In an interview that first appeared in the Official Matchday Programme, Jarrad Branthwaite reflects on his Dutch education with PSV Eindhoven, where he was when he first spoke to manager Sean Dyche, why being in the Men’s Senior Team now feels “different”, and clears up whether he is left or right footed.
Arriving in the Premier League aged 17, the goal may have always been clear but the path necessarily wasn’t.
The top level of English football can be unforgiving for the most seasoned professionals, let alone someone making a three-division jump after just 14 senior outings. As such, with a wealth of experience ahead in the pecking order and lots still to learn, this particular journey needed a significant diversion for the purpose of education.
Sometimes, to get the chance you want, you may have to take others first. And that’s what Jarrad Branthwaite did to go from a League Two scholar to a bonafide Premier League starter in the span of a typical university degree.
Akin to a teenage student packing their bags and moving out, he left behind the people and surroundings he had known his whole life to live with strangers (in this case, house parents assigned by the Blues’ Academy) and further learned his trade. Throw in a ‘gap year’ internship working abroad for good measure and he has graduated into the Everton Men’s Senior Team with honours - namely the Dutch equivalent of the FA Cup and the Under-21 European Championships clinched with England this summer.
He has returned ‘home’ a different person, by his own admission. More confident, more self-belief and with eyes firmly on what he set out to achieve when he first flew the family nest of Cumbria.
“Looking back, it was the best thing I could have done,” Branthwaite says of last season’s loan to PSV Eindhoven, admitting he was weighing up clubs “in and around the Championship” before a move to the 24-time Eredivisie champions materialised.
“I saw a few young English players go abroad, get regular game time and do well.
“I’ve grown as a person; I’m more confident on and off the field. Moving to a different country, living on your own, you’ve got to learn new things, a new language and adapt to life. It was a difficult start when I went over, but I think it’s set me in good stead for coming back here as a better person and a bigger character than before I left.”
That difficult start in Holland was in no small part due to a lack of game time. Four starts and eight mostly-cameo appearances off the bench before the turn of the year gave room for doubt.
“When I wasn’t playing, the weeks were long and I was wondering why and if I had come over for no reason, but the manager [Ruud van Nistelrooy] was good with me. He said I was going to get my chance and towards the end of the first half of the season, I started to play more games. The second half I basically played all the time, so it worked out well. Once you’re playing games, you don’t think about being on your own.”
It's the first time Branthwaite is able to catch his breath and reflect on that formulative campaign. No sooner had he helped lift the KNVB Cup and push Feyenoord close for the league title, Branthwaite was in Georgia and Romania with England Under-21s as a talented generation had carved the Three Lions on the European Championship trophy come the final on 8 July.
A mandatory break meant the freshly-turned 21-year-old was playing catch-up in pre-season upon his return to Finch Farm and any interviews reflected on the Young Lions’ glory rather than his personal exploits and experience prior.
So, as he sits in a confined media room at Finch Farm on the back of a typically tough midweek session, that new person is visibly apparent – in mannerisms, tone, responses and general conversation.
And despite the initial struggles and distance - Liverpool and Eindhoven sit 400 miles apart as the crow flies - similarities between the two cities made things somewhat easier.
“I had a few lessons to speak Dutch, but sacked them off! Everyone speaks English, thankfully,” a relieved Branthwaite sighs with a laugh.
“It was a lovely place; nice and relaxed – lots of bikes! It was definitely a culture change.
“It’s a bit like Everton as a family club where everyone looks after each other - in the city, I went to coffee shops and people were asking how I was doing, like they do in Liverpool. That really helped me.”
Finding some reminders of home comforts, the 6ft 5in defender soon settled in and focused on the task at hand.
Born in Carlisle and spending his entire childhood in a family home 10 miles away in the market town of Wigton, Branthwaite and his younger sister grew up in a place where “everybody knows everybody”. His father worked in the steel factory which employed a large portion of the locals, and that unity in community was never more present than when severe floods hit Carlisle in 2005 and 2012.
Branthwaite and his family were unaffected, but he is quick to point out that on the golf course behind Carlisle United’s stadium, the trees still bear water level marks to this day.
The hometown support remains.
“All my friends still live there so I see them when I go back and my dad comes to most of my games,” he explains. “He doesn’t give me advice anymore at this level, though!”
Such guidance is already available in abundance. From having Premier League duo Ruud van Nistelrooy – “he can still play!” – and Andre Ooijer at PSV to James Tarkowski, his centre-back partner for the past four games, Branthwaite admits to learning more from watching and listening as opposed to asking questions.
“The coaching staff at PSV were brilliant with me,” he says. “When Ruud played, he was one of the best strikers in Premier League history, so to learn off how he used to get the best of defenders… and Andre taught me bits about body positions - I learnt a lot from them.
“Tarky’s a real leader and talks you through the game. As a young centre-back, having experience next to you helps massively - in moments of difficulty or when you need a bit of motivation to keep going.
“I watch how Tarky trains, how he handles himself. He’s in the gym all the time and keeping himself in good condition. That’s what you’ve got to do to be at the top of your game in every game. I started to look after myself more during the loan but even more so this season - keeping on top of my physical health and concentrating on what is going to make you better.”
Add Sean Dyche, a veteran centre-half in his own right, to that list of mentors. Branthwaite confirms a phone call from the manager soon after he took the Everton post caught him by surprise, particularly given the more immediate matters for him to contend with at Goodison in February.
“I was just getting out of the shop in Holland doing my food shopping!” he recalls. “It was a nice call to have. It showed he had me in his thoughts for the next season. It wasn’t really about football, he was more just seeing how I was finding things. It gave me a lot of positive thoughts going into this year.
“It’s nice you’ve got a coach who knows your position and has tips that can help you get better. He keeps reminding me of the basics - doing them well is the most important thing as a defender.”
Speaking of Dyche and Director of Football Kevin Thelwell, Branthwaite added: “When you’ve got people who believe in your ability, it makes you a lot more confident and that shows when you get the chance. When the people putting you on the pitch have full belief in you, it makes you perform better.”
While in a moment of reflection at how far he has come, Branthwaite shares he was thrust into Senior-Team training on his very first day upon joining from Carlisle United in January 2020. If it had all felt like a dream, this would be the alarm clock.
“It was surreal,” he admits. “No disrespect to League Two, but I could see the quality straight away. It was an eye-opener to what was to come and ever since then I’ve taken it in my stride and just been developing every day.”
A reunion with England Under-21s was on the cards earlier this month but Branthwaite had to withdraw from the European champions’ squad due to planned rehab on a minor groin injury – a decision he has no regrets over.
“It’s something I had since PSV, just a little niggle I needed to keep on top of,” he explains. ”I played the games before the break and it flared up again, so I had to get one last round of injections to sort it out. As you play more games and grow as a player, you learn how to manage your injuries. Everything should be good now.”
As we discuss his recent eye-catching performances, there is one thing that needs clarifying.
By position on the field, Branthwaite is deployed as a left-footed centre half, but a former coach claims him to be right-footed instead. So which is it?
“I am left-footed, but I’ve got a five-star weak foot on the new FIFA!” he says with a humble but beaming smile as if to hint there is some truth to the claim. As the topic is pushed further, it’s clear he is comfortable on both sides. “If I’m hitting a long pass, I’ll go with my left; short passes with my right.”
When he was named in matchday squads and made his initial Premier League appearances in July 2020 and even when he scored that first Everton goal at Chelsea in December 2021, Branthwaite admits the opportunities came about through injuries and circumstance. Now, he has forced his way into the reckoning on pure merit.
“It feels a lot different,” says Everton’s number 32. “When I got the chances previously, it was through injuries to other players. I was still very young and very raw as a player - it was difficult scenarios I came into.
“It gives me confidence the manager has put me in because of the way I’ve been training and handling myself to show I’m good enough to be on the pitch.
“I think I’m playing at a good level. It was difficult at the start of the season when I came back late in pre-season. I just wanted to play but I had to be patient and I’ve got my chance in the team. My focus is on giving myself the best possible chance to play the next game and hope it keeps going on a run of games and good form.
“The first game against Wolves in August when my name was read out, the cheer I got showed the support I had and they were backing me to play. That gave me confidence and I’ve got to repay them now with more good performances.
“The Premier League is the best and most difficult league in the world, so I can’t get too high on what I’ve done yet or too low if something bad happens. I’ve got to keep level-headed and keep learning, developing as a player. To play in this league at such a young age is a brilliant achievement but I’m just focused on helping the team and keep performing to the best of my ability.
“I’ve got lots of room to improve to get to the next level, which I’m working on and I think that’ll come with a good run of games and staying in the form that I am.”
Branthwaite’s education at the School of Science continues.