Teenage left-back Thierry Small says he is savouring the “amazing opportunity” to learn from Everton great Leighton Baines – and explained why the Club’s Academy provides an ideal environment for young footballers to prosper.
The 16-year-old – who has recently trained with the Blues’ First Team and scored a maiden goal for David Unsworth’s Under-23s side – added Everton is “a great club to be a part of” and revealed his ambition to “get to the top one day, just like Leighton did”.
Professional Development Coach Baines took up his new position with the Club in September.
The role sees the former England defender – who made 420 Everton appearances during 13 years of sustained excellence with the Blues – work with Paul Tait’s Under-18s side, the Under-23s squad and young First Team players.
Small says Baines has seamlessly fitted into the Club’s coaching set-up, as he discussed his training sessions with one of the Premier League’s greatest ever full-backs.
“He played in my position at the highest level and he gives me some great advice,” Small told evertonfc.com.
“It’s fundamental for my development that I can take that advice onto the pitch and express myself.
“It’s just amazing to learn from someone like Leighton Baines.
“He’s a very good people person. He’s great at communicating and everything he says is very clear and easy to understand.
“He’s only just retired and he was playing to such a good standard even last season.
“I just want to try to keep soaking up all the information he gives me, be the best version of myself, and try to get to the top one day – like he did.”
Solihull-born Small joined Everton aged 11, having previously been with West Bromwich Albion.
The England Under-15 international says his impressive progress has been underpinned by the first-class coaching and the supportive atmosphere at Everton Academy.
“I’ve loved every minute of it here,” he says. “Everton is one of the best academies in England.
“It’s great to play with the players I’ve grew up with since I was 11 and try to get better together every day.
“The coaching is top quality.
“The detail they provide is brilliant. We’re fortunate we’ve got technology – training and matches are filmed – so anything that needs improvement, the coaches will pick up on and create a little playlist or a few clips and point it out to me. It’s really helpful.
"Everyone is supportive at Everton and it’s like a family environment. It’s a great club to be a part of.”
A skilful, dynamic footballer who boasts impressive ball-striking ability and stamina, Small believes his attributes are ideally suited to the left-back position.
“I love both attacking and defending,” Small says.
“I like one-v-one battles with the opposition. I never like to let my opponent get the better of me.
“Because I’m quite fast, I think left-back is good for me because I can get up and down the pitch quite well.
“I think my pace and power are really good attributes because I’m able to get myself in good positions.
“Now it’s about developing the technical aspects, like my crossing. I need to keep working hard on that.”
Small’s strike in Everton Under-23s’ 2-1 December victory over West Ham United in provided an exciting glimpse of his attacking qualities.
After a lung-busting surge into the opposition penalty area, Small expertly controlled a Tyler Onyango cutback and rifled a powerful shot into the bottom corner of the net.
While that effort showcased Small’s ability to deliver decisive contributions in the final third, he explained how he seeks out clips from a legendary Italian left-back as he strives to advance his defensive game.
“I watch Paulo Maldini a lot on YouTube,” says Small, who was born in 2004, by which time Maldini had won 126 international caps, played in four World Cups and won four European Cups.
“Before every game, I like to watch people in my position so I can try to bring that onto the pitch.
“I always watch one of Maldini’s videos so when I go into individual battles, I can try to copy what he does and put it into my game.
“Defensively, he was just a magician.
“In today’s game, Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munich is one of my favourite players. I love to watch him and learn from him.”
Refreshed and invigorated after the Christmas break, Small outlined his two main ambitions for the second half of the 2020/21 campaign.
“I want try to be a regular for the Under-23s,” he says.
“The main thing is to be consistent with my performances. Every chance I get playing with them, I need to show what I’m about.
“Another big focus is the FA Youth Cup.
“It’s a great competition to be a part of. We want to go as far in that as possible, because I think that would be great for the Club.”