Football: Harvey the happy harvester

Alex Hayes meets the old boy nursing the new boys of Goodison
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YOUR STARTER for ten. Which English club has the most potent youth team in the land? Manchester United? Arsenal? Liverpool? Actually, it is the blue half of Merseyside, Everton, who won the Youth Cup last year and have reached the last eight this season, after beating Watford 3-1 on Monday.

While their more illustrious colleagues are struggling in the Premiership, the "Baby Toffees" are dominating the nursery game, like the grown-ups last did in the Eighties. It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that the man leading the present mission - "to have a team that is full of Scouse kids" - was at the heart of the last.

Colin Harvey joined Everton as an apprentice in 1962 and made 384 League and cup appearances for them. After retiring in 1976, he took charge of the youth set-up - helping to nurture the talents of such youngsters as Steve McMahon, Paul Lodge and Kevin Ratcliffe - before Howard Kendall appointed him first-team coach. Together, they masterminded the Eighties golden era.

Eighteen months ago, the Everton board offered Harvey the opportunity to rejoin the club he had left in 1993, in order to run their new Youth Academy. "I had no hesitation in returning," said Harvey, now 55, at the Bellefield training ground. "The club had ambitious plans for the youth team, and I believed I could do the job."

Having made his first-team debut at the age of 18, in the European Cup against the great Internazionale side of the early Sixties, Harvey is ideally placed to appreciate the difficulties a young player faces. "As I went through every stage at the club, I suppose it does give me an insight into what's needed and how the kids are feeling," he admitted. "I guess it rubs off."

Harvey's influence will be evident at St James' Park today when Everton meet Newcastle in the FA Cup. Both Danny Cadamarteri and Francis Jeffers have recently broken through, while Michael Ball and Richard Dunne have already made an impact. Despite his obvious success, Harvey shies away from the limelight much as he did for three years when he managed the senior side after Kendall's departure in 1987. "Being Youth Cup champions is not the be-all and end-all. Our job is to get players to the first team," he insisted. "When a kid arrives here, he is basically raw material. Then we mould him into an Everton player: someone competitive who can play attractive football.

"That's the job, really. Doing well in youth competitions is a bonus. What you strive for is a bunch of lads who aren't just going to do well for a season, but will be consistent," continued Harvey, who is a keen supporter of manager Smith. "We get on smashing," he said. "The fact that he's putting my players in the team proves that."

Comparisons with the Manchester United youngsters are possibly premature, though Harvey seems flattered. "That's what you want. Ideally, you would like to have a team that is full of Scouse kids, who have been with the club since they were nine, and all want to stay with us until they finish their careers," he said passionately.

But while Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Gary Neville were integrated into a winning side, the fruits of "Harvey's Harvest" are being thrust into a fight against relegation. "It's always difficult to introduce young players to the first team. Ideally, you would like to play them in a stable situation and blood them gradually. But they wouldn't be in the side if Walter didn't think they were good enough."

Not that any of his players have looked out of place. "Lads like Ball and Cadamarteri may have had to make the step up a little bit earlier than most, but they have established themselves in the team now, and are there on merit," insisted Harvey. As for Jeffers, the 18-year-old who is sinking his teeth into that most difficult of tasks, scoring goals for Everton, little seems to faze him. After scoring the equaliser against Wimbledon last weekend, he remarked: "How can it bother me playing in front of 35,000 at Goodison when I've played in front of 70,000 Germans for England Schoolboys?" Oh, of course.

So, while Arsene Wenger is buying young players abroad, Harvey is more than happy grooming local talent. "To find good players you need to look as comprehensively as possible. I can understand why Arsenal go out to France and pay a small amount now rather than pounds 5m in the future, but I am delighted with the British lads. The important thing is for us to teach them good basic technique. If we can do that, the rest will follow."

For Harvey, the dream is simple. "It would be lovely if, in four years' time, the Everton team - made up entirely of local lads - were playing in the European Cup," he enthused. If the club can solve the boardroom struggles, and resist the urge to change managers again, his blue vision might yet become reality.