When it comes to talent production in England, few clubs boast a better conveyor belt than Everton. Plenty of players have come through the academy of the Merseyside outfit to forge a career in football, be it at Goodison Park or elsewhere.
Manchester United and England icon Wayne Rooney is the most obvious and successful example of recent years, but a host of other gifted performers have also emerged within the last decade. Manchester City forked out £15 million for Everton graduate Jack Rodwell back in 2012, while Ross Barkley has been likened to former England great Paul Gascoigne and drawn praise from Barcelona legend Xavi.
And, whisper it, but it looks like they might just have cultivated another midfield star in the form of Tom Davies.
Former Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard, who is now working as a coach with the Reds academy, could not conceal his admiration when he recently singled out the precocious Toffees talent, who has little more than 20 Premier League appearances under his belt, as a potential superstar.
“I think the one to be excited about at Everton is Tom Davies, who seems to have broken in and stayed in,” Gerrard said on BT Sport last week. “He’s a terrific footballer who’s scored a few exciting goals.
“What he has done is he has announced himself and basically said to a regular starter: ‘I am taking your place. I am staying in there’. And they are the ones that usually go on to become superstars.”
Receiving such pronounced backing from a legend of the game is not by any means an indicator of how things will ultimately turn out as many players can attest, but Gerrard’s opinion cannot be easily dismissed either, especially considering that his remit at Anfield now revolves around the identification and development of young talent.
Indeed, it’s not difficult to see why Gerrard holds his fellow Liverpudlian in such high regard; he probably sees much of himself in the starlet. A former captain of England at Under-17 level, Davies made his debut for Everton from the substitute’s bench in a Premier League encounter with Southampton this time last year, aged just 17.
Even back then though, the sight of the unusual looking kid with long blonde hair and socks hung defiantly low on his shins entering the fray was enough to stoke the intrigue of Toffees fans. Since then, his progress has been steady and after breaking through under Roberto Martinez, the wiry teen is beginning to establish himself under the watchful eye of Ronald Koeman.
A series of fearless and energetic displays in the central midfield battleground have shown Koeman that he has a real prospect on his hands and the youngster has managed to keep seasoned professionals such as Gareth Barry and James McCarthy out of the Everton team.
But, it must be said, his strengths are not confined to the typical attributes that are associated with British players, as his first ever goal for the club – a deft chipped effort in an emphatic win against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City – demonstrated in abundance.
Davies’ style of play is not particularly flashy, but he navigates the pitch with a coolness and swagger that belies his tender age. Nevertheless, despite already playing with ease against world-class opponents in England’s top-flight, Koeman is determined to coax greater things from the prospect.
“I did not need to tell [Tom] what he had done right,” Koeman observed following the midfielder’s strike against City in January. “The whole world had told him that.”
The Dutch coach’s belief in Davies is tempered by the wisdom that his ascent must be handled with care, but that has not prevented the midfielder’s team-mates from singing his praises. Ahead of the upcoming clash against West Ham, Morgan Schneiderlin hailed the 18-year-old as a “very special” talent, echoing the sentiments earlier expressed by Gerrard.
Davies’ rapid rise was rewarded earlier this month when he was presented with a fresh five-year contract and after penning the new deal, he was explicitly conscious of those auspicious individuals who had tread the path before him, noting Everton’s “long tradition” of promoting young players to the first-team.
“I used to look at Mikel Arteta and aspire to be out there playing alongside my heroes and, obviously, Wayne Rooney and Ross Barkley who came through the Academy here, too, have been inspirational figures for me.”
Of course, as is the way, only time will tell whether Davies has what it takes to realise his undoubted potential, but he has certainly hit the ground running at Everton and his simple, yet assured, approach has resonated with both fans and pundits alike.
However, one thing is for sure: an air of excitement and expectation is beginning to swirl around Goodison and not without good reason.