Monday 20 November 2017

The making of star man Davies - a throwback with a bright future

Davies: Superb impact Picture: Getty Images
Davies: Superb impact Picture: Getty Images

Chris Bascombe

It is often said that the problem with modern academy players is that they lack the street wisdom and rough edges of schoolboy footballers.

Everton's latest graduate, Tom Davies, endearingly blends the progressive and retro - his old-school, low-worn socks prompting nostalgic references to his uncle, Alan Whittle.

This is a teenager who outplayed one of the most expensive, lauded midfields in football and celebrated by heading out for a curry with family and friends a few hours later.

Those describing the 18-year-old as a 'throwback' need not reserve their reminiscing for the 1970s, however. Davies emerged from the fields of the Liverpool suburb of West Derby during a period when some academies were discouraging their emerging talent from participating in schoolboy football.

A Merseyside schools system that produced Wayne Rooney, Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher often felt sidelined and alienated. Some academies in England still warn youngsters about playing for school teams.

Faced with the choice of turning his back on Liverpool Schoolboys and focusing entirely on academy training, the 12-year-old Davies insisted on staying with both. To their credit, Everton did not stand in his way, despite the talent being so prodigious that they paid a nominal fee to Tranmere Rovers to secure his services when he was just 10.

"I coached Tom during the 2008-9 season and he always stood out. He was someone who you always felt could make it. He has always been so dedicated to the game," says Carl Giles, a Liverpool Schools FA manager who coached Davies at U-13 level.

Read More: Everton bask in glow of youth as lifeless City's title hopes get derailed

"At that time there were a lot of clubs who did not want their players to play for the schoolboy side. That situation has improved, but during that period it came down to Tom and his parents as to whether he'd stay involved. There was a lot of discouragement from the academies for a while.

"But Tom wanted to play for us. It helps the progress of these young players to stay in school football. There is so much you need to make it as a professional footballer, tactical, technical, but also your identity - how you develop as a person.

"The academies have been focused on development - it's not really about creating winning teams but producing players - but you learn about what it means to be a winner by competing in these national schools competitions and being proud to represent the region you're from.

"That has a positive impact on the player's development, too.

"There's also a social aspect to it. Young lads wants to play with their mates and feel that sense of working together to achieve something, and Tom was always a player who could stand out and be a leader on the pitch.

"I think you can see the influence schoolboy football has had on Tom with his approach to the game, and you see it with others. There is that extra edge to their game, which supporters can identify with."

At a time when emerging English players are often described as being over-pampered and lacking the charisma of those of the past, it is easy to see why so many have taken to Davies. As well as his acute passing, goal-line clearances and clever chip over Claudio Bravo, many will also have nodded in approval (not least his manager) at his willingness to put in a tackle.

Those who have been working with Davies always felt a day like Sunday was coming. He has captained England U-16s and U-17s, and is currently the captain of the U-19s. He was once asked by Roy Hodgson to train with the England senior squad.

Everton's U-23 coach, David Unsworth, was championing his promotion to the first team for most of last season, selecting him during his one-game stint as caretaker boss alongside Joe Royle. "He's ready," was the weekly message to Ronald Koeman.

If Koeman's faith in Davies was initially seen as a symbolic message to his board about the need for more experience, his decision to keep him on him and leave £24m signing Morgan Schneiderlin on the bench was an emphatic statement on the impression the youngster has made.

"You see the substitutes getting ready and you think it could be you," said Davies. "But he left me on and I am thankful." So too are Everton. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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