Everton sign four forwards in a week as youth record-breaker gets special farewell before transfer

Efforts to strengthen Everton’s forward line for years to come took a step forward this week with four new strikers joining the club across three age groups.

The headlines were dominated by the confirmation of Iliman Ndiaye’s arrival from Marseille, the 24-year-old forward providing Sean Dyche with an immediate attacking boost.

But work to strengthen the production line is also advanced at Finch Farm after months - and in some cases more than a year - of preparatory work secured young forwards with significant potential.

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Everton’s academy has been hit by the wider instability at the club in recent years. Financial issues, including desperate efforts to comply with Premier League spending rules, have left the club vulnerable to approaches for some of its upcoming talent. Last summer, promising Republic of Ireland Under-21s striker Tom Cannon was sold on transfer deadline day to Leicester City and England youth international Ishe Samuels-Smith was signed by Chelsea after twice making the Everton senior squad’s bench at the age of just 16. The departure of other youngsters has also hit the academy setup but, against that backdrop, staff have been busy attempting to strengthen the development sides for some time. The result of that work has been visible this week with a series of new signings and contract extensions confirmed.

Nowhere is that clearer than in the forwards department. Cieran Loney and Braiden Graham have both signed on full-time terms this week after longstanding efforts to bring them to Merseyside. Loney, who joined from Scottish side Partick Thistle, became the youngest player to represent the club’s senior side when he appeared in a cup game against Dundee United last season. Upon his departure from Firhill, academy director Craig Dargo said: “Throughout his seven years at the Partick Thistle Youth Academy Ceiran has been a superstar, not only through his abilities on the pitch but also thanks to his natural leadership qualities, his commitment to training and learning and the way he has always supported his team mates.”

Like Loney, Graham was a record-breaker at the club he joins from. Also 16, the striker made his senior debut for Northern Ireland club Linfield aged just 15. Everton’s pursuit of the teenager began more than a year ago - with the youngster present when Abdoulaye Doucoure’s goal secured the win over Bournemouth that clinched Premier League survival in May 2023. Linfield organised a special farewell for Graham with manager David Healy and the squad saying their goodbyes.

Loney and Graham will link up with the U18s, led by Leighton Baines. In the U21s, manager Paul Tait will also benefit from a forward signing after Everton snared Wales youth international Omari Benjamin this week. The striker developed through Arsenal’s academy and enjoyed a trial with Everton last season, scoring at Tottenham Hotspur. He will boost Tait’s forward line, which also includes the talented Francis Okoronkwo as well another recent signing, Kingsford Boakye, who joined in January.

Work to secure the future of several of the club’s hottest prospects has also taken place. England U20 defender Roman Dixon has signed a new deal along with U21s teammate Harrison Armstrong, while England U17s goalkeeper Douglass Lukjanciks and Wales internationals - midfielder Luis Gardner and striker George Morgan - have also signed new deals.