Those Evertonians getting antsy about the club’s lack of transfer activity already—reminder, the window doesn’t actually open until July 1—should look to South Korea and the Under 20 World Cup to fuel their excitement for next season.
That’s because a selection of Toffees tyros have combined to be the driving force behind England’s run to the quarter-finals.
A total of five Everton youngsters are involved in the Three Lions squad—Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jonjoe Kenny, Kieran Dowell, Callum Connolly and Ademola Lookman. Each of the men aforementioned have played their part.
In the opening game of the tournament against Argentina, England were being smothered by a technically superior opponent. Then Dowell swung a dangerous deep cross into the box for Calvert-Lewin to brilliantly head home; the latter went on to win a penalty and England came through 3-0 winners.
Then, in a crucial third game against South Korea, Kenny was released on the right flank, cutting the ball back to Dowell, who netted the only goal to send England top of the group.
Next it was Lookman’s turn to seize the spotlight. In the last-16 match against Costa Rica, he put England ahead, firing home Kenny’s cross. Then the forward showed tremendous awareness and flair to grab his second, picking up Calvert-Lewin’s pass, sashaying past a couple of defenders and rolling the ball under the goalkeeper. The Three Lions eventually won 2-1.
Of the seven goals scored by England at this competition, four have been both created and finished by Everton players. So it’s no shock the Toffees’ next generation are on everyone’s lips who has been paying close attention to goings on in South Korea.
“Argentinian commentators here have spent the whole second half [talking] about how good Everton’s kids are,” said Neil Abraham on Twitter during the Costa Rica match. Meanwhile, the Scouted Football account included Dowell and Kenny in an early Squad of the Tournament selection.
Sure, there are caveats to consider. Most pertinently, the standard of opposition is not the highest. Yet this stage has been the making of some elite performers; Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba and Sergio Aguero all used this competition to further their progression.
That’s not to say any of the Everton quintet will go on to scale such heights. Still, it takes a big personality to step up in an international tournament a long way from home and make a key contribution.
And that type personality is something Everton have instilled in their up-and-comers.
Eyebrows were raised when Calvert-Lewin was handed a new deal recently. Yet he’s shown tremendous potential in South Korea in both wide and central positions. He’s pinned defenders, spun in behind, carried the ball and dominated in the air. The forward unbending in his industry too.
Even Dowell, despite his tendency to ghost through matches at times, has stuck his hand up. His deep cross in Game 1 opened a valve to release relentless Argentine pressure, while his linkup and finish in Game 3 against the host nation propelled England to the top of the group.
It’s Kenny and Lookman who have shone brightest so far, though.
The former carries the assuredness of a man who is ready for top-level football. He has been irrepressible in his bursts down the right flank, leaving many a young left midfielder in a spin. Two assists and two Man of the Match awards from Eurosport are illustrative of the impact the right-back has had. He’s a talismanic force.
And then there’s Lookman, a young man who announced himself to Evertonians in a blaze in January before being pushed further and further towards the periphery of Ronald Koeman’s squad as the term wore on.
In fairness to the Everton boss, perhaps the diminutive forward is not yet ready for the physical rigours of top-flight football. However, the last two England games have offered a clearer glimpse into why so many clubs were keeping tabs on the 19-year-old before he opted for a Goodison Park switch.
There’s a juvenile ingenuity to his game meshed with moments of frightening dynamism. Some of sharp footwork in the clash against South Korea was breathtaking, while he added some cutting edge to his performance in the tie with Costa Rica.
The calmness, the impudence and the technique needed to score his second on Wednesday was striking; there’s a cerebral streak to complement his nifty feet. Although perhaps that’s no surprise for a young man who earned five A*s and five As in his GCSEs. It’s going to be intriguing to see where he figures in the manager’s plans in 2017-18.
In Monday’s quarter-final England will take on the winner of the clash between Mexico and Senegal on Thursday. And Evertonians should be following their progress with interest.
This tournament may not have the profile to force its way to the forefront of a soccer stratosphere currently taking a deep breath after a long season. But it’s the kind of experience than can mature young footballers involved and begin the cultivation of a winning mentality.
Those traits will only strengthen the case of the quintet aforementioned as they seek to put themselves in the frame for first-team football at club level next term.