This season, Everton's academy side have enjoyed traveling from fixture to fixture with the prestigious tag of champions next to their name. Having beaten Fulham in England's youth team title show-piece, it is an honour they have now been carrying since last Spring.
Sadly, this season is unlikely to see their impressive feats of last year repeated. The Toffees currently linger in fifth place in the table, a little too far off the pace to challenge the leaders. Too many times defensive mishaps have let down an exciting attacking unit.
However, despite a lull in form this year, the set-up still boasts some of the most exciting young players poised to make the step up to first-team football.
Ross Barkley and Shane Duffy are the two most recent graduates to make the leap from academy level. Both are already on the cusp of continued first team selection, having appeared in the Premier League this season.
They have followed on from the likes of Jack Rodwell, Victor Anichebe, Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert and, of course, Wayne Rooney—but who is most likely to follow next on this impressive conveyor belt?
Here is a list of seven potential youth team gems, all of whom are yet to gain a first team appearance in the Premier League for Everton.
Luke Garbutt: Left-Back
Garbutt first appeared in the headlines in 2009, when Everton were looking to acquire his services from Leeds, who proved stubbornly determined to keep hold of their star product. Eventually Everton wrestled their man away, but not before the case was dragged to a tribunal.
Since the age of 14, Garbutt has regularly featured on the international stage, and was an integral part of the England Under-17 side that became European Champions in 2010. He has now progressed on up to the Under-19 side, where he started against the Czech Republic last Tuesday.
A defensively sound performer, Garbutt is also versatile enough to compete in midfield or central defence. At the start of this season he was becoming a regular in the reserves, before David Moyes farmed him out on loan, to League Two Cheltenham.
Here he has clearly developed his game and seen plenty of first team action, featuring in over 20 games and becoming an important member of the first-team squad.
Jake Bidwell: Left-Back
The second player in this crop of seven, Jake Bidwell, is another to ply his trade at left-back, and has also been loaned out this season to help hasten his ascension in the game.
In fact, much of Bidwell's recent progression has mirrored that of his colleague Garbutt. Last week he even came on at half-time to replace his club-mate on England Under-19 duty.
A slightly more attacking option to Garbutt, Bidwell captained the championship-winning team last year, putting in several top performances that helped his side land the much coveted title.
Unlike any other player on this list, he has actually made a senior appearance for the Toffees, when, as a 16-year-old, he started in the Europa League for Everton back in 2009. In doing so, he also become the youngest ever player to feature for the Toffees in Europe.
Hallam Hope: Striker
Last season, Hope enjoyed a hugely successful first full season at Under-18 level, finishing the campaign as Everton's top scorer. He then went on to lead the line for the England Under-17s during the summer, where he finished the tournament with two goals from four games—England's top scorer.
A versatile striker, Hope is capable of playing alone up front, off a target man, or even coming in off a flank. He has also recently progressed up to the England Under-18s, who he got on the score-sheet for in November.
It was perhaps his impressive, but lengthy, summer exploits that hampered his early season form this year, as he endured an uncharacteristic slow start.
However, this did not last long, and in recent weeks Hope has re-established himself as the premier youth team striker at Everton, scoring six goals in his last five outings whilst playing some of the best football of his young career.
John Lundstram: Central Midfield
Lundstram took over from Jake Bidwell as captain of the Everton Under-18s this year and has demonstrated his influential attributes well, with several mature on-field displays.
Another who spent the summer away with the England-Under 17s, he has now progressed up to the England Under-18s set-up.
Lundstram has the nous and passing range to dictate a game from midfield, whilst his tackling skills leave few opposing midfielders able to pass him.
Although he hasn't registered a goal for the Under-18s this term, he also possesses an impressive shot and has scored twice for Everton Reserves this season, including a smart finish against Norwich.
George Green: Attacking Midfield/Striker
True, the younger the prospect, the harder it is to gauge their eventual ability, however it is impossible to ignore the potential star quality Everton hold in George Green.
He is the only member of this list I have yet to see live, though, by all accounts, he seems to be something very special. Check out this back-heel goal scored within a few months of his move.
Green's arrival at Everton earlier this season captured the headlines, with many impressed by his willingness to ignore other more financially attractive packages. He joined the Toffees' Under-16s and has continued to turn heads since making the move, scoring several eye-catching finishes.
Called up to the England Under-16s for the first time a fortnight ago, he scored an audacious long-range stunner on his debut against Spain, stealing a last minute 1-0 win.
Given the hype surrounding his reputation, and the glowing accounts of his game passed on by anyone fortunate enough to witness him play, it seems almost certain Green will become a household name in the near future.
Tyias Browning: Right-Back
Right-sided Browning is the third fullback to make this list. Despite being a valued member of the academy squad, no other player has featured more for the Everton Reserves this season than the 11 times he has appeared.
It is here he has made his mark, fitting in seamlessly against far more experienced opposition.
Browning has also flirted with international recognition throughout his playing career, most recently appearing for England Under-17s last spring. With a solid finish to the season he should once again be vying for selection on that stage.
On the field he relies on his lightning pace at both ends of the field, and certainly seems to be one who enjoys marauding forward, contributing to attacks.
Anton Forrester: Striker
The only player on this list without international credentials as of yet, though that fact is hard to believe given the exceptional season he has delivered for Everton this year.
Best suited as a target man, Forrester was almost unplayable for academy sides at the start of the season, and he has consistently found the net throughout the campaign. He has now amassed 13 goals for the team, generally spearheading the attack.
Slowed in recent weeks by a foot injury, he will be keen to finish off the season in style, to cap off what has, so far, been a memorable year.
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