Ronald Koeman has accused English coaches of being afraid to blood young players and claimed a lack of talent was the only reason he stuck with so few at Southampton.
The Everton manager has drawn heavily on the club’s academy products and young signings during his first season at Goodison Park, with Tom Davies, Mason Holgate, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ademola Lookman plus – more recently – Matthew Pennington, Jonjoe Kenny and Joe Williams all regular members of the first team squad.
Koeman’s faith in Everton’s young talent stands in stark contrast to his reputation at Southampton where, despite their own impressive record of youth development, academy products made only fleeting appearances during his two seasons in charge. The Dutchman’s explanation is both simple and brutal – they were not up to Premier League standard.
“In Southampton they can look at how many players made their debuts in the first team of Southampton when I was the manager – seven, eight, nine?” he said. “But why they don’t play for the first team more regularly? Because they weren’t good enough. Now this season they played in Europe when the manager was using a lot of players to have rotation. Now they don’t play in Europe they don’t play every weekend. Tell me which young player is now in the first team? Nobody. That is criticism but, OK, no problem.
“I know myself that I am a manager who really gives young players a chance when they deserve it. I am not doubting whether to give a young player a chance instead of an older player. But that was the same in Holland, Spain and Southampton and now also in Everton. I don’t need credit for that from Southampton fans now I am at Everton.”
Koeman raised a mass of eyebrows after Everton’s 3-1 defeat by Liverpool in the derby by insisting he was proud of the team’s performance. But that was based on how a young team – featuring Holgate, Pennington, Davies and Calvert-Lewin in the starting lineup – adapted amid several injury problems. The former Ajax and Feyenoord coach is unconvinced an English manager would offer the same opportunities.
He said: “I see differences in how I like to work with young players and how I like to give young players a chance maybe more than English managers. I know English football people say you have to look out for young players, that maybe they can play 15 or 20 games but not more. They are afraid. I am not afraid to put young players in. I am not afraid but maybe they are.
“It is all about the talents of the young players. If they have the talent you have to give an opportunity. If they don’t have the talent then, OK, you have to look elsewhere. If I have a second centre-back and he is 20 and I think he can do the job, then I don’t sign a centre-back as a third option. My young boy is my second option. That’s the way I like to work.”
The 18-year-old Davies has been the main beneficiary of Koeman’s faith in young talent this season and has been a regular fixture in the side’s midfield since the 3-0 win over Southampton on 2 January. “I did not expect him to play all the games when I first put him in the team because normally young players dip after performing,” the Everton manager added.
“It is really impressive how he is doing from the first game until now. Of course he needs to learn but he is really confident in the team and the team is really confident in him. He is showing great football and improving as a player in the midfield.
“He is a really down-to-earth boy and is working hard and getting a lot of advice from the rest of the players. The older players and technical staff advise him to work hard, to play simple, do your job and that’s really giving confidence to the player. He can make mistakes – no problem – but that’s the confidence young players need.”