Everton supporters have little to thank Rafa Benitez for following the Spaniard’s disastrous, brief stint in charge last season, with one of the former Liverpool man’s notable crimes having been his role in the exit of defender, Lucas Digne.
The Frenchman had emerged as a key figure at the club following his £20m arrival from Barcelona back in 2018, offering a real creative threat from his left-back berth, providing 20 assists and six goals in his 127 games for the Toffees in all competitions.
The “assist machine” – as dubbed by journalist Greg O’Keefe – had been one of the standout players at Goodison Park in recent years, although a falling out with Benitez midway through the 2021/22 campaign ultimately spelt the end for his time on Merseyside, as he joined Aston Villa on a £25m deal in January.
Much of the frustration regarding that sale came as a result of the club backing their manager in the decision to let the £119k-per-week man leave, only to then move to replace the former Newcastle United boss just days later, with it still a somewhat head-scratching decision.
The arrival of Vitaliy Mykolenko in that same window has helped to fill the void in that left-sided berth – with the Ukrainian only recently praised by new boss Frank Lampard – although there is seemingly another in the club’s ranks who could emerge as Digne’s successor moving forward.
That potential heir is 16-year-old, Ishe Samuels-Smith, with the teenager having only recently been pictured training with the first team despite his tender age, with that a marker of just how highly-regarded he is at Finch Farm.
Not just lauded by the club, the emerging full-back has also been recognised for his talents more widely having been included in the Guardian’s Next Gen list, showcasing the top young talent at each of the 20 Premier League clubs.
Journalist Andy Hunter provided a glowing reference with regards to the youngster’s talent, while also highlighting the role that both Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines could well play in his development, with the two men both currently employed by the club: ‘An athletic, left-footed defender who is equally composed at full-back or centre-back, the Manchester-born Samuels-Smith has been with Everton’s academy since Under-nines level. His twin brother, Odin, is also in the academy.
‘The 16-year-old has impressive technical qualities and is very composed offensively and defensively. He is comfortable stepping into space with the ball and has an excellent passing range.
‘Everton’s coaches consider him an exciting prospect who could mature into a dominant and robust defender. Has already been called up for training with the first team where coach Ashley Cole, and professional development coach Leighton Baines, offer the perfect education for a player in his position.’
The Manchester-born starlet – who can also feature at centre-back – may well have to fight for a first-team role with Lampard and co having only recently brought in Ruben Vinagre on loan, although the indication is that he could well be in line for a bright future.
The Toffees may well have a battle on their hands to keep the England U17 international at the club, however, with reports over the summer having linked him with a move to Chelsea, with that another sign of just what a talent he is.