Thierry Small says becoming Everton’s youngest player is “one of the best feelings of my life” and reward for years of “sacrifice”.
Small claimed the honour from Jose Baxter when – aged 16 years and 176 days – he was introduced for the final five minutes of Everton’s FA Cup fourth-round victory over Sheffield Wednesday at Goodison Park on Sunday.
The left-back came on with fellow Academy graduate, the 17-year-old Tyler Onyango, who admitted making his debut alongside Small added to a special occasion.
Small, who joined Everton aged 11 and made his Under-23s debut only two months ago, discovered he was included in Carlo Ancelotti’s squad two days before the match.
“I couldn’t sleep the past two days, just tossing and turning thinking about this day, and it couldn’t have gone any better,” Small told evertontv.
“It’s unbelievable, it still hasn’t sunk in properly, it’s one of the best feelings I’ve had in my life, making my family proud after all the hard work we’ve had to put in through the years and the sacrifices.
“I had to move away from home at the age of 11, that was hard.. it is character building, it matured me as a player and I am grateful Carlo Ancelotti gave me the opportunity to play.
“I was itching to get on and when Dunc [Ferguson] told me [he was going on] I can’t describe the feeling.
“It is everything I have dreamed of since I was a young boy, it is just crazy.”
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ONYANGO ON EVERTON DEBUT BUZZ
Small’s Uncle Bryan played Premier League and European football for Aston Villa and was among family and friends providing counsel in the 48 hours before the 16-year-old’s debut.
“He told me to keep things simple, to just express myself and be calm,” said Small.
“I have been on the phone to everyone [prior to the game]: my uncles, my mum and nan and grandad.
“It is a proud moment for them.
“Hopefully there will be many more opportunities but I have to keep working hard on the training pitch.
“That is where I can keep improving and the most important thing is to be consistent.”
Onyango is similarly keen to use his first senior outing as a springboard for an Everton career which has accelerated over the past 12 months.
He stepped up to the Under-23s last term and established himself in David Unsworth’s side this season.
The midfielder has been regularly training with Ancelotti’s squad, along with Small, and confessed he was sat on the First-Team bench with his fingers crossed for an Everton goal glut.
"I knew if we went a few goals up we might get a chance to go on," Onyango told evertontv.
"I was nervous but when I got on the pitch I felt good and happy.
"I have been at the Club since I was eight, worked my way through all the age groups, and to make my debut is massive.
"As a young kid, you come to Goodison, watching from the stands or as a ball boy, and sit there and imagine it.
"It is a dream, so to finally step on the pitch and play is amazing.
"To do it with another young lad – we’ve come through the Academy and went to school together – makes it even more special.
“Training with these players is massive, in a short space of time you feel yourself improving a lot, getting sharper, playing quicker, it is more physical."
Onyango identified Seamus Coleman and Tom Davies as significant influences since linking up with the seniors.
He was reluctant to namecheck coaches who’ve aided his development, however, for fear of missing any off the list.
“They have all helped me so much in their own different ways and I am thankful to every single one of them, right through from Under-8 to Under-23,” said Onyango.
He added: “I was buzzing and couldn’t sleep when I found out I was in the squad, then when Duncan said I was coming on I was made up.
“All I can do now is work my hardest and… hopefully, keep getting opportunities likes this, take them and impress and build trust from the team."