Thierry Small rejects Everton contract and becomes a free agent

Wednesday, 11 August, 2021 42comments  |  Jump to last

After failing to show up for pre-season training with the U23s at Finch Farm last month, Thierry Small appears to have rejected all approaches from Everton to persuade him to sign a professional contract at the club.

The young left-back burst into prominence with some fine displays for both U18 and U23 sides last season, culminating in a cameo sub appearance near the end of Everton's FA Cup tie with Sheffield Wednesday last season, when he became the youngest player in Everton history at the age of 16 years and 176 days, breaking Jose Baxter's 2008 record by 15 days.

But the promise of a quick path to the first team for the exciting left-back didn't seem to convince the youngster who apparently sees both Lucas Digne and Niels Nkounkou ahead of him in the pecking order for his preferred position.

With his 17th birthday on 1 August, he would have been able to sign a lucrative professional contract with the Blues but all hopes have faded with the latest indications online claiming he will become a free agent.

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When he does sign up with another club, they will become liable to pay compensation to Everton for their part in his development. Such sums are usually small in comparison to the value of such a promising player on the open market, contingent of course on his contractual commitments.

The loss of one of the best prospects to come through the Everton Academy in recent years represents a huge blow to the Academy ethos, and would appear to confirm serious concerns about Everton's ability to nurture and develop promising young players, and bring them on to become successful members of the first-team.


Reader Comments (42)

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Alex Gray
1 Posted 11/08/2021 at 12:06:55
The lad is clearly poorly advised but arguably we've just lost our best youngster.

I think the club needs some positive news on the playing front soon or I can see Goodison being toxic this year.

Brent Stephens
2 Posted 11/08/2021 at 12:13:31
A real pity. The lad is exciting as an attacking left-back.

But I doubt many blues will notice this or that it will add to any toxicity.

Paul Smith
3 Posted 11/08/2021 at 12:14:52
Yes this is bad news. I don't think things are as bad at Everton as sometimes depicted on here but did it have to play out like this? It seems a real waste of time and talent but who knows the whole story.

EFC are good at glossing over everything and keeping us in the dark. A real chasm between the fans and the suits. Unless it's the stadium, I think they've done well on that front.

Barry Hesketh
4 Posted 11/08/2021 at 12:22:01
Once again in relation to Small, what could the club have done to keep him at Everton, if he or his advisers believe that he'd be better off elsewhere?

Due to his family background, it looks likely that the lad will end up at Villa Park to add to the evidence that Villa is such a better club than Everton - well in some people's eyes they are.

Michael Kenrick
5 Posted 11/08/2021 at 12:23:10
Some good points there, Paul. I responded to that lovely survey from Denise Barrett-Baxendale the other week about their secrecy and lack of transparency, their inability to be honest with the fans when it comes to something like this.

It's illustrated rather poignantly with this from a wonderful puff-piece on Small that appeared on the official website back in January:

The England Under-15 international says his impressive progress has been underpinned by the first-class coaching and the supportive atmosphere at Everton Academy.

“I’ve loved every minute of it here,” he says. “Everton is one of the best academies in England.

“It’s great to play with the players I’ve grew up with since I was 11 and try to get better together every day.

“The coaching is top quality.

“The detail they provide is brilliant. We’re fortunate we’ve got technology – training and matches are filmed ­– so anything that needs improvement, the coaches will pick up on and create a little playlist or a few clips and point it out to me. It’s really helpful.

"Everyone is supportive at Everton and it’s like a family environment. It’s a great club to be a part of.”

A skilful, dynamic footballer who boasts impressive ball-striking ability and stamina, Small believes his attributes are ideally suited to the left-back position.

“I love both attacking and defending,” Small says.

“I like one-v-one battles with the opposition. I never like to let my opponent get the better of me.

“Because I’m quite fast, I think left-back is good for me because I can get up and down the pitch quite well.

“I think my pace and power are really good attributes because I’m able to get myself in good positions.

“Now it’s about developing the technical aspects, like my crossing. I need to keep working hard on that.”

Alun Jones
6 Posted 11/08/2021 at 12:32:27
Based on our poor track record of bringing youngsters through the ranks and into the first team, I don't really blame him for leaving. Otherwise, he will probably endure loan and after loan which never seems to work for either the player or the club.
Joe O'Brien
7 Posted 11/08/2021 at 12:32:55

I think it's he's been poorly advised... if he wants to go and play for Villa, the team he supports, fair enough. If it's anything other than that, he's been poorly advised.

I don't think this can be blamed on Everton. Remember Dan Gosling? Bet he's after regretting listening to his agent that time.

Michael Lynch
8 Posted 11/08/2021 at 12:44:37
I'm assuming he's been tapped up by a bigger club than Villa. Wherever he goes, he's going to remain low in the pecking order for left back (unless he drops down a division, in which case he could have stayed at Everton and gone out on loan), so one has to assume that he'd rather be third choice at, say, Man Utd than at Everton. More money, more kudos, maybe even a bit of reflected glory if they win a trophy.

Players like Small are particularly desirable post-Brexit, I assume, because clubs can't harvest the best youngsters from across Europe anymore.

Shame, but bearing in mind the club made him our youngest ever first team player, I'm not sure there's much more we could have done to show our love for him. Maybe not be so shit, but that's true of all our problems.

Dave Williams
9 Posted 11/08/2021 at 12:53:21
I don’t see that this reflects on the club other than that we have an excellent left back in Digne and an exciting young understudy in Nkounkou who is rated ahead of Small. If only Small played on the other flank!
From what Brent and Phil say he still has a lot to learn and we wouldn’t expect him to be happy as third choice.
He may develop, he may crash and burn. Hopefully we will get a million or so in compo.
Jay Wood

10 Posted 11/08/2021 at 13:19:32
When Jadon Sancho did similar to Man City at the same age, leaving to Borussia Dortmund, did that also 'reflect badly' on City?

Given Michael's attributed quotes to Small about the top quality football education he received at Everton's academy, it rather negates the less than favourable views expressed by some about what goes on at Finch Farm.

Everton wanted him to sign a professional contract and were not passive to his rejection, continuing to pursue him.

He has taken up his right to be become a free agent on the pretext he wants a clear path to first team football.

I consider, given his still young age, if he is sincere in that claim that Everton offers as good an opportunity to achieve that than any number of alternative suitors.

I fancy family ties and other voices whispering in his ear is the bigger influence on his decision than the 'he's rejected Everton 'cos we're shite at everything we do' line some may want to run with.

Henry Jones
11 Posted 11/08/2021 at 14:13:49
My son is a blue and an awesome talent. I doubt he'll make it but, if he did, I wouldn't push for him to join our club.

Yes, the facilities are fabulous but the coaches are not world class, and there's no progression. What (other than money and blind loyalty) will make youth players stay at the club?

It needs a clean-out top to bottom. We're awful at managing their progression. May as well give up and just buy ready-made players and risk signing them in their late teens.

More clubs are going to ditch their youth teams. It's expensive with little reward unless well managed.

Paul Hewitt
12 Posted 11/08/2021 at 14:23:08
He'll be playing non-league in 5 years.
Phill Thompson
13 Posted 11/08/2021 at 14:24:44
For me, he's a talented youngster who's been badly advised as a 16-year-old, now 17; shame he's going, shrug shoulders, move on.

I wouldn't agree he's our best youngster, certainly our best young left-back: outstanding energy levels to get up the pitch into goal scoring positions and finish well, but still a lot to learn defensively. His strength and speed are a big asset for him and mark him out at youth level but will it still be the case when he plays against men?

I briefly saw Chelsea's outgoing players on Sky Sports News, 3 of their top young defenders have left this summer: Fiko Tomori, Marc Guehi and Tino Livramento, all have achieved more than Small so far and I'd have taken any of them in a swap deal and paid Chelsea money.

Time to concentrate on the ones we've got rather than the one who's gone.

Joe McMahon
14 Posted 11/08/2021 at 14:35:48

Jeffers springs to mind also. It does however, for whatever reason, question why the Academy isn't producing enough players for years for the first team. We need talent from the Academy in abundance at the moment. The Academy will have running costs with all the coaches too, so it really needs to up the ante.

Sam Hoare
15 Posted 11/08/2021 at 14:49:32
I'm not a big fan of our academy in recent times but not sure this is on them. He was promoted to U23s and given training time with first team. Offered a good contract with only one senior left-back obviously ahead of him. Clear-ish pathway.

He just didn't fancy it. Or had his head turned. Shame, but he's a way to go before being a first-team player – even for a lower Premier League team.

Dave Abrahams
16 Posted 11/08/2021 at 15:05:47
I think Michael's piece about Small's opinion of how he was treated by the Blues suggests he couldn't have been better treated at any other club. I go along with Jay (10) that he has been got at and he's had better offers which are possibly closer to where his family live. I doubt if Everton could have done any more than they have done to keep him here.

As Phill (13) says, he has good potential, let's see where it takes him. My own opinion is that he's nowhere as good as he thinks he is, and that would have applied if he had stayed here.

Joe (7), Kenwright cocked that deal up and allowed Gosling to be a free agent and get a very good signing-on fee off Newcastle Utd.

Anthony Flack
17 Posted 11/08/2021 at 16:24:15
Maybe similar to Garbutt but saves us a lot of wasted money over many frustrating years.
Allen Rodgers
18 Posted 11/08/2021 at 16:27:22
Nkounkou didn't even get on when we made about 10 subs in the Man Utd friendly, and Small is even further down in the order... no wonder he wants to go.

Our academy comes up with a few decent players every season but they just hang around, never get in the first team, and leave for peanuts when they reach 22 or 23. The game today wants players who can instantly deliver at Premier League level. There isn't the time to give them a run of games to bed in.

Bill Watson
19 Posted 11/08/2021 at 16:45:41
Small is just a prospect, full stop. He shows lots of energy and physicality in bombing up and down the wing but, as a defender, still has lots to learn.

Many big youngsters struggle when their peers catch up to them and this may well be the case with Small. Like lots of 'next great things', he could well disappear without trace; most do.

I won't be losing any sleep over this one.

Jay Harris
20 Posted 11/08/2021 at 16:51:34
If they're good enough, they are old enough, but Small seems to have been tapped up and, at his young age, still has a lot to learn and not only about football.

He is nowhere near a regular Premier League place so I don't understand why he does not see the opportunity at Everton but, these days, money and impatience does a lot to their ego.

Joe O'Brien
21 Posted 11/08/2021 at 17:25:26
Dave@16 didn't Dan string us along for about 6 months saying yes don't worry I'm going to sign that contract.. you've got nothing to worry about... while the whole time.. having no intention of signing.
Yes.. maybe it was Kenwright being nieve.. but from what I remember the club were well screwed over by gosling and his agent at the time.
Agents.. though are needed.. they're the scurge of football. Money greedy snakes.
Justin Doone
22 Posted 11/08/2021 at 17:54:00
Bag's of potential traded in for bags of money.

As long as we get compensated appropriately, £2M ish, nothing else we can do.

Now, it will be interestingly to see where he goes and if the FA, UEFA investigate the whole thing.

We had a ban not long ago for signing young player's, this is surely in the same category of wrong doing by someone.

Dave Abrahams
23 Posted 11/08/2021 at 18:41:36
Joe (21),

Yes, agents are a curse and obviously Gosling's agent got his spoke in, but if Kenwright hadn't waited and got Gosling to sign by a certain date, then the deal would have been done.

But Kenwright was trying to save money by waiting and trusted Gosling to sign the contract. Gosling or his agent saw the chance to make money and took advantage. That cost Everton about £3M that Newcastle would have had to pay for him.

Paul Birmingham
24 Posted 11/08/2021 at 19:23:59
He’s a good player for his age, but not great.

If he wants out l et him go.

Raises questions about Everton coaching staff and player management, was he being mentored by Everton, Villa or some other team?

Andrew Keatley
25 Posted 11/08/2021 at 20:28:09
Phil (13) - Agree with you on the three academy graduates that Chelsea have lost, although Chelsea have recouped £50 million for them, and that is the big difference - especially for a trio that were unlikely to ever become first-choice first-team players for them.

Livramento impressed me hugely when we beat their Under 18s in the Youth Cup - far more than their captain Lewis Bate (who has now joined Leeds); I think Southampton have made an excellent signing who I expect will be a Premier League regular within two seasons.

Gary Smith
26 Posted 11/08/2021 at 20:53:33
the next Luke Garbutt or the next Leighton Baines, only time will tell.

Think his advisors are shortsighted. Digne is going to have time out and he had every chance of replacing Nkounkou.

Hope Niels makes it; if not, Godfrey can step in very well in a worst case.

I do think we are becoming known as a club that no longer lets youngsters breakthrough, and that's so dangerous for mid-term prospects. Hopefully Whitaker or Dobbin proves me wrong (as well as Branthwaite and Gordon please!)

Phillip Warrington
27 Posted 11/08/2021 at 21:48:59
Nkounkou will be the next to leave there is no progression at this club to the seniors, because it doesn't seem to matter who ever is in charge they would rather play a so called experienced player instead even if they are playing crap no wonder no young players want to stay at Everton this is what Everton have to sort out before its to late.
Danny O’Neill
28 Posted 11/08/2021 at 22:59:30
Michael, speaking like that as a 15-year-old, then he was way better educated than I ever was at that age as well as being a much better footballer.

There are clearly many factors in this. He, his family, or his advisors don't see his future at Everton.

The Evertonian could argue he is being impatient. At 17 and with the current first-choice left-back being 28, he would probably have gotten his chance soon if rated as some claim.

But then, with a bit of balance, if, as some have said above, his preference is his boyhood club, who could deny him that? But then he has to dislodge Matt Targett. A current on-form 25-year-old. So an equal risk.

Would we have Digne or Targett? I like both, but know my preference. And do they have a player like Nkounkou behind Targett? Maybe he fancies his chances better there or even elsewhere.

The other factor is back to the system. A kid taken out of his natural surroundings, separated from his friends and left home at 11 years old. No wonder he is homesick and been denied a natural upbringing. He could arguably just want to go home. I struggled at 16 and believe me I couldn't wait to get away at the time. But within months, and for years later when sent to shitty places, couldn't wait to get back.

We often ignore or choose to forget the human factor.

That aside, time will tell whether we have lost a future left-back or let go of another "could have been". Too early to tell, but I'm not going to slate the youngster regardless of whether it is his personal choice or those advising him. We all make choices in life. At the time we always think they are the right ones. Sometimes they are, often they are not. But you live and learn and have to make those decisions for yourself.

Thierry Small will look back at this as a career changing decision either way. Good luck, son.

Pete Gunby
29 Posted 12/08/2021 at 05:25:56
Danny O’Neill talking sense as usual.
No need to slate either the club or the kid.
Kieran Kinsella
30 Posted 12/08/2021 at 05:35:28
“Badly advised” bit premature for that assessment. We don’t know what his future holds. Maybe this will prove to be a brilliant decision : or a terrible one. Time will tell but it is what it is and I don’t see it as a reason to beat the academy up.
Steve Wissett
31 Posted 12/08/2021 at 08:49:41
Thierry Small’s prominence increased somewhat, when the BBC profiled him in their Football Wonderkids series some 12 months or so ago. You can source this on YouTube.
Up until this point, I have to admit I hadn’t even heard of him.

Ray Roche
32 Posted 12/08/2021 at 09:11:51
The lad is a Villa supporter; his family are 'advising' him, at his age, what would you do? Ignore your family? If you were an Everton fan, you'd want to come here, especially if your family were pushing for it.

It's his choice, the world won't spin off its axis because a 17-year-old goes home.

Michael Kenrick
33 Posted 12/08/2021 at 11:17:28
I really don't think it's a case of him simply choosing where he wants to be now, and why shouldn't he, it's his choice?

No, that's far too simplistic for me and ignores the expectations reasonably placed upon him by the club that has nurtured and developed him for the last 6 years.

When he graduated from the Academy in June 2020, he signed a 2-year scholarship agreement with the club that would cover the period up to and beyond when they could agree a professional contract he could sign, on or after his 17th birthday (just over a week ago).

I'd have a lot more respect for him if he had turned up for training, as he was obliged to do under that agreement, rather than just doing a runner. If he could not agree the terms of that professional contract, then he could have left, presumably with the (reluctant?) acceptance of the club, mutually terminating that agreement.

In truth, it makes little difference, I suppose, once the bond between player and club is broken, and it can't be fixed. From what we've been fed (#5 above; this story from April), he was ecstatic with life at Everton in January 2021, and became Everton's youngest ever first-team player later that month.

Okay, the rumblings of discontent went public in April, so maybe he expected a lot more chances would be given to him last season, only to realize it had just been a little teaser from Ancelotti, who clearly had no interest in bringing him on. So I've convinced myself here: this is one we can also put at the feet of the Italian turncoat!

Michael Kenrick
34 Posted 12/08/2021 at 11:35:41
Doing a little more research on what commitments he may have been under, I found this:

While registered at an Academy, you are not permitted to either directly or indirectly contact any other Premier League or EFL Clubs during your agreed registration period. Likewise, other Premier League or EFL Clubs (via members of staff, scouts or Intermediaries), must not make either a direct or indirect approach to you or any person connected with you. This includes contact by or with your parents, another family member, or anyone else connected to you.

At the end of each Season, the Academy system provides all Academy Players with an opportunity to consider their options, and a permitted time period to be contacted by, or to contact Clubs if you have chosen to leave your Academy, or if you have been released. However, any approach or contact with or by another Club outside of this time period could be deemed a breach of the Premier League's Rules.

Danny O’Neill
35 Posted 12/08/2021 at 12:07:24
I'd guess that's the formality of an agreement Michael, but in reality, rightly or wrongly what's there to stop contact and conversation, just like in any walk of life or business. People get approach and talk about jobs and roles all of the time while employed by other companies.

Couple of things with this.

I'm uncomfortable with children (they are) being tied into contracts or agreements. Call it "registered", but that's effectively what it seems they are when you seen those types terms and conditions quoted above.

Also, wasn't there a rule about youth players and distance from home some time ago? Has that now gone? I only say as a friend of mine when we were based in Wales had to negotiate that when his son was being courted by Villa. He got around it by having family in the area, so essentially using a postcode near their Leicestershire training ground. But they travelled a round trip of 500 miles to training only to be turned down after several months.

If that rule ever existed or doesn't anymore, I'd be keen on seeing it as it would see clubs invest more in the local grass roots as that would be their sole (within reason) recruiting ground. And I think in the north west, we have a rich recruiting ground. Imposed a recruitment distance radius and not being able to sign foreign players until 18. Then you are allowing young players to grown naturally in their natural environment and at home. Idealistic scenario, I know.

A lot to be debated there and more questions & opening of discussion from me rather than professed detailed knowledge.

Geoff Williams
36 Posted 12/08/2021 at 13:18:33
I don't blame the lad looking to see what is on offer elsewhere. Everton don't have a great record over recent years of bringing players through from the junior ranks but when players do breakthrough they are not automatically embraced by the fans.

Over the years, young players have suffered from constant criticism from large elements of the crowd, eg, Rodwell, Barkley, Davies, Kenny, Stones, Lukaku, Holgate, Calvert-Lewin and so on.

Christy Ring
37 Posted 12/08/2021 at 20:25:12
I think he's been very badly advised, and for a 17 year not to turn up for preseason, is a backward step and won't help his progression. I think some of the comments who have no confidence in the Everton academy are very harsh. He trained with the first team, came on in the FA Cup, played with the u23's, what more could the club do? The grass is never greener on the other side.
Rob Dolby
38 Posted 12/08/2021 at 22:40:33
It's just modern football.

Didn't we do the same with Gibson and I am sure a few more.

Let's face it taking an 11 year old from the Midlands to play junior football up here is morally questionable.

I am sure the city of Liverpool and its surrounding area of circa 500k people has many young left backs waiting to be developed.

Dave Abrahams
39 Posted 12/08/2021 at 22:43:28
I think we have recently signed a young forward from Sunderland in the same situation as Small leaving us, you win some you lose some.
John Raftery
40 Posted 12/08/2021 at 22:56:21
From what I saw of the TV coverage Small looked useful in the Youth Cup run and in his under 23 appearances. He didn’t show enough to suggest that he was yet ready for regular first team action in the Premier League, any more than Nkounkou did in his first team appearances. We have much more serious issues to address at present than that of a ‘want away’ teenager.

As regards Academies how many produce more than the occasional Premier League first team player? Not many. One of the reasons for that is the short term outlook adopted by managers, whose focus inevitably is on the here and now. Few managers survive more than 18 months in their role and see little point in risking their brief tenure by nurturing youth players who may or may not make it.

Also woe betide our present manager if he dares to play a young, unproven team at Huddersfield. Few fans will argue that doing so would provide development opportunities for new talent. For fans a cup run takes precedence over development, so desperate are we to have even a faint chance of winning a trophy.

Nicholas Ryan
41 Posted 19/08/2021 at 00:56:08
So many people saying young players don't come through at Everton; but can anyone name a Premier League club, where a majority, or even a sizeable minority, of the 1st team squad, came through their Academy?
Ian Jones
42 Posted 19/08/2021 at 01:10:40
Hi Nick, would Man Utd's class of 92 be applicable?

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