20 Midfielder Everton England
2014 has been...
Big, strong, quick and gifted on the ball, Ross Barkley has all the necessary credentials to play as an attacking midfielder. He can shrug off defenders, pass the ball through the tightest of holes or make up ground to be part of a vibrant counter attack; all of the essentials are there and he started to show them last season for Everton.
Following the footsteps of Wayne Rooney as a highly-rated youngster in the Everton set-up, it’s to Barkley’s fortune that he didn’t announce himself on the Premier League in the same manner as the new England captain. Not that he wasn’t capable of doing so; Barkley can strike a ball cleanly with either foot. He has instead been allowed to develop and work on his game without the persistent attention that has followed since Rooney’s thrilling strike or even the expectation that followed James Milner after he became the youngest scorer in Premier League history just a few weeks later.
Barkley’s early steps into the Everton first team didn’t go to plan. Having been used in the early stages of the 2010/11 season by David Moyes, Ross broke his leg in three places when away with the England under-19 squad in October 2010. He didn’t return to training until the following pre-season where he spent the year getting back to full fitness and playing infrequently for the first team. He continued to work on his game with Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini around him on the training ground before spending parts of 2012/13 with Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship.
Despite David Moyes being an obvious fan of Barkley, it was under Roberto Martinez last season that Barkley established himself as a player ready for the top flight of English football. Utilised in a midfield three that set a platform for Barkley to be at his attacking best, he tormented a number of the defences in the league and helped himself to a few goals along the way.
However, he isn’t all about going forward. Barkley has shown on enough occasions that when called upon he can do the hard-work in midfield to help his side out. Martinez’s preference to press from the front was led by Romelu Lukaku and Barkley last season, and the two youngsters put in a shift.
Barkley was rightfully included in England squads towards the end of last season and was part of the 23-man squad that were eliminated from the group stages. He was used as a sub in the opening two defeats to Italy and Uruguay. There were flashes of his ability but struggled to make as much of an impact with players he didn’t completely know.
Since the summer its clear there is a spot for him in the England line-up. Jack Wilshere and James Milner need a partner in the centre of the pitch and Barkley has the tools to be the link man between midfield and attack. His apparent ability to fill such a role has led to comparisons with both Paul Gascoigne and Michael Ballack.
“There is no doubt in my mind he will be the best player England has ever had.”
Admittedly Roberto Martinez was speaking in front of a select group of Everton supporters rather than the assembled media of world football when he made the incredible declaration just four days ago, but it is still quite the remark to utter out loud. He will of course been trying to play up to the fans of the club he manages and as much as Roberto has an affinity with the English game, he won’t have a complete knowledge of the game over here.
That said, he obviously sees something in Barkley that he is willing to put his stock behind. He wouldn’t make such a strong statement of intent and then plan to keep Barkley on the bench for much of the season or try to dip him in and out of the side.
After playing 34 times in the Premier League last season and scoring six goals, 2014/15 should be a season for Barkley to kick on. So far this term has been disrupted by injury and it’s only in recent weeks that he has been available for Everton and England, and as such he is yet to strike for the Toffees. It will come.
Barkley’s natural tendency is go forward, with the ball at his feet ideally and Martinez will surely try to harness that. He enjoys committing the defenders of the opposition into a decision. His clear determined manner saw him drive through the Newcastle defence last season to score a lovely goal and he’ll be ready to do it again when given the chance this season.
One of Barkley’s flaws might just be his ability to play in a string of position. Much like Wayne Rooney, Barkley is capable of slotting into any of the attacking roles in a side (even if he won’t influence a game so much from out wide, he’ll still do a job). If he and Roberto Martinez can get their heads together to work specifically on his best position, Barkley will ultimately become a better player for it.
At 28, Wayne Rooney is still followed by discussion about how far up the pitch he should be playing. If Barkley can knuckle down and form a cohesive attacking unit with Romelu Lukaku, Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas at Goodison Park, it’ll be to the benefit of the Toffees as well as England.
Where Jack Wilshere is still finding his rhythm after a prolonged period on the side-lines, Barkley is long past it and out the other end. He can be a very good player indeed.
"Ross Barkley scored six times last season in the Premier League, as many as Wayne Rooney managed in 2002/03." - OptaJoe
C+ The leg injury is just a distant memory; keep up the good work.
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