By Dave Downie
It’s becoming increasingly difficult for young players to prosper at Premier League football clubs.
Given the financial muscle of every top-flight club, it’s far too easy for managers to scour transfer markets domestically and abroad in order to find what they’re looking for as opposed to making a visit down the corridor of their training facility to see who may be ready to make a step up into first team reckoning.
Those that are either good enough or lucky enough to be given an opportunity, it’s typically a sink or swim environment in the trigger-happy chasm of the Premier League.
Fans, pundits and even managers alike are prone to making snap judgements on young players like they’re on a conveyor belt consigned to the lower leagues should they not be fortunate enough to be plucked off the line for some minimal product testing.
A closer look at Everton’s recent academy graduates would suggest some chronic mis-management of an already-flawed process in a reflection of the club’s plight over the last few years.
Take Tom Davies, for instance. A young, unorthodox and somewhat flamboyant talent who burst on to the seen with a mesmeric goal at the Gwladys Street that will celebrate its two-year anniversary in less than a week.
In that time, Davies has been the subject of intense scrutiny from the Goodison faithful and in scoring such an iconic goal so early on in his career, created a level of expectancy that has often been the backdrop to inconsistent performances that would otherwise be considered typical of a late-teen learning his trade at the highest level.
In other words, a goal that will rightly go down in Everton folklore could almost be considered one of the worst things that’s happened to Tom Davies in his short career to date. That’s maybe harshly due to a mixture of an inability to reach such heights again but moreover due to how unrealistic it is to ask a then 18-year old to maintain a standard that was always going to be insurmountable from the moment his laces caressed the ball over a flailing Claudio Bravo at the Street End.
Two years and 81 appearances later, the goal that would hail another adored teen sensation much like Wayne Rooney and for a short while, Ross Barkley, is little more than a flash of brilliance in a career of struggle, mismanagement and undefined roles for Tom Davies.
He remains a divisive figure amongst Evertonians, and even at the age of 20 it feels as if a crossroads is looming.
Not for the lack of trying, Marco Silva has struggled to find a place for Davies in his new-look side this season.
Given the managerial mishmash Everton have endured in recent years, giving Davies the captain’s armband for a run of games earlier this season was hoped to be a catalyst for improvement or at least a period of stability for the England Under-21 international, with the hope that an added responsibility would see him find an identity at the club.
And it’s that word “identity” that has been a constant albatross around Davies’ neck that he’s never really been able to fully alleviate, through mostly no fault of his own.
Of the half-dozen individuals to have overseen his emergence, not one has been able to definitively state what Tom Davies’ position actually is.
Variations in midfield positions of all shapes and sizes have been tried, without one providing any real consistency.
Versatility, a cherished and often rare attribute in top flight football has by no means been Davies’ friend either. Being able to adopt to such a title isn’t something that befits a young player whose yet to master one particular role.
Even a rare start against League Two side Lincoln in the FA Cup provided no short-term uplift with Andre Gomes replacing Davies at half time. Everton were 2-1 in front at the time with the lower league side growing into the game – a lack of faith from the manager at best.
But perhaps a considerable statement in such a tie has finally provided some clarity for all concerned; if Davies is not to be entrusted with being a third choice midfielder behind Gomes and Idrissa Gueye, even when both aren’t fully fit, then maybe a temporary stint away from his tribulations at Goodison would suit.
Successful loan moves haven’t really materialised for Everton’s youngsters in recent history, but Davies’ attitude has never been in question so it’s a fair assumption that he’d attempt to make the most of a different opportunity – one where expectancy and spotlight would be nowhere near as intense as he’s always known it.
Speaking on Monday Night Football recently, Jamie Carragher brilliantly explained the difficulties of young players breaking through in the Premier League. He stated that when a foreign player is signed by a club, fans don’t get to see the harsh lessons learned by these players during their earlier years and what we largely get to see is a more of a finished product.
In academy graduates, particularly given the access available nowadays, fans get to see every peak and trough these young men go through.
In a key difference though, Carragher described being a local product of the Liverpool academy as being beneficial to his progress, whereas at Everton, it’s sadly impossible to say the same for a number of reasons.
Tom Davies should not be cast aside as a failure at Everton, to do so given his tender years and mitigating circumstances thus far would be foolhardy. But it is for certain that something needs to change for him in order to give him every chance of a fair trial at his boyhood club. For that to happen, his short term future should lie elsewhere.