"He's a lovely kid, a great player and he's Everton, he's one of the ones we'll all get behind."
Leighton Baines' praise of fellow Toffee Tom Davies may seem like the typical throwaway platitude so often said about a club's burgeoning young starlet, but there is one part of the left-back's statement that sticks in the memory.
'He's Everton.' Not often used as an adjective, but in the embryonic stages of his career with the club he loves the 18-year-old seems to possess the qualities that are admired and cherished by those in the stands at Goodison Park. His ability is matched by tenacity, aggression balanced with intelligence. He is a star pupil straight out of the School of Science, with the rest of his classmates all part of a golden generation.
Davies' name reverberated around the footballing world following his wondrous goal in Everton's 4-0 win over Manchester City on Sunday (15 January), but Blues die-hards have been aware of the gifted teenager for some time. He made his debut against Ronald Koeman's Southampton in April and was awarded 8/10 in the player ratings by the local press, despite only being brought on with seven minutes of normal time remaining.
He made his full debut one month later in his side's 3-0 victory over Norwich City and was named man of the match as he took control of proceedings on his home turf. David Unsworth, a former Everton youth graduate like Davies, was caretaker manager for the Toffees on that day – Roberto Martinez's moribund reign was ended three days prior – and he lavished praise on the player he had worked with as coach of the club's Under-21 side. Like Baines, the former full-back talked about the 'Everton' in the boy.
"He is a proper Everton central midfielder; you just look at him and know he's an Everton player,'"Unsworth told the club's official website. "He's all-action and doesn't just do one thing – he can go box-to-box, he can screen, he can tackle, he can pass the ball, he can get in the box and score goals – there's no end to where this lad can go."
Davies would've been forgiven for being nervous when making his full Premier League debut for the club he grew up supporting, but Gareth Barry, a player on the opposite end of the career spectrum, was taken aback by his carefree attitude before stepping out on the pitch.
"For someone of Tom's age, you could see how confident he was," Barry said. "I was sat next to him in the dressing room and, as we were all getting ready to go out, he was just having a read of the match programme! I could sense how relaxed he was."
Despite the plaudits, Davies had to wait nearly seven months for his next start for the senior team – he did appear as a substitute on a handful of occasions – but impressed once again as Everton swept aside Southampton 3-0 on 2 January. His penchant to get stuck in - a trait rarely seen in the youth of today - was evident, as was his sharp footballing brain; his first-time pass after latching onto a loose ball teed up Romelu Lukaku to rifle home the killer third goal.
The former England Under-17 captain was also named on the teamsheet for his side's FA Cup third-round loss to Leicester City but on Sunday he produced his second man of the match performance in just his third league start for Everton.
Davies hassled and harangued City's star-studded midfield and kept his effortless, laissez-faire approach to the game when they applied pressure. His interception of a lazy Gael Clichy pass and perfectly weighted through-ball proved pivotal to Everton taking the lead, while his crucial goal-line clearance on the stroke of half-time kept his side in front.
In the end, Davies simply ran rings around City. The powerful strides to charge at the heart of Pep Guardiola's side, the brilliant chop turn to evade Clichy and Yaya Toure, the desire to pick himself up after coming off second best in a tussle with former Everton golden boy John Stones, and the impudent finish to humiliate the ever-reliable Claudio Bravo. Many Evertonians are saying the goal was an 'I was there' moment, others are comparing him to club legend Alan Ball.
While comparisons to one third of The Holy Trinity are perhaps premature, Davies looks special. Along with his incisive passing, powerful running and superb reading of the game, the West Derby starlet showed a bit of needle – a characteristic of any top player – as well as the understanding of when to give a foul and when to take one against City. In a division as frenetic as the Premier League, he seems to have all the time in the world when in possession. It's like he has been part for the Everton engine room for 10 years – but he's only made 10 senior appearances.
Koeman, as you would expect, was full of praise for the midfield maestro on Sunday and challenged the rest of his Everton squad to follow his lead.
"He's been playing on a high level from the time when he came into the team," Koeman told the Liverpool Echo. "He has an impact for the team and okay you don't expect Tom will score every weekend but the level he showed, and real composure on the ball, that aggression, we need that.
"We need that from every player, if not, we can't win against City because there is a difference in individual and football qualities in ball possession."
What's more, Davies is not the only young star that's making an impression on the Goodison hierarchy. 1The 9-year-old Ademola Lookman capped off Everton's victory with a well-taken fourth in stoppage time, Mason Holgate helped keep Sergio Aguero et al at bay and it was his tackle that set Davies on his run for that goal, Dominic Calvert-Lewin was making his mark on the first-team squad before picking up an injury against Southampton, Callum Connolly was recently loaned to Wigan Athletic and scored twice on his debut at the weekend – he is a defender by trade – Matty Pennington, Jonjoe Kenny and Kieran Dowell made their senior Everton debuts last season, while Liam Walsh, Joe Williams and Anthony Evans are not far away from a first-team breakthrough themselves.
Out of all of the above Davies is certainly leading the way. He's an old-school midfielder, he's a rarity in the modern game and above all; he is 'Everton'.
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