With Everton’s summer recruitment strewn with big-money signings from Barcelona, Manchester City, Juventus and Arsenal, Toffees fans could be forgiven for failing to spot the January acquisition of Jarrad Branthwaite from Carlisle United.
In a move worth around £750,000 (with further performance-related clauses included in the deal) Branthwaite arrived on Merseyside with just nine League Two appearances under his belt.
Despite the briefness of the youngster’s spell in Carlisle's first team, he departed Brunton Park having already written himself into the club’s record books, becoming their youngest ever goalscorer and their youngest ever captain at the age of just 17 years and 138 days in November when he took the armband from Nathaniel Knight-Percival.
Following a handful of appearances on the Everton bench as an unused substitute, the 18-year-old’s big moment came in the trip to Wolves.
With his side trailing 1-0 at the break, Carlo Ancelotti handed Branthwaite his Premier League debut, coming on for the experienced Leighton Baines as the Toffees switched to a back four.
As debuts go it was a bit of a horror show. Clearly pumping with adrenaline and eager to impress, the former Carlisle man conceded a free kick early on before losing Leander Dendoncker from the resulting set piece, the Belgian nodding home to double his side’s lead.
It was a baptism of fire. The kind of match that can make or break a youngster.
Just four days later and Branthwaite was handed his home debut against Aston Villa following an early injury to Mason Holgate. Ancelotti, clearly undeterred by the 18-year-old’s somewhat inauspicious first appearance for the club, avoided the temptation of changing system and threw him straight back into Premier League action. He didn't disappoint.
Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti has backed Jarrad Branthwaite to become a “fantastic player” after the teenage defender made an assured home debut https://t.co/P5qyJv5oTh— Everton FC News (@LivEchoEFC) July 17, 2020
In a team full of multi-million pound signings, Branthwaite was head and shoulders above every other Everton player on the pitch – and not just because he's a pretty sizeable unit.
His reading of the game was superb, knowing when to step in front of his man and when to step back, even giving away ‘tactical fouls’ as Villa began to look menacing on the break - a facet of a defender’s game which often isn’t seen until later years.
Not only did the youngster display his superb ability to time challenges and sniff out danger, his footballing ability with both feet was evident throughout.
In a team with no recognised holding midfielder, Ancelotti appears to be trying to enforce a more footballing philosophy at Goodison Park, with Andre Gomes and Tom Davies seemingly his central-midfield partnership of choice.
Branthwaite’s ability with the ball at his feet was arguably more impressive than either central midfielder, displaying balance and class with both feet, and more importantly willing to look forward rather than making monotonous sideways passes.
Another thing which instantly stands out about the defender is his build and stature. Not befitting of someone who only recently turned 18, his power and strength saw him rarely flustered, with Villa striker Mbwana Samatta barely afforded the chance to even get a foothold in the game thanks to the presence of Branthwaite.
The talented youngster will undoubtedly have sterner tests ahead of him as his Premier League career goes on. However, more than just a good performance, his display against Villa took true character. After his horror show at Molineux, he could have shrunk and attempted to hide behind his centre-back partner Michael Keane - instead he did the opposite.
A classy performance full of grit and determination. Everton’s transfer team have dropped their fair share of clangers over recent transfer windows, though in Jarrad Branthwaite they appear to have found themselves a gem.
Source : 90min