.
“Unsy has been great since I joined,” said Bowler.
“We spoke about last season [2017-18] as being one to learn from as a team – and as long as we did that, the tough periods would be worth it.
“And I think we showed this year that we did learn a lot.
“Scoring against Brighton was a great feeling, the best I have had in football so far.
“I scored early [on 22 minutes] so we didn’t know it would be the winner.
“When the final whistle went, there was an outpouring of emotion. Everyone was coming up to me to say, ‘Well done’, and it felt brilliant.
“I was happy I was able to do that for my teammates, to see everyone so happy after the season was great.
“We are all best friends and do things together outside football. We come in every day and enjoy each other’s company and that helps on the pitch.”