Everton are blessed with an array of first-team ready centre-halves in Mason Holgate, Yerry Mina, Michael Keane and now Ben Godfrey, but continue to unearth future gems in the youth ranks with the latest in line 17-year-old Reece Welch.
The Huddersfield-born teenager is coming under increasing levels of praise as he continues to progress at Finch Farm, having already been capped by England at Under 16s and U17s levels while being awarded his first senior contract last month just days after his birthday.
Now, Welch has found himself named by The Guardian as Everton’s best emerging talent in their Next Generation 2020 list, having been impressed by how the imposing 6 ft 4 youngster has displayed himself as a composed and skilful central defender backed by the Blues’ coaching staff through his desire to learn and improve.
Welch is currently a part of Paul Taite’s U18s side and has played the full 90 minutes in all four fixtures competed thus far this season, helping them to an unbeaten start featuring three wins and one clean sheet.
But Everton must be cautious not to fail another one of their rising defensive stars after witnessing Lewis Gibson find the route into the first-team a monstrous effort despite the support he garnered from key figures at the club over the years.
Much was expected of Gibson when the central defender departed Newcastle United to forge a career for himself with Everton, but the Durham-born talent has found breaking into the senior fold a challenging affair and will now be using his year on loan with Reading to prove his worth to the Goodison Park natives.
Praise has often been forthcoming for Gibson thanks to his efforts in the Toffees youth set-up since his costly capture in 2017 that could rise to £6million, with the once in-demand defender hailed by David Unsworth for being outstanding.
“Lewis Gibson has been outstanding,” Unsworth told the Liverpool Echo in the summer of 2018. “He’s got better and better and better and he’s a natural born leader and he’s been captain for the last couple of games.”
His progress continued as such and found himself a part of Marco Silva’s pre-season plans a year ago, training alongside the likes of Leighton Baines and Andre Gomes as a reward for helping the Blues clinch a Premier League 2 and Premier League Cup double.
But Silva ultimately let Gibson down as no competitive minutes were ever on offer, and Carlo Ancelotti later sanctioned a half-season loan spell with Fleetwood Town once the 20-year-old penned a new contract running until 2022.
It was arguably one of Silva’s greatest mistake by not handing Gibson the chance to prove his worth first-hand and Ancelotti must be aware that the more Welch improves, the more he will be deserving of a senior debut as the teenager could one day be everything and more at the heart of the Toffees’ backline if he lives up to the current hype.