The Development of Ellis Simms

Phill Thompson 21/10/2020 23comments  |  Jump to last

Everybody has heard of Ellis Simms... not everybody has seen him but everybody will have an opinion; he’s potentially next in line to become an Everton Academy graduate playing in the Premier League. So I thought I’d look back at his development. As ever, most of the facts are accurate, but opinions of course are just my opinions.

First impressions are often lasting impressions, and the first time I saw young Ellis was as a strapping 16-year-old on a dodgy internet stream while playing for the Under-18s in a pre-season tournament (2018-19). I’d heard of this supposedly highly rated kid that we’d got from Manchester City via Blackburn Rovers, but I confess my real interest lay elsewhere. I wanted to see more of a stick-thin ginger-haired urchin who’d played a few games for the U18s as a schoolboy the previous season (2017-18).

I can’t remember much about Anthony Gordon in that match, but he seems to have done okay since. What I do remember about young Ellis was his first shot, a “thunk” of a drive that hit the post. Then, when next played through into the box, the ball bobbled off his left foot, hit his right knee, and went out for a goal kick. So an unremarkable first sight really, as he was as likely then to thunk the ball into the net as bounce it off his knee out of play.

In that U18 season, he was outshone by fellow first-year scholars Anthony Gordon and Korede Adeydoyin. Both played more games; both scored more goals. For me, that set a pattern that has continued; Simms has always seemed to be a year behind Gordon in his development despite their physical differences.

I don’t see that as a criticism, just a view that often youngsters develop at different rates, each individual is different: some need more time than others. Korede Adedoyin, by the way, was let go in July and is now with Sheffield Wednesday, so best of luck to him in his career.

It was in his second season (2018-19) that Simms started making headlines with a shedload of goals for the U18s. Playing as the centre of an attacking three, he was well supplied by the attacking midfielders, Einar Iversen, Bobby Carroll and Mackenzie Hunt – all of whom are now with him in the U23s. The tactic was play the ball through for Ellis to run onto and he would do the rest.

But, in fairness to Simms, he also created a number of goals himself, muscling defenders off the ball if they dallied with it, and often shooting in from tight angles with either foot. These were of course by-and-large 17-year-old defenders easily outmuscled, but the shear volume of goals he was scoring led to some ridiculous calls to get him into the first-team squad.

What was clear, though, was that the coaches had worked to harness his power and speed to make him a big threat at this level. But the weaknesses were there: a lack of heading ability for someone his size, a bit one-dimensional in that, going forward, he was great – that’s how his goals came – but he rarely had to play with his back to goal or bring others into play.

It’s not that usual to have someone score as many goals in an Under-18 season as often they are promoted half-way through the season, a good example being Mason Greenwood who was rattling them in for Man Utd U18s as a schoolboy, then next season, when Simms was scoring, he was promoted to their U23s.

Simms didn’t feature in our U23s until the last three or four games of that season and he didn’t really make an impact. This was the U23s (2018-19) title-winning season and I remember watching one match when our two main strikers, Fraser Hornby and Bassala Sambou, both failed to score when through one-on-one with the goalkeeper. I couldn’t help but think that Simms would have scored at least one, if not both, of those chances – that was his trade mark.

The view seemed to be that he wasn’t quite ready for the step-up yet and he needed more work. I personally think he should have played more U23 minutes that season to speed up his development... but it's water under the bridge now.

So Simms emerged from the U18s with a big reputation but clearly still a work in progress. Although he’d been called up into the same England U18 squad as Anthony Gordon, he never actually played, I think the games were cancelled or maybe he was injured.

Ellis Simms started off in the 2019-20 season for the U23s and he rarely featured in the first few months. But, once he’d settled in, the goals came and he scored 8 goals in 11 starts and 4 appearances off the bench. What we were seeing last season was the beginning of a more rounded Ellis Simms, the hard work done with the season coaches was evident. He was now also playing with his back to goal, controlling the ball, laying off and moving, getting around the pitch more, but still showing that ability to finish if he got the chance.

This season, 2020-21, the progress has continued. I think he’s scored 4 goals in about 5 games. At times, he’s been played in a three, reflecting the way the first team are playing, with fast skilful guys outside him, and then the goals have come. And he’s doing the things you’d expect from Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the running back, holding the ball up, laying it off, turning and running at defenders, sometimes the outlet for the long ball from the back.

In recent games, he’s been playing very much as a lone striker, required to hold the ball up while the midfielders come up to support him, again something Calvert-Lewin has to do when we drop into a five-man midfield formation.

It’s interesting to compare Calvert-Lewin and Simms at similar ages. Calvert-Lewin was far more mobile and hard-working and of course had greater strength in the air. Simms I would say is a better one-on-one goalscorer and striker of the ball. But Calvert-Lewin didn’t play that many games at U23s level to compare and of course was a World Cup winner with England U20s so you’d have to say Simms is behind where Calvert-Lewin was at a similar age.

Which brings me back to my earlier comments. Simms’s development has been slow and steady, perhaps a year behind the likes of Gordon and Calvert-Lewin if you compared them age for age. He doesn’t have the natural flair of Gordon but undoubtedly he’s worked hard on all elements of his game and is continuing to improve.

I view every player as different and don’t subscribe to the “If he hasn’t made it by ... age then he won’t make it” theory. Simms is on his own development path and training with the first team will undoubtedly help this. That path suggested by David Unsworth seemed to be to continue with the U23s, then maybe a loan move in January.

The loan of Moise Kean to Paris St Germain and Richarlison’s suspension after the derby may have altered that thinking. He’s the obvious current back-up to Calvert-Lewin, although Gordon has also played as a No 9 down the middle, and as such may warrant a bench spot over the next few weeks.

The optimist in me is hoping that Carlo Ancelotti will be having a training ground conversation along the lines of “Ellis, when you come on and you see James Rodriguez with the ball, I want you to run diagonally left to right into the box. One of two things will then happen. James will either clip a sublime 20-yard pass into your path, your job is to attack the goal, get your shot off and show you are a threat. Alternatively he will hit a sweet 40-yard pass out to Luca. As you are not Dominic, Luca will drive the ball low into the 6-yard box, your job is to time your run and be on the end of it for your first goal. Football is simple.”

All said with the merest hint of a raised eyebrow.

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Reader Comments (23)

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Andy Crooks
1 Posted 21/10/2020 at 23:34:13
Great, insightful piece, Phill.
Jerome Shields
2 Posted 21/10/2020 at 23:58:30
Always grateful to come across yourself and others on threads who actually follow and attend the youth games and follow youngster development at Everton, with valuable knowledge of the youth setup, changes and people involved. Years ago I use to follow progress via the Evertonian which has been defunct for years.

It is interesting you noticing different rates of p!ayer development, and the change in play in the youth system to reflect the first team play, with shadowing of positions evident in how players play. Your incite on how Simms should be coached to play should he play is great final Third play. I must have been wondering and browsing for three weeks to get some information on Simms with limited success. Even better now I have what I am sure is a accurate account of his progresx.

I hope you will consider giving timely updates in article form in the future where I am sure the other youth watchers will join the thread and give their valuable incites.

Thank you for the article

Martin Mason
3 Posted 22/10/2020 at 08:06:42
Very informative article Phil, sorry you got the sack from Soccer Saturday :-)
Peter Gorman
4 Posted 22/10/2020 at 08:23:11
Lovely article that makes so many worthwhile points. Players develop at all kinds of different rates (pretty sure Osman only established himself in the first team at 23) and Simms is definitely one that is noticeably progressing at a steady rate.

His strength has always been finishing one-on-ones. He is quite excellent in fact. That won't be nearly enough to make it to the top so it is gratifying to see his overall game improve.

Given that Moise Kean is a sullen waste of space, it makes more sense to have Simms waiting in the wings to catch the crumbs of development time that may fall their way in the odd cup tie. But ultimately there is some gap between DCL and Richarlison in the first team and anybody else, which could do with being addressed.

Phill Thompson
5 Posted 22/10/2020 at 09:32:43
Martin #3, the sacking was a bit harsh but sometimes these things are needed for the sake of humanity ;-)
Dave Abrahams
6 Posted 22/10/2020 at 09:55:30
Phill has given a good description of Simms career at Everton, he reminds me of Lukaku in his selfishness going for goal, he can provide assists but his main object is to put the ball in the net.

He has made steady improvement since he came, still not ready for the first team, imo, but who knows until he is given the chance, what I would say is he has more chance of being a regular than Anthony Gordon, again in my opinion.

Peter Gorman
7 Posted 22/10/2020 at 10:14:38
Dave, why do you say that about Ellis and Gordon? Is it based on their talents or simply who they are competing with?
Dave Abrahams
8 Posted 22/10/2020 at 10:28:22
Peter (7), well it was because of the comparison Phill was making in how they came through together in Everton’s youth teams, I agree with Phill that Anthony has the greater skill but of the two I think Ellis is more determined mentally, obviously I hope the two of them make it, but there are no guarantees in football.
Derek Knox
9 Posted 22/10/2020 at 10:51:04
Good and informative article Phill, yes I too hope that Ellis makes it through it will save us a fortune and also prove that we have a decent youth set up.

Though it is a bit of a mystery how some, who look destined for the big stage are let go, and others seem to be around for ages, without ever seeing first team duty.

I hope both Anthony Gordon and Ellis Simms are at least given an opportunity to showcase their undoubted talents. Anthony has had cameo roles, then seems to have fallen down the pecking order, even for the bench!

Steve Ferns
10 Posted 22/10/2020 at 11:02:03
Good article Phill, echoing much of what we have discussed on Ellis before.

I would add though, that Ellis was released by Man City. They did not think that he was right for them. I won't say "not good enough" because that would be wrong, as he was released with a good reputation, not as a failure.

Man City play a very specific way, as we all know, and that way is very much the opposite of how Simms needs to play to thrive. He doesn't want to be involved in intricate build up play, he wants to burst through with pace and power and beat his man and slot it past the keeper.

Simms has always faced challenges, first his release by City, then struggling to find his feet in the u18s and u23s as Phil described. But, perhaps his greatest strength is that he always rises to that challenge. It may take a while, he may lack the natural talent, but his mental toughness and belief make be sure that Simms will make the step up, because he always does in the end, he will just do so in his own time.

Brent Stephens
11 Posted 22/10/2020 at 11:04:03
Good piece, Phill.

"He was now also playing with his back to goal, controlling the ball, laying off and moving, getting around the pitch more, but still showing that ability to finish if he got the chance."

For me, that has been his biggest improvement in more recent games. Especially his willingness to seek out space where a pass could be made to him (that's probably what you mean by "getting around the pitch more").

Peter Gorman
12 Posted 22/10/2020 at 11:53:17
Dave, saying that Simms has more mental determination than Gordon is praise indeed, given that the latter confined himself in a house during lockdown and worked fanatically on his fitness and strength with visible results.

Fingers crossed for them both; I am definitely one of those starry-eyed fans that just wants some of our own to make it into the first team.

Andrew Ellams
13 Posted 22/10/2020 at 12:22:32
Carlo saying James is out of this weekends game so with Richarlison out too I'd say there is a good chance of young Ellis making the bench.
Frank Kearns
18 Posted 22/10/2020 at 19:27:56
Thanks Phill, really informative article. Stay safe.
Mike Gaynes
19 Posted 23/10/2020 at 17:43:34
Phill, Brent and Dave... have you formulated on opinion on whether Simms will, in fact, become a Prem-level player?

Steve says he's confident the young man will step up -- are any/all of you similarly optimistic?

Dave Abrahams
20 Posted 23/10/2020 at 19:54:42
Mike (19), he has obvious potential to make the grade, quite a bit away from it at the moment, let’s see him play through this U23 season with some games from the bench with the first team and we can gauge him from there. Quietly optimistic is the best I can say at the moment.
Kristian Boyce
21 Posted 23/10/2020 at 00:01:18
Steve @10, I would imagine that City would be looking for a striker in the Aguero or Jesus mold within their youth set ups. I gather that their academy is run similar to Barca's and Pep's influence is from top to bottom. Which as you say isn't a negative on Simms's release from them.

Watching his highlight reels, you can see the influence that the City/Pep training has had on him. He fits into that old cliché, 'Good Touch for a Big Man'. You would have thought that he might have gone out on loan for the season. I wonder if he's been kept on the books at Carlo's request as a back up for DCL or Unsworth, who would want to keep his main goal scorer for the U23's.

Brent Stephens
22 Posted 24/10/2020 at 07:30:31
Mike #19 just seen your post. I've pointed above to the development we've seen in Simms but as Dave says he still needs time to develop. I've said before that you can see who wouldn't be able to step up a level (at any particular time, that is - there re the obvious examples of late developers) but much more difficult to say whether somebody could step up a level (and how long that would take) or would just hit their "natural" ceiling.

Simms doesn't yet scream out to me that he's close to a place on the first team bench and more.

Sam Hoare
23 Posted 24/10/2020 at 07:55:31
Thanks Phill. Whenever I’ve watched Simms he reminds me a bit of a halfway house between James Vaughan and Victor Anichebe. Not quite as livewire as Vaughan and not quite as strong as Big Vic but crucially his finishing is more like Vaughan.

The main thing is that he follows DCLs example and keeps working extremely hard. Will be interesting to see if he can score goals at league one or Championship level if he goes out on loan in January.

Phill Thompson
24 Posted 24/10/2020 at 10:56:08
Mike #19, hard to disagree with Dave and Brent's post, Simms is still a long way off from being a Premier League starter. But he's only 19 and he's still developing. There are players like Tammy Abrahams and Dominic Solanke who were more highly rated at the same age but still haven't established themselves yet, and of course Calvert-Lewin is 23.
Phill Thompson
25 Posted 24/10/2020 at 11:11:41
Kristian #24 Simms was only at City under Guardiola for one season as a 15/16 year old and came to us only with size, strength and pace really. All the credit for his development lies with Paul Tait and his coaches at u18 and Unsworth and coaches at U23s. They’ve done a tremendous job with him, he really was a raw talent at 16.

Unsworth stated before the Kean loan that Simms wouldn’t be going on loan until at least January even though there’d been offers, as they wanted to work on a few more areas. It’ll be interesting to see whether the current situation changes things re going out on loan.

Nicholas Ryan
26 Posted 24/10/2020 at 12:53:56
On the question of different ages and development, I digress to my first sport, cricket.

Two of the best Australian batsmen of recent times have been the [recently departed] Dean Jones and Adam Vosges.

Jones was told he was too old, and discarded at 31. Voges played his first Test match at 35!!

Robert Tressell
27 Posted 02/11/2020 at 14:47:24
On a completely random note, just seen that an ex Everton youth player Mohamed Ali-Cho made his debut for Angers in France age 16. We seem to have picked him up from PSG age 14 before he left us last season.

Never heard of him before this.

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