Photographing a Rhino

Martin O'Connor 21/09/2020 22comments  |  Jump to last

Everton have made some changes to the Academy structure at the club. Under-23s Manager, David Unsworth, has expanded his power base becoming the new Director of Academy, while also staying manager of the U23s. Alongside this, Leighton Baines has become the club's first Professional Development Coach.

It was clear for some time that Baines was not going to renew his playing contract at the club. In fact, he seemed to have no interest in staying around at the Blues. After good service, it seemed he planned to retire and take further his interest in photography and listening to indie music. As far as I can see, he had no interest in any coaching role at the club. Everton in essence seem to have made a position for him because he is a good Blue and has been a loyal servant to the club.

Baines's new role will be to:


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“Assist on all matters relating to a young footballer’s professional development on and off the field – whilst instilling a clear understanding of what it means to be a part of the fabric of Everton. He will work with Director of Football Marcel Brands and manager Carlo Ancelotti – as well as Unsworth and U18 Coach Paul Tait – to ensure each transition phase for the Club’s young professionals is managed effectively for both the players and the Club.”

I am not saying that this position for Baines will not work out well, but I certainly question it. Why should an ex-player, who seemed to have no interest in sticking around after hanging up his boots, have a position, as it seems from the outside, made up for him? What makes Baines an expert in, as the brief says:

“Assisting in all relating to a young footballer’s professional development on and off the field”?

As far as I can see from the outside, unless someone proves the opposite, he had no interest in any of this on finishing playing, and planned to, camera in hand, ride off into the sunset... until the club decided to make the post for him.

This has the smell of the nice club giving a chance to one of its own, one of the Blue Family.

As noted above, I am not saying this position for Baines will fail; I presume he will put as much into the position as he did as a player on the pitch. But with what seems a position aimed at helping young people progress on and off the pitch, did the club actually look to see if there was anyone out there who might fit this brief? Instead of just giving it to an ex-player who seemed to have no interest in working in football after his retirement?

Which brings me to Rhino himself. As manager of the U23s, he has won two League titles and one cup while in charge. A good record undoubtedly, and no-one can question David Unsworth’s commitment to the Blues. But is he doing what the aim of the U23s Manager needs to be, which is to progress players to the first team? In this area, Rhino’s record would seem to be underwhelming.

Apart from Mason Holgate and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (brought in from Barnsley and Sheffield United, respectively, lest we forget), plus Tom Davies and Jonjoe Kenny, (who, in my opinion, don’t have long-term futures at the club), under Unsworth’s watch, Everton have not produced anyone of first-team quality. Anthony Gordon may turn out to be a player who becomes a mainstay of the future but, apart from him, no-one else seems to be on the horizon – or, to put it more bluntly, no-one is given a chance to show their credentials, which in my opinion comes down to Unsworth.

Unworth's record of pushing young players' chances forward is at best chequered. Denis Adeniran is one player he really should have been pushing for some first-team starts, but now his boat has, in my opinion, left the first-team harbour. It increasingly seems to me Everton have a reluctance to promote and give first-team chances to the most talented of the Under 23s until their chance of first-team football has passed.

It also seems that the club are reluctant to make any real hard choices on U23 players who will not make the grade. Why is it that a player such as Matty Foulds, for example, was only released this summer? Foulds was never going to make it at the club and should have been off-loaded much earlier. Unsworth has a great bond with the young players who seem to see him, in my eyes, as some sort of father figure. While platitudes such as “he is a very humble lad,” spill non-stop from Rhino's mouth (do we never have a player who is not some sort of humble saint nowadays?) only adds to this perception. Maybe this is why, instead of making hard choices on Under-23 players, the club keeps them around well past their sell-by date, sending them out on meaningless loan deal after loan deal.

Does anyone really think that Broadhead, Bowler, Ouzounidis, Markelo, or Adeniran, for example, are now going to make it at the Blues? Instead of extending some of these players’ contracts and sending them out on more loans, the club should be actively looking to move them on. To me, Unsworth is too reluctant to 'make not good enough' decisions on players. My heart sank when I saw him quoted in the Liverpool Echo after the Under-23s' season opening defeat to the red shower:

"If you're looking at that team today, you're looking at Callum Connolly, Nathan Broadhead, Dennis Adeniran, Beni Baningime – they're players who should be and we want them to be out on loan."

No, Unsy, they are players who should be moved on for the betterment of the club and for their own careers. Or do we plan to keep them around until retirement?!

So, if this is the case, should David Unsworth really be the new Director of Academy, overseeing

“All of the teams below the senior men’s squad into one management structure, providing a smoother pathway through the Academy and into the First Team," when it seems to my eyes he stunts young players' growth by never really pushing them on to be given a chance at first-team level? He then inexplicably and endlessly keeps them around the U23s and wasting their own careers.

In the end, I may be wrong and this new structure may be a stroke of genius, and will in the future help produce more players for the first team. But, with a person heading it up who is reluctant to make harsh decisions on young players' futures, I think it is questionable.

Even more pertinent, should a Director of Academy also be spending his time as manager of the U23s? With such an important role, it would seem to me that Unsy, as Director of Academy, should put all his energy into the post, which covers all age groups, and not have it split with him managing the Under-23 team.

These changes at the club's Academy seem to have been accepted with no-one questioning, not the new roles, but the people given responsibility in the new structure. I am not certain we have the right people in charge to develop the best young players for the first team, and certainly I think more scrutiny and questioning should have been given to the roles of Baines and especially the expanded power base of David Unsworth in the new structure.

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Reader Comments (22)

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Lyndon Lloyd
1 Posted 21/09/2020 at 20:01:55
By your own admission, there's a lot of conjecture in there, Martin.

On Baines, I don't think anyone who doesn't know him well on a personal level can definitively say he didn't want to remain in football in some capacity after his retirement from the playing side. It's supposition that he wanted to go and pursue other interests and it would be counter-productive for the club to cajole him into taking on a position he doesn't really have any interest in doing. My own take is that it will be less of a straight coaching position and more an emotional/psychological/how-to-make-it-in-the-business support role but I could be wrong.

Regarding the Under-23s, a cursory glance across the Premier League will show you how difficult it is to produce home-grown talent capable of truly “making it” at the top level and staying there. Liverpool and Chelsea are obviously seeing some success with the likes of Arnold, Jones, Loftus-Cheek, Gilmore, etc and Spurs have the likes of Winks and Tanganga but Southampton's much-vaunted pipeline of young talent has dried up for now and our own well-respected Academy hasn't produced much in recent years.

It's incredibly difficult in the face of the talent that comes in from abroad; Everton's challenge is what I've always said it is — how to develop young footballers the way the Dutch, Belgians and Germans have over the years. It can't be rocket science and my hope was that Marcel Brands would assume total control and help push us in that direction.

He may still do; I don't know what the inner workings at Finch Farm are and how much influence Brands has over the over-arching footballing ethos, style, etc but it's my belief the Director Football should be the one directing it all from above. Perhaps Unsworth, who has been rewarded for comparative success at this level, is carrying that forward and we'll start to see the fruits of it in years to come but in the meantime, Rhino's job is either to groom those future EFC stars or to develop players into sellable assets by using them consistently in the U23s so that they are capable of moving on to lower-division or foreign clubs for small fees (e.g. Fraser Hornby). There will, inevitably, be a lot of churn of players being released for nothing when it's clear they won't make it but that's the nature of the business. The success rate is very, very small.

Brian Williams
2 Posted 21/09/2020 at 20:12:39
Less than 1% of kids that join academies at nine years of age go on to play professional football at the top level so to expect a conveyor belt of talent isn't realistic. It's the exception rather than the norm.
Mike Gaynes
3 Posted 21/09/2020 at 20:17:49
"...he seemed to have no interest in staying around at the Blues."
"As far as I can see he had no interest in any coaching role at the club."
"Why should an ex-player, who seemed to have no interest in sticking around after hanging up his boots..."

I'd go one step farther than Lyndon did in calling that "conjecture"... I'd call it pure invention, Martin. You really haven't the slightest idea what Leighton's feelings were, or what he wanted. None of us does. The people who do know... well, they offered him the job. And he took it, for reasons we can assume had nothing to do with needing money.

As for your view of Rhino, obviously he disagrees with you on the potential of some of these players. I don't recall anyone here one year ago hailing Gordon as a future star, or even predicting he'd be a starter by the end of last season. Yet he developed and clearly now has a future with the club.

Who's to say that none of the others won't make that step up? Is Unsworth's decision to keep some of them around really "inexplicable"? Or is it just that you aren't the one to hear his explanations?

I think you picked a great title for the article. I am less admiring of the article itself.

Steve Ferns
4 Posted 21/09/2020 at 20:24:34
Mike, we were calling Gordon the “Ginger Messi” at least three years ago! When he was 16 he scored 5 goals in a game for the U18s and really announced himself. But those who follow the schoolboys had known about him even longer.

Gordon has been earmarked for a long time now. For my money, he's the first one since Tom Davies, and being skilful he had a bigger push than Tom. In fact I'd say to see a more highly rated kid, you'd have to go back to Barkley.

However, Lewis Dobbin has even bigger expectations. Let's hope it doesn't go to his head and he continues to train and work hard, and equally importantly, has some luck with injury.

Michael Kenrick
5 Posted 21/09/2020 at 21:26:15
What a nasty, mean-spirited piece. Full of presumption, assumption, and (as said above) invention, coming it seems from some bizarre and completely unwarranted bias against ex-players having key roles in the Academy. I would start from the opposite premise, that these are indeed the people I for one would want to see in these roles – ex-players who love the club.

Apart from all these players who have pushed on to first-team football (how many did you name?) "under Unsworth's watch, Everton have not produced anyone of first-team quality." Yea... apart from Nkounkou, Allan, Doucouré and Rodriguez, Everton have not signed anyone of first-team quality this window either.

A really poor article, Martin.

Richard Parker
6 Posted 22/09/2020 at 10:02:56
On Unsworth, you name 5 home-grown players who are regularly in the first 16... That doesn't include Branthwaite... so more than 1/3 of the regular match-day squad came through the youth side.

I'd love to know how many teams in the Premier League, especially successful sides have more than that?

Kevin Molloy
7 Posted 22/09/2020 at 10:06:35
Great headline though.
Steve Ferns
8 Posted 22/09/2020 at 10:16:02
I think one of the things that gets missed on articles like this is Everton’s youth recruitment. Consider all our proper youth team graduates to the first team and your looking at a long list of players with very few from more than 25 miles away from the ground.

Look at other Premier League clubs and I don’t think you’ll see many who produce more first team players and then when they do, look how many are from within 25 miles of their ground.

The feted Southampton youth setup had less than 10%. Man Utd have started producing a few more mancs but they’ve never done that in big numbers or consistently (with a few famous exceptions). Our lovable neighbours always struggled to produce local talent, only when they do it’s a Trent, a Fowler or a Gerrard.

If Everton are producing players, and they all seem to come from Liverpool or the surrounding areas, what does that tell you about the standard of coaching? Yep, it must be exceptional.

Thankfully though, in the last few years we’ve seen the rise of players like Dobbin and Onyango and the signs that youth recruitment has improved.

Barry Rathbone
9 Posted 22/09/2020 at 11:26:25
Excellent article, Martin.

You are right to question the Baines's appointment on what you see – the idea anyone outside of the club is fully informed and opines from authority is mindless bollocks.

I don't agree with all you say but certainly most of it. Your caveats are lost on some as they froth over what they see as dogmatic opinion exposing their fragile instability.

Well done, sir.

Paul Baxter
10 Posted 22/09/2020 at 11:55:41
You've directly attributed five players that Unsworth was responsible for bringing through – so I think that makes him the most successful Under-23 coach in the Premier League. I don't know another team that has that many in the matchday squad.
Steve Brown
11 Posted 22/09/2020 at 12:40:31
"As far as I can see from the outside, unless someone proves the opposite" – so unless someone can provide evidence to contradict him, Martin can post unsubstantiated claims without the requirement to provide any proof at all. With that level of contorted logic, he should apply for a job in Trump's press office.

Alan J Thompson
12 Posted 22/09/2020 at 14:24:17
Cometh the moment, cometh the man?

Steve (#8), does this fit in with what, some time ago, you rumoured was a move for David Unsworth at season's end or did that go the way of Wigan?

Jay Wood

13 Posted 22/09/2020 at 14:35:11
A strange article.

On the one hand, there is legitimacy in questioning Leighton Baines's appointment, given all the chair shifting and title swapping that went with it.

Unsworth promoted to Academy Director whilst retaining his role as U-23 manager (arguably diluting his possible effectiveness and efficiency in both roles); Joel Waldron moved sideways/downwards/upwards (who knows?) from the Academy Director post to Academy Chief Operating Officer.

Surely that wasn't done just to create a position for Leighton? That it wasn't a back-of-the-envelope idea which was implemented without input or considerable planning from Marcel Brands (and others)?

On that score, I'll give the club the benefit of the doubt and say this was strategically planned.

Now, whether Leighton is the best candidate for this newly created role, I very much doubt. It is clearly an internal appointment and as such the position wasn't advertised and thrown open to any and all applicants. That alone leaves the club open, as some have done, to charges of creating 'jobs for the boys'.

Where the author of the opening post loses credibility for me is his very speculative, contrived even, claims that Leighton is a reluctant recruit to the role.

My overall impression is that it is a poorly presented article with not a lot going for it.

Trevor Edwards
14 Posted 22/09/2020 at 14:52:41
Not sure if Martin has an agenda here against Unsworth or Baines, or simply ex players in particular. There seems to be a growing negativity amongst some of our fanbase against David Unsworth. The securing of two titles is seen as a failure by him, a rod to beat him with.

Of course, the prime object of an Academy is to develop players, so the fact that titles were secured by him having senior players in his first eleven gives rise to the impression that is being put forward by some that he just wants to win trophies for personal prestige – that is what I am seeing here.

However, I could see the potential for this situation when the Reserves leagues were disbanded. The Reserves were a place for first-team squad players who needed game time, and up-and-coming players mixed. It could be negative – some arl arse players would kick lumps out of the youngsters – or it could be positive – youngsters would get a clearer picture of 'real' football – playing against and with senior pro's.

The A and B teams were for the development of young players but for the benefit of those criticising Rhino selecting senior players for the Under-23s – senior players would often turn out for the A and B teams as they return from injury – it is nothing new.

Back to the main point – senior players playing for the Under-23s – do we know if it is Unsworth's choice to play them? Maybe the first team manager has asked for them to play for the U23s to get game time, either for fitness reasons or to put them in the shop window?

How do we know that a player has stopped developing at, say, 20, 21? The likes of Adeniran and Bowler playing last night could enable them to secure another loan, and on that loan they might just kick on, to put them in the frame for, at worst, a transfer, securing a fee for the club. They might even be late bloomers and put themselves in contention for the first eleven – no-one can say for sure that they are not good enough.

Re: Baines – as Lyndon alludes to – how do we know that the role was simply given to him as a jobs for the boys move? Maybe he has been speaking for a while about it. He may even have been interviewed for the post. I don't know... nobody but those at the club will know.

Richard Parker
15 Posted 22/09/2020 at 15:10:23
The OP eloquently proves itself wrong with the level of throughput from the U23s to the first team...

But the assumption that the Everton hierarchy just wanted to provide a retirement home for a 'good lad' who has probably pocketed north of £30M in his time at the club is laughable. I'm guessing there may have been a well-thought out plan...

Or Leighton spent it all on guitars, booze and blow and luckily has photos of Bill and Mohsiri in a compromising situation. Try not to get a mental picture now.

Richard Parker
16 Posted 22/09/2020 at 15:17:39
Also, why wouldn't Leighton be a good candidate for the post? A local lad who has literally lived what these kids are going through or will go through, also coming through the Everton youth ranks.

He's been a great servant to the club, totally professional and has gone from Everton youth set-up to another club, back to Everton, represented England at a World Cup, played in Europe.

If I was drawing up a description of the ideal candidate, I'd be hard-pressed to try and improve on that profile for the role...

Kieran Kinsella
17 Posted 22/09/2020 at 15:38:29
Lyndon & Steve Ferns,

You mention "It's incredibly difficult in the face of the talent that comes in from abroad;" and Steve, you say "we were calling Gordon the “Ginger Messi” at least 3 years ago! When he was 16."

I don't question the truth of either statement but there's a dysfunction in the system. Gordon was linked with a move to Borussia Dortmund before he signed his contract. Seemed far fetched maybe but Jude Bellingham (17) has done just that and is in the first team immediately, much like Sancho.

Jamal Musiala (17) did the same and left Chelsea for Bayern Munich, the best team in the world, and immediately he was given a debut in the first team and scored. Likewise, Yunus Musah (17) also English, made his debut for the Valencia first team this weekend, having also cut his losses at an English academy.

It's bizarre that we hold this perception we need a foreign Director of Football to come here and replicate the academy success from Europe when the biggest and best (Munich/Dortmund) are actually letting English clubs do the groundwork and giving game time to seemingly match ready 17-year-olds. Where would Anthony Gordon be now if he had left?

Guardiola claims Phil Foden is the best player he has worked with yet, only now at 20, he is getting regular starts. Tim Cahill described 15-year-old Kieran Dowell as the "best player I've ever seen" but, after years wrapped in cotton wool with the U18s and U23s, he's essentially a journeyman. Would his outcome have been better if he had gone to Dortmund?

Or, more importantly, would Sancho, Masiala etc have saved their clubs millions if people got over this notion of the "development pathway" and just gave talent a chance?

Trevor Edwards
18 Posted 22/09/2020 at 16:53:12
Some excellent points from Kieran (17),

Personally, I think the problems lie predominantly with the game in the country, the pressures on the managers to succeed placed on them by the clubs hierarchy, the media and the fans.

Players usually take time to develop (think Sharp, Stevens, Steven, Southall – who went out on loan at the age of 24 etc). It differs from player to player – and managers are reluctant to risk their jobs by putting young players in unless they feel they are 100% ready. We have seen the high turnover of managers at clubs like, say, Southampton, where they have had great players develop but not in sufficient time for the benefit of keeping the manager in a job.

Chelsea have a great bunch of kids but at that age they lack consistency and if Chelsea do not win anything this season, I doubt if Lampard will keep his job – hence the purchase of top notch signings. Fans demand success, and are rarely patient with the kids who are inconsistent.

On the continent, it seems different – they seem happy to develop the young players, to give them time. Ajax and Dortmund being prime examples. Someone with a greater knowledge of those clubs and continental football in general will have a better insight into why this might be.

At Everton, we have a large percentage of our fans who are just as reluctant to give kids time. Look at Calvert-Lewin. Even up to a few weeks ago, I had supporters telling me he was 'Championship at best' and yet we are now starting to see him develop into the high quality Number 9 I believed he could be. But, if what we are told is true, Silva wanted to bring Mandzukic in last term, we were certainly after Giroud – if these players had arrived, would the progress of Calvert-Lewin have been significantly curtailed?

A player like Dowell has all the attributes to be a top class Number 10, but even when given a run in the side at Forest, he lacked consistency, Forest were chasing promotion, and he was sacrificed. Would having a manager with the faith to play him week in, week out have meant he might now be at the level that Tim Cahill thought he could reach have occurred? Who knows what the answer is.

Kieran Kinsella
19 Posted 22/09/2020 at 22:28:49

I agree with your explanation but I wish managers here were more courageous. Valencia make Watford seem like a team with little turnover yet their boss is putting faith in talent. Much like Hoddle did with Owen, Fergie with Giggs, even Klopp with that 16-year-old from Reading.

Don Alexander
20 Posted 24/09/2020 at 16:25:47
It'll be of little surprise that I share much of Martin's opinion, acknowledging that none of us (as far as we've been made aware) have a clue about what actually happens at Finch Farm.

Having watch the Toffees throughout the Premier League, and for as long before it, I've been dismayed about the general lack of spine that's been a feature of our play since we were invited to devise the competition as a "big" club. Yes, there's been a few players who've shown genuine mettle (the likes of Watson, Cahill, and Parkinson for example) but, in general, we consistently look lacklustre.

So, unless you are blessed with truly exceptional skill and attitude, such as Rooney, it must've been difficult for any lad to comfortably step into the first team any time in this century.

What doesn't help is that in my opinion Finch Farm has been infested with a "comfy" mentality for nearly as long as..... you've guessed it folks..... a certain person installed himself in the boardroom, shaping the club in his own comfy, mediocre, shyster way.

Maybe, just maybe, Brands can change things.

Darren Hind
21 Posted 25/09/2020 at 08:58:04
None of us have clue about what actually happens at Finch Farm."

I don't think anybody needed an admission... We kinda already knew all that vindictiveness towards ex-players who work there was born out of ignorance.

,"None of us have clue about what actually happens at USMFF"

I don't think anybody needed an admission...We kinda already knew all that vindictiveness was born out of ignorance,,,1,08:49:28,,,ok,13643,09/25/2020 08:49:28,,reader,,,no 1096234,39949,toffeeweb,25/09/2020,Kenny Smith,,"The Fleetwood game has got to have been the final nail. Ancelotti is wise enough not to publicly slaughter Pickford but he knows he's not good enough. He did the same towards the end of last season when our midfield were none existent, he still didn't slam them. He just bought better players.

Pickford will cost us more points than he wins us and that should mean he's replaced before it's too late. He's just not been the same since he threw one in against them a couple of years ago.

Peter Gorman
22 Posted 26/09/2020 at 09:54:56
Trevor @18 "Personally, I think the problems lie predominantly with the game in the country, the pressures on the managers to succeed placed on them by the club's hierarchy, the media and the fans."

Wrong! It is all Unsy's fault. Or, more specifically, his 'chequered' record in pushing young players to the first team. It is amazing how many times he squandered his opportunity to tell the likes of Koeman, Silva and Allardyce how to do their jobs.

The fact that he played pretty much as many kids as he could during his brief tenure as interim manager isn't really evidence of development in any case, and should be forgotten.

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