EVERTON’S academy system deserves every plaudit it has received in recent times and more. From its boom years under Ray Hall when players like Wayne Rooney, Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert, Michael Ball, Francis Jeffers and Ross Barkley all passed through classes en route to the first team, to its promising current crop under the highly-respected tutelage of Alan Irvine, the academy has long been a source of immense pride - not to mention money - for the club.
But the issue of what happens to its highly-rated graduates when they have been granted senior contracts but are not yet ready to play in the Premier League every week remains a thorny one, and something which is largely out of Everton’s control.
This season the FA. has revamped reserve football under its Elite Player Performance Plan in a bid to try and make this level of the game more beneficial to these young players.
Gone is the old reserve set-up, and in its place has started an U-21 league which mirrors the U-18 competition, although clubs can field one over-age goalkeeper and three over-age outfield players.
David Moyes has previously discussed going a step further and creating a ‘B’ team system like in Spain, where Premier League clubs would enter teams in the lower divisions. The idea would be to allow young players to play proper competitive football that means something, where valuable points are the prize against opponents who are fully committed.
That’s why the FA. haven’t quite solved the problem with their reserve shake-up, and it’s why Ross Barkley will this weekend be pulling on his boots at Hillsborough and wearing a blue and white striped shirt on loan at Sheffield Wednesday for the next month at least.
For players like Barkley – and defender Shane Duffy who this week signed a three-year contract extension – short of the steep learning curve of the Premier League, Moyes clearly believes their progress is best bolstered in the lower leagues.
Barkley has looked occasionally over-eager to impress at Goodison, and now he can learn to deal with competitive football out of the limelight. Both Everton and their teenage prodigy will benefit, while the FA. may eventually realise their reforms have not gone far enough.
As one of the original founder members of the Football League, Everton are a club steeped in history and tradition and have played more seasons in the top flight of English football than any other club. Their association with the greatest cup competition in the world has thus conjured some wonderful moments, and this offering from Sport Media celebrates a century of memories since their first FA Cup success in 1906. Celebrate a century of memories with 'Everton's FA Cup 100'. Read