Winning the Premier League 2 championship in front of our own supporters at Goodison Park on Monday was extremely special. It was a night which made me proud of our players and my staff and proud of Everton Football Club.
We secured the title by beating Brighton & Hove Albion but that match was the culmination of an awful lot of hard work since we reported back for pre-season on July 1.
This success also reflects the vision we have for developing players at Everton.
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I firmly believe – and the Club’s ethos supports this – that we will produce more players equipped for first-team football if they grow up in a winning side and learn and train in a high-performance environment.
We are very honest with the players and put great demands on them in training every day. Managing or coaching a group of young footballers comes with a responsibility to help every individual reach their potential.
The overarching objective is to develop players capable of thriving in senior football. Every player from our Under-23 group which won Premier League 2 in 2016-17 is earning a very good living from the game and Tom Davies and Jonjoe Kenny have 129 Everton appearances between them.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin joined our group in that season, too, and he is currently leading the line in the first-team.
Everton is committed to giving its own players a chance. I was 18 when I made my first-team debut at Tottenham Hotspur on a day when we had three homegrown players in a 12-man squad.
That faith in young footballers is woven into Everton’s fabric and last season we became only the second Premier League club to name an Academy graduate in 1,000 successive matchday squads.
I had the privilege of playing 350 matches for the Club and it was bred into me that if you represent Everton, you simply have to win. You’re not going to manage that in every single match you play, but it is imperative you always play with that ambition.
Our U23s respond to that expectation in exactly the manner you want from good professionals
We try to give every player as much information as we can to make them as good as they can be. The likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool, who are all in our league, invest a lot of money on U23 players, which further underlines the scale of our lads’ achievement.
Everton is consistently providing players for our national age-group teams. Five boys from our club were in the side which won the Under-20 World Cup two years ago and we could have as many as six with England at the European U21 Championship this summer.
While we are consistently mindful of trying to help our players go on to great careers, we want them to achieve something special as a team.
Winning trophies makes players walk a bit taller, they can puff out their chests and know they have experience of performing at crucial moments.
When we were winning 1-0 at half-time against Brighton I told the players our entire season would boil down to the next 45 minutes.
You learn a lot about people in those situations and they all deserve enormous credit for how composed and professional they were to see it over the line.
I was thrilled for them. They have generated a terrific team spirit and are all great friends. They are honest about their performances as well. They have been magnificent.
I am fortunate to have a great staff around me – my assistant John Ebbrell, coach Franny Jeffers and Alan Kelly, our goalkeeper coach. We have first-rate medical and sport science staff, too. The players receive excellent care and attention but we balance that by ensuring they’re not mollycoddled.
It is our job to ensure they’re prepared for the step from Under-23 football to the first team, either at Everton or elsewhere. We’re incredibly professional and treat them like men.
The memory of winning a trophy at Goodison Park will stay with them for life and they deserve to enjoy their success. We hope they have plenty more in the next 10 to 15 years.