‘Little bit nervous’ - grass not proving greener for Thierry Small ahead of Everton reunion with Southampton

Thierry Small decided to leave Everton for Southampton last summer to kickstart his senior career but has not yet done so.

He lays claim to a feat that will take some surpassing at Goodison Park.

When Thierry Small made his Everton debut as a substitute in a 3-0 FA Cup win over Sheffield Wednesday in January 2021, he wrote his name into the Goodison history books.

Record-holder

Brought on for the final five minutes of the tie, Small became the Toffees' youngster player in club history aged 16 years and 176 days.

He toppled Jose Baxter's achievement that had stood for more than 12 years.

Yet when Everton travel to Southampton on Saturday, their record-holder will be among the hosts' ranks.

Advertisement

Despite being highly regarded on Merseyside, with the Blues keen to have tied him down in the summer, Small opted to walk away.

A maiden professional deal was tabled for the starlet. Instead, the left-back ripped up his two-year scholarship to join Saints.

Everton are now due a training compensation fee that'll be settled via a tribunal.

Thierry Small comes on for his Everton debut - which made him the youngester player in the club’s history. Picture: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Why did Thierry Small leave Everton?

With Lucas Digne firmly first-choice left-back at Goodison at the time, Small seemingly felt Southampton would provide him with a better chance to kickstart his senior career.

Advertisement

Indeed, The Athletic reported in August that the teenager did not return to Everton training during pre-season and looked elsewhere 'without the guarantee of consistent game time' on Merseyside.

However, he grass has not proved greener so far.

Small's situation remains similar on the south coast as it was on Merseyside.

He's in virtually the same place as he would be at Everton.

A knee injury hampered his opening months at St Mary's.

But after returning to full fitness, Small's yet to break into Ralph Hasenhuttl's plans.

Advertisement

The former West Brom youngster has mainly been confined to under-23s football, scoring twice in eight Premier League 2 outings this season. There was also a goal for the under-21s in a 4-0 defeat of Crawley in the Papa John’s Trophy.

Forgettable debut

When Small was finally handed his Southampton bow in their 2-1 FA Cup fourth-round victory over Championship Coventry earlier this month, it didn't go smoothly.

He was hooked at half-time, with Hasenhuttl conceding the youngster looked nervous during his full senior bow.

Thierry Small scores against Crawley for Southampton under-21s. Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The Saints boss told the Southern Daily Echo: “I mean it tested him, definitely!

Advertisement

“I think he was a little bit nervous, he’s very young and it was a big crowd.

“It was maybe not the perfect game (for him) to start, but I wanted to see how brave he is, how much he makes – I think he had a few good actions up front, but in the defence you could see was not so (good), a little bit shy in some moments.

“This is not possible on the FA Cup, you have to be immediately there and he wasn’t.

“But okay, I think this is the behaviour what he should do, there are still a lot of things to improve, but he will.”

It remains to be seen whether Small will be involved against Everton.

He's made the bench three times in the Premier League this season but Romain Perraud and Kyle Walker-Peters have been the preferred Hasenhuttl's preferred options.

Advertisement

Had Small remained at Everton, he could well have been second-choice left-back.

Niels Nkounkou was loaned to Standard Liege on summer transfer deadline day. Meanwhile, Digne was sold to Aston Villa and replaced by Vitaliy Mykolenko from Dynamo Kiev.

What's more, Frank Lampard's now in the Goodison hot seat and has a renowned reputation for developing fledgling talent and giving them opportunities.

And with Ashley Cole as part of Lampard's coaching staff, Small would have been learning from one of the finest left-backs to have ever graced the Premier League.