Limassol – The Lost Legion

Anthony Gordon had already played for the Everton first team, set me thinking about what happened to the full squad of players who appeared with him on that warm sultry night in Cyprus,

This piece should clearly carry a government health warning. My historical excursion lacks the superlatives and glowing memories evocative of better times that are currently filling other threads, and for that reason, I expect this will be of limited interest.

However, the snippet of information I came across this morning, reminding me that Anthony Gordon had already played for the Everton first team, set me thinking about what happened to the full squad of players who appeared with him on that warm sultry night in Nicosia, Cyprus, under a vibrant Mediterranean sky bursting with distant stars and other heavenly bodies...

It was the last group game for Everton in the Europa League, Season 2017-18. With Everton already out of the competition mathematically and the game was played in December, so idyllic imagery of sultry summer nights is probably sadly misplaced. But it was, nevertheless, a special occasion for no fewer than eleven members of Everton's Academy, who were promoted to the senior squad for this one-off rarity – a dead rubber. So, what has become of them and their teammates in the tumultuous intervening 2+ years of football at Everton? Where everything changes, and yet remarkably stays the same.

Joel Robles

With Everton 2013, one of the first signings by Roberto Martinez, Robles had been making more and more first-team appearances as Tim Howard's Everton career wound down. But he then pushed down and out after the arrival of Jordan Pickford. After a somewhat less-than-stellar career with Everton spanning 4 seasons, the Spaniard decided his time in England was up and that he should return to Spain when his contract expired in the summer of 2018 and he signed for Real Betis that July.

Beni Baningime

David Unsworth gave Baningime had made his first-team debut after Ronald Koeman was sacked and went on to make 12 promising appearances in the 2017-18 season under Sam Allardyce but then dropped back down the pecking order when injury struck. And that injury seems to have been a long and problematic one. (Another theme for another article, perhaps? It seems that so many of our young players undergo a long and career-damaging absence as a result of serious injury.)

He is finally fully fit again and has been playing regularly for the Under-23s this season. Still only 21, he could be a natural prospect to step up and strengthen the Everton first-team back line, but has so far failed to catch Ancelotti's eye. But at least he's still here!

Morgan Feeney

At the age of 18, the Bootle-born defender was one of the youngest members of Unsworth's Under-23s squad that lifted the Premier League 2 title in 2016-17. After being handed the captaincy of the young Blues for the 2017-18 season, Feeney made what was expected to be a senior breakthrough with his debut against Atalanta 2 weeks earlier. But his season ended prematurely in February 2018 and he needed knee surgery in March; he would not play again for 6 months.

Feeney would eventually return to captain the Under-23s a few games into the 2018-19 season, and he would lead them to an impressive double in winning the Premier League 2 trophy and the Premier League Cup, scoring the winning goal of the final at Goodison Park in May 2019. That earned him a loan spell with Tranmere Rovers for the 2019-20 season, where the 21-year-old made just one appearance before disaster struck in the form of another season-ending injury. The 20-year-old suffered a hamstring injury at the end of his first game on loan and he returned to Finch Farm for treatment.

Muhamed Besic

One of a slew of virtually complete failures along an all-too-common path: Mo Besic arrived at Everton full of Eastern European promise in 2014 on the back of an impressive showing for Bosnia-Herzegovina at the World Cup. He had an okay first season, once it finally got going. But he failed to attain the required heights as his Everton career would become ravaged by a series of long-term injuries. Struggling for any kind of continuity in his fourth season with the club after not playing a single game in his third season, this would prove to be his last appearance in an Everton shirt.

Aged 27 now and technically, he is still here too, in terms of registration, if not in mind and body. Incredibly, he was given a massive new 5½-year contract in February 2016. Out on loan for the last 2 seasons, unshiftable because Martinez gave him such a ridiculous contract that valued his potential contribution way above anything that could be reasonably expected. [Okay, that's with the benefit of hindsight, but you know what I mean.]

Harry Charsley

This would be the first and last senior Everton game for Harry Charsley, a midfielder who had been at the Blues’ Academy since the age of nine. He would spend the second half of the 2017-18 season on loan at Bolton Wanderers but only got a start in one Championship game where he was hauled off before the hour mark. He was not named in the first-team squad again after that as the Trotters battled manfully to avoid relegation back to League One.

He was reduced to playing for Bolton U23s but for just three games over the next three months, possibly due to injuries. He returned to Everton at the beginning of May 2018 and, without getting anywhere near the first team, played a decent part in the Premier League 2 and Premier League Cup double that would be achieved by David Unsworth's young stars in the Under-23s.

The summer of 2019 was supposed to be the end of the line for Charsley when he was released, but the club invited him back to use Finch Farm for his rehabilitation from a back injury [There really is a pattern here...] until he found another club and actually ended up using him in the Under-23s setup in the first half of the 2019-20 season due to a shortage of numbers. Harry finally left Everton in January 2020 and joined Mansfield Town in League Two.

Alex Denny

Alex Denny joined Everton as a 9-year-old from Manchester City's youth set-up and had not yet graduated from the Under-18s when he came on as the last sub for all of 2 minutes at the end of the game in Cyprus. This presaged his graduation to the Under-23s, initially as a substitute in Premier League 2 while playing in the Premier League International Cup games. He was selected as a starter for all of the last six games of the season 2017-18 season and was rewarded with his first professional contract in July 2018, a 2-year deal.

But the talented midfielder saw his efforts frustrated by a foot injury, which he suffered on the eve of the young Blues’ opening-day Premier League 2 game of last season. He played his way back into favour in the 2019 New Year, with sub appearances that helped both league and cup efforts in the famous double title win secured by the Under-23s in David Unsworth's charge. Strangely, those sub appearances have continued, despite him seemingly being available for almost all games this season. His current contract expires in June 2020 with the likelihood that he will be released without having gone out on loan.

Morgan Schneiderlin

Still here, much to the chagrin of a significant number of fans who don't appreciate him that much... if at all. While others can see his value, as much as Ancelotti, who had used him in a handful of games this season until he injured his knee and needed surgery, putting in jeopardy the possibility of him playing again this season.

Davey Klaassen

A bizarre transfer much along the lines of another Dutchman, Per Krøldrup. How do Everton manage to find Dutch players who turn out to be completely unsuited to the Premier League? Maybe you can only find this out by asking them to play and seeing how they get on... but it seems there should be better ways of assessing their qualities before committing all that money.

Or is it just one of those things? Some players simply do not work out, no matter how promising they seem to be om paper or on YouTube. Hopefully Marcel Brands will not allow such incomprehensible mistakes to occur again. But maybe that is wishful thinking.

Nikola Vlasic

See Besic above. Another with criminally poor performance stats. For some reason, these two seem to merge into one... which is giving the club undue credit in some ways, as how do they manage to repeat this now monotonous failed scenario? At least Vlasic has been persuaded to move on; he joined CSKA Moscow last June for a fee of £14.2M on a 5-year contract.

Ademola Lookman

At least Lookman's case was a bit different... or was it? On the face of it, a hugely talented player who, for some unfathomable reason, just never really produced the goods for Everton. So many times he came on the field, to a palpable expectation that his skills would wow the crowd. But it simply never happened for him. He would leave for RB Leipzig, and fade from memory.

Kevin Mirallas

Oh my goodness... The Golden Promise, the Golden Bentley, the Golden Moneypit. Yet another foreign star brought to these shores for great things... Yet another abysmal failure that I could only wish would also fade from my now (ant)agonized memory. Some people liked him as a player... but then some people like Walcott and Iwobi. I have great difficulty watching players who, time after time, fail to deliver. I put Kevin Mirallas firmly in this category. No doubt I will be told that he, and all our wonderful players, are doing their best, it is not their fault that they are not good enough.

Anthony Gordon

Perhaps here is the Great White Hope of this article (PC alert: not allowed to use that phraseology anymore, Micheal!) But come on... the lad looked pretty good when he was finally allowed to run out on the grass at Stamford Bridge. Would he emulate Mason Mount or Ben James? No, because he simply hasn't been trusted before, hasn't been given any opportunity to show what he can do, despite the blinding inadequacies of so many of the players in the first-team squad that Carlo Ancelotti has selected. And his chance perhaps finally comes, only to be nipped in the bud by the current Coronavirus shutdown.

Fraser Hornby

Continuing with the positive vibe, can Fraser be the Great Scottish Hope? Sent out on loan a little prematurely perhaps to KV Kortrijk in Belgium, I feel, he surely would have benefitted from more time in the Under-23s and to be given a real chance at showing just what he might be capable of for the first team. But Unsworth and a slew of first-team managers since Koeman know best, apparently.

Brought in from outside the club when he signed for the Blues as a 15-year-old in September 2014 from Northampton Town, he entered Everton Academy at U-14 level, initially as a midfielder, but he developed into a powerful and prolific striker.

He made his surprise first-team debut for the Toffees in this Europa League after having just graduated to the Under-23s with only three substitute appearances under his belt, and acquitted himself well enough in the 3-0 victory.

He would then become a regular starter for David Unsworth's side for the rest of the season, scoring three goals, although they struggled a little and failed to retain their Premier League 2 crown. But it was enough for the club to recognize his progression and potential with a 3-year professional contract for the 18-year-old that is set to run through June 2021.

He would score 6 goals in 19 starts the following season (2018-19) before heading across the channel, where he has similar stats – 3 goals in 9 starts. Will that be good enough to vie with Dominic Calvert-Lewin for the centre-forward spot next season? Highly unlikely!

Nathan Broadhead

The Wales youth international, who can play as a striker or winger, broke through into David Unsworth’s title-winning Under-23s side in 2017. On the back of this evident progress, he was given a new 3-year contract in May 2017 that would run through 2020.

"I've been an Evertonian all of my life and it feels like the perfect place to be for me," he said. Nathan travelled with the very young first-team squad to Cyprus for this dead rubber game, where he would come off the bench in the 82nd minute to make his senior debut.

Broadhead was recognised for his impressive form for the Premier League 2 Champions with selection for Wales's summer training camp and a new contract in August 2019 immediately prior to his first loan assignment, a season-long transfer to Burton Albion. After a bright start, injuries would increasingly limit Broadhead’s chances at Burton. In December and January, he made just two cameo appearances in 14 games.

Mateus Hewelt

Goalkeeper Mateusz Hewelt joined Everton as a first-year scholar in the summer of 2013. The Polish-born youngster had previously played in the Republic of Ireland for Stella Maris and Shelbourne FC and was looking to secure Irish citizenship.

He stayed with Everton for 4 years but never played for the first team, and was an unused sub on this night in Nicosia.

Hewelt would struggle to get U23 games for the rest of surely his final season as an Everton player as he vied with Joe Hilton and Virginia for the goalkeeper's spot in David Unsworth's double-winning Under-23s side. But both he and Joe Hilton wold lose out, being released at the end of the season as Everton trimmed their bloated Under-23 numbers.

Shayne Lavery

Shayne Lavery was brought in from outside the club when he signed for the Blues in 2015 from Portadown and Glenavon. He completed a two-year scholarship and signed a professional contract for 1 year in July 2017.

He was an unused sub in this match. That was followed in March 2018 with a first call-up to the Northern Ireland full international side, where he was on the subs bench as they beat South Korea. He would earn senior international honours as a late substitute against Panama in late May 2018 and Everton would extend his contract for another year in July 2018.

It seemed that Lavery could spin another Coleman-esque fairytale when he went out on loan to Falkirk in January 2019 for the second half of the season but would make only half-a-dozen appearances from the bench. His contract was up at the end of last season and he made a move back to Northern Ireland, joining Linfield.

Stephen Duke-McKenna

Duke-McKenna signed scholarship forms with Everton in 2016 and became a regular for the Under-18s. The following season, he started most of the Under-18s games but did not graduate to the Under-23s or play any games in Premier League 2.

So it was rather surprising that Duke-McKenna was made part of the Everton first-team squad for this Europa League dead rubber against Apollon Limassol in Nicosia, where he would sit the game out on the subs bench. More surprisingly after that seemingly important rookie ritual, he was one of 8 players at Under-18 level who would be released by Everton at the end of the season.

Michael Collins

This lad seems to have been around for ages, in the Academy for 10 years, but is still only 19. After getting included in the squad for the game in Cyprus, only to sit it out on the bench, he made a handful of appearances at Under-23 level toward the end of the 2017-18 season.

After that, though, it was back to the Under-18s for the entire subsequent season. He made no appearances for Everton U23s in 2018-19 and was in fact out on trial with Sunderland, playing a couple of games for their U18 and U23 sides. He was released by Everton at the end of June 2019 when his contract ended, and Sunderland confirmed they had picked him up for their U23 side in early July 2019.

So there you have it. The Lost Legion of Limassol. Working through the list and seeing the number of abject failures who got to play that night, it does tend to underline the poor recruitment and distinct lack of upcoming talent that form two of the stronger recurrent themes with Everton in recent seasons.

I wish this could have been a more positive experience and finding 6 of the 18-man squad from just 3 years ago are still with us as actual or potential players (I'm excluding Besic) does surprise me somewhat: I thought the number would be less given the seemingly constant turnover in most (summer) transfer windows and the perennial struggle to find a set of players that will blend together to bring Everton domestic and European success once again.

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Reader Comments (26)

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Tommy Bowman
1 Posted 21/03/2020 at 16:35:49
Per Krøldrup is Danish - not Dutch.
Alan J Thompson
2 Posted 21/03/2020 at 17:03:25
I'm staggered by the line, "joined Everton as a 9 year old from Man City".
Ajay Gopal
3 Posted 21/03/2020 at 17:48:43
About Mirallas, Michael you say: "I have great difficulty watching players who, time after time, fail to deliver." Classic stuff, and I whole heartedly agree. I think I posted on TW after seeing Mirallas in his 1st few games: "He could be our own Christiano Ronaldo" – I really did!
Kevin Prytherch
4 Posted 21/03/2020 at 18:37:10
Do you remember this team from Moyes in a dead rubber?

EVERTON (4-5-1)
Hibbert (76' Mustafi)
Rodwell (8' Akpan)
Osman (81' Craig)
Subs not used

Tony McNulty
5 Posted 21/03/2020 at 19:22:34
Interesting article Michael. I guess based on that team alone we would so far merit a D minus in terms of bringing players forward (based on a five point scale).

Your aren't alone in prematurely over-rating some of our players Ajay. I think of some of my own early assessments (e.g. Rodwell, Barkley). For me, as the great man Dr Johnson said, it always the triumph of hope over experience as far as all things Everton are concerned.

Andrew Dempsey
6 Posted 21/03/2020 at 19:29:15
Kroldrup was, and still is Danish.

Also was very slow, and I assume a lot slower now.

Dave Abrahams
7 Posted 21/03/2020 at 19:32:38
Kevin (4), yes remember that game, Forshaw was excellent, played outside right, he only played the first half then Dour Dave took him off, I don't think he ever played for the first team again. He's been around and made a good career for himself, think he is still playing in the championship. Did that game finish 0-0 Kevin?
Robert Tressell
8 Posted 21/03/2020 at 19:38:35
Hardly a lost generation. Mostly a bunch of also-rans. Lookman and Vlasic may well have good careers (the latter is no worse than Iwobi, say). Gordon and Baningime were the stand-out academy players and may yet make it with us (especially given the totally illiquid markets will hit the summer transfer markets).

Denny was reputed to be good and Stinky Gerrard was sniffing around start of last season re a move to Rangers. No idea whether he's any good but Onyango seems to have overtaken him.

Feeney might turn himself into a Shane Duffy type if he gets about 100 games under his belt in the Championship. Hope he does.

In fact, much as I love transfers, I really hope football comes back a bit more humble from this present experience and remembers the point of being a club is to represent a community and give the local lads a chance to play (like Bilbao). If that means pumping money into the youth team and putting up with Schneiderlin and Walcott, then so be it.

Paul Traill
9 Posted 21/03/2020 at 19:48:58
Interesting reading, Michael, and it brought back great memories. I can confirm it was not a warm sultry night! Incredibly we sold out the away end that night, despite it being a dead rubber in Cyprus in December. A great trip.
Tony Abrahams
10 Posted 21/03/2020 at 19:50:19
Ajay, I thought that was a fair assessment of Mirallas, who was obviously a poor mans Ronaldo, and had the talent to do so much better, and would have done if he'd tried harder.

Made for life, money takes over from desire, which equates to "I made it fucking big-time, even if I wasted most of my talent, because I didn't need to work harder, once they gave me that big fat juicy contact."

Duncan Adams
11 Posted 21/03/2020 at 19:56:00
Saw Klaassen in the Europa League Final against Man Utd, playing for Ajax, and he looked then like he was going to struggle. By the descriptions, I thought he was going to be our Frank Lampard.

As for Mirallas. I remember an individual goal against Spurs the type of which we never score. However, turned out he was a very selfish player without the numbers to back it up.

Fingers crossed for Gordon. Hornby also seems like he has something about him, whether it's with us or a level or two below, who knows?

John Raftery
12 Posted 21/03/2020 at 20:19:33
I was in Cyprus that night. It was freezing. I felt sorry for those who turned up in tee shirts and shorts! It seemed at the time both Mirallas and Schneiderlin had been sent to Cyprus as punishment for training ground insolence. Mirallas was a decent player in his first couple of seasons but was subsequently badly managed by Martinez and hardly managed at all by Koeman who signed Bolasie to replace him.

I have seen Hornby and Gordon playing for the Under-23s. Nothing Hornby has produced at that level suggests he has what it takes to cut the mustard in the Premier League. He is way below the level of Calvert-Lewin who, according to some, is not up to it. I would not write Gordon off just yet but, in his two brief first-team appearances, he has looked lightweight. In the Under-23s, he has hardly made an irrefutable case for promotion to the first team.

Peter Gorman
13 Posted 21/03/2020 at 20:27:33
Dave, your memory is playing you false I am afraid. BATE Borisov beat the young blues 1-0, Forshaw played the whole game (notable for the most senior kid on the night, Rodwell, getting injured after 8 mins).

Personally I thought Forshaw was bang average that night, if that. Didn't see any future for him at all so he surprised me being one of those to work his way back up the league ladder.

Other than quibbling over the nationality of Per Kroldrup, my only complaint is that I think the way Mirallas's career petered out seems to taint your recollection, Michael.

At some point, Mirallas was very good for us. Certainly far more effective than to just dismiss him as an Iwobi. I also recall at some point, possibly season two under Martinez, he was the ONLY player on form, up until his ridiculous penalty incident at least.

The frustration with Kevin was that he proved several times he could up his game against the big boys (very few in blue could claim that these last few decades) but lost form against nobodies. An enigma all right, but one who scored his share of stonkers.

Karl Masters
14 Posted 21/03/2020 at 20:50:21
It was far from barmy that December night In Cyprus and Kroldrup isn’t Dutch.

Apart from that an interesting article, although Mirallas played well in his first two seasons and scored memorable goals of the highest quality against Stoke, Spurs and Villa as I recall. Went downhill after being given a ridiculous contract extension by Martinez.

Martinez really lost the plot in his last season giving out those crazy long contracts to Besic and Mirallas and then signing Niasse.

I think Vlasic will come back to haunt us, maybe Lookman will too, but overall it’s amazing to think how many players have basically failed at Everton in the last 3 years. Well over 20, maybe 30. And just a few successes. Recruitment needs to improve.

Dick Fearon
15 Posted 21/03/2020 at 21:19:53
I saw a recent video of our youths in training and, if that is typical of how they are coached, it is not surprising few of them succeed.

Surrounded by ear-splitting boom boxes and miked up sideline coaches screaming instructions, it is no wonder the lads lose the individuality that brought them to the club in the first place.

Years ago, I attended seminars hosted by top coaches from many and various sports. One of the main things I learned was the futility of shouting instructions at players while they were under pressure.

Tony Abrahams
16 Posted 21/03/2020 at 21:29:56
Because it just puts them under even more pressure, Dick, and anyone who has ever played the game (professional coaches?) would already know this.
Derek Thomas
17 Posted 22/03/2020 at 00:35:15
Seems to divide into 4 groups; Sicknotes, has-beens, never will be's and wtf were they thinking... some qualify under more than one heading, Besic for instance.

All-in-all, not a recommendation for the recruitment side of things.

Dick Fearon
18 Posted 22/03/2020 at 05:03:06
Derek @ 17, You could well be correct on all fronts yet the methods used by the coaching panel would have a strong influence. To be selected for a place in the academy, a youngster must have attributes that place him ahead of other candidates. It is the coaches' role to develop and improve those attributes.

The video I referred to in my previous letter was on the club's official page. I was disappointed to note the players I guess were mid to late teens and would already have had about 10 years of professional coaching.

If they still require that kind of raucous advice or to be motivated in such a manner, the entire lot, along with the coaches, need to be replaced.

Paul Burns
19 Posted 22/03/2020 at 11:39:15
Paul #9 spot on, it wasn't warm and sultry. It was freezing and caught a few out who must have flew in for the day in tee-shirt, shorts and flip flops.
Mike Gaynes
20 Posted 22/03/2020 at 16:40:58
Dave #7, yes, Forshaw fashioned a good career -- he was a starter in the Boro side that won promotion from the Championship, and he played a full season in the Prem before Boro was relegated.

Sad to say his career took a sharp detour. He was a starter at Leeds in a new position, DM, before suffering a hip injury last September. It did not heal and he finally had surgery in the US last month. If he can recover, he could be back in the Prem -- Leeds was leading the Championship before everything shut down.

Dave Abrahams
21 Posted 22/03/2020 at 17:04:02
Peter (13). I’ll your word for the score, it surprises me that Forshaw played the whole game, but what I remember of him that night he played well, if,as you say, he played the whole game I maybe getting him mixed up with another player because he couldn’t have done much if I thought he was on for the second half, thanks for your post.
John Guy
22 Posted 22/03/2020 at 20:52:31
Yes, cold that night. I'd always liked Lookman, so was happy to see him score a couple of good goals. Thought he might do well at RB Leipzig, but there you go, not that great after all.

Paul Traill, hope you are well, enjoyed that trip. Learnt a few new songs.

Michael Kenrick
23 Posted 23/03/2020 at 08:17:19
Seems Nikola Vlasic is now tearing it up for CSKA Moscow:

Everton flop Vlasic is a star of the Russian Premier League

Apologies for my error on the nationality of Per Krøldrup. Thanks for the correction.

Tim James
24 Posted 23/03/2020 at 13:00:14
Articles about our young players always remind me of the time the Evertonian ran a regular feature on the next generation of Everton stars rising through the ranks. I worked with the aunt of one such young player who was featured in my latest edition. When I took the article into work to show my colleague she informed me he had already been released!
Tony Everan
25 Posted 23/03/2020 at 13:51:27
Michael 23

Oumar was Russian player of the season 2015 so I can't find too much regret about Nikola hitting form there. I am pleased for him and he is talented, it would be interesting to see how he wound fare now in the Premier League.

Robert 8, interestingly says is Iwobi a better player than him? Who would you have in the squad now between the two of them? It's not clear cut.

Robert Tressell
26 Posted 23/03/2020 at 23:21:37
I'm a bit biased about Vlasic because his sister is really fit.

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