For a man who ran Liverpool’s academy, Neil Critchley seems intent on signing products of Everton’s youth set-up. On Saturday, the club confirmed the signing of Josh Bowler, a winger for the Toffee’s U-23 team who has previous experience on loan at Hull City. He follows Ellis Simms and joins Shane Lavery as the latest Blackpool forward who got their first big breaks on Merseyside.
The 22-year-old right winder has joined on a free transfer and a one-year contract, with the option of a further 12 months. Bowler becomes the fourth signing of this transfer window after Blackpool made a hat-trick of signings on 8th June (Reece James, Daniel Grimshaw and Shane Lavery).
Despite spending four years on Merseyside, Bowler didn’t make a senior appearance for Everton. However, he amassed 46 appearances for their Youth Sides and won the U-21 Premier league trophy in 2019. He followed this in 2019-20 with 31 appearances and one goal, on loan, in Hull City’s 19-20 Championship campaign, alongside Kevin Stewart.
In his interview with the club, he explained:“Wherever I get the ball, I want to run with it and try to create something.”
His stats confirm that he is a fantastic runner and dribbler. Based on his one season in the Championship, Bowler is in the Top 10% of wingers in his ability to run with the ball and draw fouls, often taking many touches to do so.
However, his ability to “create” is still under-question, with languishing “expected assists.” According to Wyscout, he had no assists for either Hull City or Everton’s U-23s.
As the first goal in the clip below shows, Bowler loves nothing more than to cut-inside from the right and shoot with his favoured left foot. The clip also highlights his finishing ability, with two of the four goals coming from incredible left-footed volleys. He is slightly above-average at getting into these good goal-scoring positions but also tends to waste possession by taking long-range chances.
Neil Critchley knows that Bowler is not the finished article but believes that he can coach the creativity and discipline needed for Bowler to become an elite Championship winger. On the club website, he says, “[Bowler] joints us at a good age and with room to develop and improve his game further. He’s had previous Championship experience, and we believe he can come here and fulfil his potential.”
This assumes that Critchley will get time to work with the young forward. The other main concern with Bowler is his injury history. A pulled hip-flexor in October allegedly scuppered a move in Christmas 2020. He also spent eight weeks on the sideline while at Hull City; missing 12 crucial games for the Tiger’s in the tail-end of the season. Hopefully none of these are long-standing issues and this may be a factor in the fact he only has an initial 12-month deal.
In our recent podcast with Matt Scrafton, Matt explained that Neil Critchley often watches Everton’s u23 side at Southport on a Friday evening. It’s therefore likely that Critch has seen Bowler at close quarters frequently and has spotted the raw talent that can make him an asset for our squad. With recent Championship experience, he’s also got the know-how of what type of players he will come up against every week.
Bowler brings an elite ability to run at players, draw fouls and cut-in from his left foot. While he lacks creativity in terms of goals and assists, his young age means that hopefully he can grow under Neil Critchley’s tutelage. The structure of the contract also makes this a win-win deal for the Seasiders. The one-year contract limits the damage if Bowler does not work out, but the option to extend for one year gives us more time to sign him to a more permanent deal as he becomes a key man for Blackpool. A relatively risk-free signing in a position of need.
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