It’s often said that lightening doesn’t strike in the same place, twice. Everton fans will however be hoping that particular maxim will be up for revision shortly. If young starlet Ross Barkley continues his impressive progress and follows former Goodison Park favourite Wayne Rooney into the superstar bracket as an outstanding English talent and stalwart of the England team, a review may be in order. They will also be hoping however that Barkley hangs around on Merseyside longer than Rooney did.
On Saturday, Barkley returned to the Everton first team with the sort of performance against Aston Villa that suggested the 14 week layoff imposed by damaged knee ligaments has done little to curb the enthusiasm and bustling dynamism of the 20 year old. A 3-0 victory for a rejuvenated Everton team that previously had been yet to record a single home league victory emphasised his value to the club. It’s unsurprising therefore that Everton manager Roberto Martinez chose to wax lyrical about the young midfielder.
Comparing him to the current England skipper, the Spaniard declared that, “He is just like Rooney, he simply loves to play. Sometimes we have to drag him away from training because right at the end he still wants to play in the two-v-two with the young kids. He loves that but we have to make him stop because he doesn’t see the energy it takes out of his body. But that is how he approaches the game and that is his biggest strength. It doesn’t matter if he is playing in front of five people or 50,000, his approach is the same, and that is why he can become brilliant in high-pressure situations. The bigger the game, the more you are going to get from him. Ross is such a powerful footballer, but he has technical ability as well. He is the perfect player for this league, when he gets on the ball he can be very effective. I think he was born to play football.”
That natural exuberance is what also links Barkley with Rooney. Like kids playing in the street, it seems that the swagger and invention Barkley brings to his play is an expression of a joy and comfort at having the ball at his feet, delighting in the opportunity to express his talent with it. Martinez however is keen to inject a note of caution. With every possibility that both Roy Hodgson’s full squad and Gareth Southgate’s U21 side in the summer will want to utilise his talents, there’s an obvious danger of burnout. “Of course England are going to want him,” Martínez said. “But Ross still can’t play 90 minutes yet and we will have to see how long it takes for him to do that. He has been out for 14 weeks so we need to be careful.”
Indeed, Martinez had not planned to bring the player back for the Villa game, but an incident in training during midweek training, convinced him that the player was ready. “Eight days ago it was not an option that he would be starting this game but on Thursday he put the ball in the top corner and scored three goals in a little exercise we did. It was his way of letting everybody know he was ready to be on the pitch. Everybody knows about his outstanding technical ability but then you look at his exceptional physical ability and he has got both.”
It’s not only the manager at the club that values Barkley highly however. On Saturday he created the opportunity for Romelu Lukaku to lash in Everton’s second goal, even though Goalkeeper Brad Guzan should surely have done better than letting the ball squirm from his grasp and across the line. The big Belgian striker is quick not only to laud the contribution that Barkley brings to the team, but also his personality as well. “Ross is like a friend and a brother too me off the pitch and I am very happy that he is back on it because he brings something that the whole team needs. “He is the perfect partner for me to play with, he affected the game a lot. There are loads of other players who can help me, but Ross has that special something no one else has. He is the best player in our team and he will be somebody that the England team will rely on. At the moment they rely on Wayne Rooney, but I think it will be Ross in the future.”
If Everton manage to keep Barkley fit, their season could kick on from here. Certainly Martinez will be keen to ensure that the player believes his aspirations – at least in the short term – can be achieved by staying at Goodison Park. Losing him, as happened with Rooney would be a severe blow for the development of the club under the Spaniard’s tenure.
Rumours already abound that both Manchester City and Chelsea have expressed an interest in Barkley, and the sort of money they can offer would stretch Everton’s budget well beyond breaking point. Fortunately for the club, and perhaps the player’s development, there appear to have been no upfront moves on the player’s part to leave. The club, and the fans, will hope that remains the case.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for ‘theaspirer’ website).