Everton manager Ronald Koeman
has a ready answer when questioned as to why he uses a lot of young players, more than he did during his tenure at Southampton.
His explanation is
simple if harsh; they weren’t good enough for the Premier League. His current crop is much better.
“In Southampton, they can look at how many players made their debuts in the
first team of Southampton when I was the manager -- seven, eight, nine?” he told The Guardian
“But why they don’t play for the first team more regularly? Because they weren’t good enough. Now this season they played in Europe when the manager was using a lot of players to
have rotation. Now they don’t play in Europe, they don’t play every weekend. Tell me which young player is now in the first team? Nobody. That is criticism but, OK, no problem.
“I know myself that I am a manager who really gives young players a chance when they deserve it. I am not doubting whether to give a young player a chance instead of an older player. But that
was the same in Holland, Spain and Southampton and now also in Everton. I don’t need credit for that from Southampton fans now I am at Everton.”
In his first season at
Goodison Park, the former Dutch international has given regular time to club’s academy products as well as other young players: Tom Davies
, Mason Holgate
, Ademola Lookman, Matthew Pennington
, Jonjoe Kenny
and Joe Williams
are or have been regular members of the first team.
For the 228th Merseyside
derby three weeks ago, Koeman sent out a young team -- including Holgate, Pennington, Davies and Calvert-Lewin
in the starting lineup -- to compensate for a string of injuries. He professed
himself satisfied with the team’s display in a 3-1 defeat, based on how the younger players performed if not necessarily the result.
He also is dubious that English managers, many
of whom stress the importance of grooming young domestic players but don’t often select them, readily offer as many chances to prove themselves.
“I see differences in how I
like to work with young players and how I like to give young players a chance maybe more than English managers. I know English football people say you have to look out for young players, that maybe
they can play 15 or 20 games but not more. They are afraid. I am not afraid to put young players in. I am not afraid but maybe they are.
“It is all about the talents of the young
players. If they have the talent you have to give an opportunity. If they don’t have the talent then, OK, you have to look elsewhere. If I have a second centre-back and he is 20 and I think he
can do the job, then I don’t sign a centre-back as a third option. My young boy is my second option. That’s the way I like to work.”
Davies, 18, is a vivid example of
the Koeman philosophy. He’s been a regular in midfield since Everton thumped Southampton, of all teams, on Jan. 2. And the manager admits a tepid display in or a dropoff soon after the 3-0
victory might have altered his thinking; instead, the player and the team are benefitting from the arrangement.
Everton is seventh, tied with Arsenal on points (57) and trailing only on
goal difference. A European slot is not realistic but it has already exceeded last year’s total of 47 points and is well above its 11th place finish last year. Davies has scored twice and
registered three assists in 19 appearances.
“I did not expect him to play all the games when I first put him in the team because normally young players dip after performing,”
Koeman said. “It is really impressive how he is doing from the first game until now. Of course he needs to learn but he is really confident in the team and the team is really confident in him.
He is showing great football and improving as a player in the midfield.
“He is a really down-to-earth boy and is working hard and getting a lot of advice from the rest of the
players. The older players and technical staff advise him to work hard, to play simple, do your job and that’s really giving confidence to the player. He can make mistakes -- no problem -- but
that’s the confidence young players need.”