Everton have had a forgettable season. After a record Premier League points tally last season, they’ve slumped down in the table, languishing in 12th place on 38 points, 25 fewer than this stage last season. The belief which gathered during the first season of Roberto Martinez’s reign has been quelled by his second campaign. However, there is optimism with the current Everton squad and that is in the youth.
The Blues have a number of talented youngsters that should be utilised as the building blocks for success in the seasons to come. These players are John Stones, Luke Garbutt, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku; a collection that rivals any club in the league. It is quintessential for Everton to have any success in the near future that these players feature and develop in the first team and, as an Evertonian, that should begin now. Having picked up 10 points in the last 4 games, the Blues are surely safe from the threat of relegation and to ensure this season does not end in obliqueness, Martinez should start thinking towards next season by giving faith in these players for the remaining six games.
Lukaku, the most prominent starter from this list and a player most clubs would like in their squad, has had a successful first season as an official Everton player. The Belgian has netted 18 times for the Blues, however disappointingly only 8 in the league, but still an impressive tally for a young striker in a team that has had a torrid season. Everton paid a club record £28 million for him in the summer and, having penned a five year contract, he will be the figurehead of Everton’s attack for the next few seasons.
Behind him another player who extended their stay during the summer is Ross Barkley. The England international who received so much acclaim before the World Cup has declined since England’s embarrassing outing. He suffered a knee injury before the start of the season and has perhaps not fully recovered, but he has looked a shadow of the player who was last season touted as the new Gazza. With two goals to his name, it has not been anything near the season fans expected of him but when watching Barkley, it is apparent that he is a gifted footballer. He showed in England’s friendly last month his class, though his decision making was still in question on the night.
In my opinion, John Stones is the most talented young player Everton possess and although he does not get featured as much as Lukaku and Barkley, his class is apparent on the pitch. David Moyes’ final signing has turned into a bargain at £3 million and has blossomed under Martinez. At 20 years old, Stones has a maturity about him beyond his years. He has featured sporadically for Everton, due to injuries and having to displace Sylvain Distin at the beginning of the season, but he has finally held down a position in the starting eleven. Although prone to the odd mistake which is expected from such a young player, his confidence in possession and ability in defending against powerful strikers is remarkable and it is no surprise Everton’s results have risen with him on the pitch. He has formed an impressive partnership with fellow Englishman Phil Jagielka, and with Gary Cahill to have seemingly lost his place for England, the two could potentially line up in the Euros next year.
Unlike the three players already mentioned, Luke Garbutt has not been tied down with a long term contract, with his current one running out at the end of the season. Fans have pleaded with him on Twitter as every tweet he sends receives a barrage of replies telling him to sign the contract. A lesser known player to the neutrals, Garbutt is a 21-year-old left back who seems to be the natural successor to Leighton Baines. Surprisingly, Garbutt has not featured as much as fans think he should have this season and only played due to injuries to Baines. The England international has been in decline, with corners that don’t reach past the first man and diminishing in his attacking play so it has been a shock that when returning from injury, Baines is automatically drafted back into the line-up. There is little mention from the manager regarding the contract situation so an exit is extremely possible, but to allow a player of his potential to leave would be ludicrous of Everton as to bring in a player of the same calibre would be very costly. Starting him in the remaining games could be used as an indication of his importance to the squad.
With these players featuring prominently in the future, it does not seem as bleak for Everton as it appears. Though, the older players such as Baines, Howard and Barry, who have played a role in this season’s positioning, need to be set to one side to allow these players, as well as the likes of McCarthy, Besic and Robles, to perform and enable their potential to be fulfilled.
By Andrew Fletcher - @