Marcel Brands can save Everton millions by nurturing the development of Thierry Small amid glowing praise for the rumoured Bayern Munich and Juventus target.
Small’s career is just beginning in royal blue, but the route to the top is already on offer after youth boss David Unsworth told the Liverpool Echo that a Premier League future is entirely within the 16-year-old’s reach.
Unsworth has seen Small take leaps and bounds in his development this season, with the teen prodigy now training with the first-team after Carlo Ancelotti lost Lucas Digne for up to three months following surgery on an ankle injury.
It was a decision Ancelotti took despite Small only making his first Under 23s start at the end of November as Everton drew 1-1 at Blackburn Rovers, in the same week Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Juventus are said to have shown an interest in the defender’s services.
Unsworth, though, is confident Small is in the right place and will be sticking around at Finch Farm for many more years to come, after netting his first U23s goal in Monday’s 2-1 win over West Ham United.
“The one thing that we can give Thierry is a clear pathway,” Unsworth said. “He only has to look at Niels Nkounkou. He spent a week with the U23s [after joining in the summer] and then he was in the first-team squad.
“There’s always a clear pathway at Everton for all the youngsters so he’s in no better place to have a career as a Premier League footballer.
“Thierry is a fantastic boy. He’s been in the academy system a while and is an attacking left-back with great pace and power. The pace, the power, how he gets forward – he’s a smashing lad.
“I love working with him, he’s a great boy. He’s very coachable, very approachable, honest and has all the attributes of what I like to see in young Everton players. He has great desire too. I’m delighted with him.”
Everton are blessed with promising young left-backs at present in Small and Nkounkou, but it may well be the former rather than the latter who has rightful possession to the claim of being Digne’s heir at Goodison Park.
Small, who former England defender Danny Mills lauds as a “powerful, athletic left-back”, is in the right place at the right time to leave a positive impression on Ancelotti, and will be using his chance to train with the first-team to learn as much as possible while excelling in the U23s.
Having the wise head of Leighton Baines to learn from will afford Small the perfect opportunity to learn everything there is to being a top-class Premier League full-back, and prove to Ancelotti that he can be called on should the need arise.
Ancelotti has been reluctant to offer Nkounkou the chance to prove himself in the first-team since joining from Olympique de Marseille, having played just 69 minutes in the top-flight despite the Everton coach stating he would feature at Burnley.
Yet Nkounkou did not even make the 18-man squad at Turf Moor in the end, where Fabian Delph opened the action before being replaced by Ben Godfrey who remained in the role for Saturday’s 1-0 win over Chelsea.
Godfrey would now appear to be Ancelotti’s favoured candidate on the left of the defence while without Digne, having fared excellently against Frank Lampard’s Blues as Everton continued to come to terms with losing their £27million-rated French star.