Commanding centre-back Con Ouzounidis says he is eager to develop his leadership qualities as he bids to help a new-look Everton Under-23s side challenge for silverware in 2020/21.
The young Blues face top-of-the-table Tottenham Hotspur at Southport FC on Monday night (7pm) aiming to close the gap on the north London outfit to one point.
A number of players from Everton’s Under-18s side have been promoted to David Unsworth’s squad this term, with the likes of Rhys Hughes, Tyler Onyango, Seb Quirk and Tom Cannon all seeing action during the Toffees’ opening four matches.
Australian youth international Ouzounidis, who turned 21 last week, has been an ever-present for the young Blues so far this season.
The defender revealed his desire to set an example for the emerging talents making the step up to Unsworth’s squad – and paid tribute to the inspirational figures at Everton who have aided his growth in stature.
“The young lads who have come into the team have been brilliant,” said Ouzounidis.
“They’ve dug in every day and they work hard and try to improve.
“I would 100 per cent love to be seen as one of the leaders of the group, helping the younger ones making that transition to this level as smooth as possible.
“It’s important to be a communicator on the pitch, being a loud voice and motivating your teammates – and trying to help the lads to stick together when things aren’t going our way.
“Also, playing a part in making sure everyone’s on it day in, day out, to try to do the best for themselves and for the team.
“Both Unsy in the Under-23s and Paul Tait in the Under-18s have taught me to be a leader on and off the pitch.
“I’ve also benefitted from playing with someone like [former Under-23s skipper] Morgan Feeney, who was one of the best leaders I’ve ever played with.
“I’ve nothing but respect for him and have tried to implement some of the things from his game into mine.”
Ouzounidis says the expert coaching he has received at Everton has been central to his development as an accomplished all-round defender.
He identified several facets of his game that have progressed under the tutelage of manager Unsworth, who last month took on an expanded role at the Club as its new Director of Academy
“The defensive part of my game has improved so much working with Unsy,” Ouzounidis explained.
“With what he has done in his career as a footballer, the knowledge he has is fantastic.
“I think my one-v-one defending has got a lot better.
“Also, my understanding of the game. I am putting myself in better positions, saving myself an extra 20-yard run by knowing where I need to be in certain situations.
“That comes with experience, reading the game better and knowing where passes are going to try to intercept them.
“Hopefully Unsy can keep improving me because I still have a lot of areas I can develop.”
Everton Under-23s have taken six points from their opening four games in 2020/21, having convincingly dispatched Leicester City and Derby County and suffered narrow defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City.
On Monday the young Blues will face an in-form Spurs side who are on a three-match winning streak.
“These are the games you want to be playing in – the bigger games against the better teams,” Ouzounidis added.
“Spurs are doing well but we are close group who are coached very well.
“In my opinion, the quality we’ve got in the squad is equal to the squads we’ve gone on to win the league with.
“We will fight as hard as we can and I have no doubt in my mind we can get all three points.”