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Rafael Benítez has held talks with several of Everton’s brightest academy prospects to convince them to commit their long-term futures to the Goodison Park club.
Everton lost the promising left-back Thierry Small to Southampton in the summer after the 17-year-old, who became the youngest first-team player in the club’s history in January, rejected their offer of a professional contract. The club are in a similar predicament with the highly rated forward Lewis Dobbin, who is out of contract next July and free to sign a pre-contract agreement with a continental European club from 1 January.
Benítez, however, has made a personal intervention to reassure Everton’s young talents that a pathway to the first team remains open after Marcel Brands’ departure as director of football. The academy fell under Brands’ remit and, while the club conduct a review of their internal structure, the Everton manager has sought to persuade academy players to extend their Goodison careers.
The Everton manager said: “When the situation of the club changed a little bit in terms of the structure, the first thing that we did was to have two or three meetings with young players, their agents and their families to try and make sure they could stay with us for a long time. I did it personally with some of them.”
The defender Jarrad Branthwaite and the forward Ellis Simms have signed new contracts at Everton recently, until 2025 and 2024 respectively, but negotiations on a new deal for Dobbin have reached an impasse. The 18-year-old has represented England at under-16, 17 and 19 level and has attracted interest from other Premier League clubs, whom he could join for a development fee next summer, and clubs in Germany. But Benítez is hopeful of reaching an agreement.
“I don’t like to talk too much about that but I think the player is quite happy and our conversations with him have been quite positive,” the Everton manager said. “I have confidence that he will be delighted to stay with us in the future.”
Benítez has given Dobbin three substitute appearances in the Premier League this season, including in the recent draw at Chelsea, when five Everton players are believed to have contracted Covid-19, and he would have been involved in the Boxing Day game at Burnley had the match not been postponed.
The Premier League initially rejected Everton’s request for a postponement due to their Covid cases and six injuries but “regrettably approved” the request on Friday.