Today's (yesterday's) rant is a little belated as I was struggling for something to rant about. However, today has given me the perfect subject. After reading my twitter feed just a few minutes ago and hearing "Ross Barkley is catching the eye" for England Under 19s I thought "Perfect."
I first heard about Barkley about three years ago when I was at Finch Farm watching a development session. Some of the coaching staff there were debating the youngsters coming through. Some were saying Luke Garbutt was the next big thing, some saying Jake Bidwell. However, one name made my ears prick up when it was followed by "he'll be better than Rodwell" and that name was Ross Barkley. Don't forget, at the time Jack Rodwell had just come through the ranks into the first team and was being touted by other big clubs and was being tipped to earn many international honours for England.
I followed his progress through the Academy from a distance as I focused on other age groups but he was still being talked about very highly. He signed for Everton at the age of 11 and by 15 was playing two years his senior at Under 18s - a very good indicator of a Scholar and future pro. Ross also played for England Under 16s and Under 17s and was a part of the European Championship winning squad in 2010. He scored the only goal in the win over Greece and played the full game in the final against Spain.
In 2010 he played for the reserves and scored against Chelsea. Due to his rapid progression and his obvious talent Barkley was names as a substitute for the Premier League fixture against Newcastle and hopes were high for this young lad from Liverpool with a growing reputation. However, a cruel twist of fate hindered his progression when he broke his leg in three places whilst again representing his country.
Barkley travelled with the first team squad on their pre-season tour in 2011 and he featured in games regularly. He made his debut in the first game of the Premier League season against QPR and received many plaudits from the likes of Fabio Capello. He also made his England Under 21 debut shortly afterwards and signed a long team deal until 2016 in December 2011. It is clear to see his rise has been rapid.
So, could Everton be a hindrance?
At the start of the season I was delighted to see the name Ross Barkley on the teamsheet. I thought he would fit in perfectly behind a lone striker and allow the two defensive central midfielders to sweep up behind him. But, the manager decided to play him wide and Barkley didnt disappoint. His naevity cost us a penalty at Ewood Park in a game which he could have done better, but there were still glimpses of the potential which had seen such a big rise in a small period of time. Since then, he has faded into the background of the squad. On the bench, not on the bench, back on the bench, on for the last five minutes, not on the bench etc.
A national radio station ran a debate - "Who will be the surprise package for England at Euro 2012." I called up and explained that if David Moyes uses Ross Barkley properly then England could have a player who could make as big an impact on a competition as that of Wayne Rooney in 2004. But, in my opinion, Moyes hasn't used him properly.
It has always been my opinion that if you're good enough then you're old enough. If I were in charge I would start Barkley every game. Blood him. Give him the experience of top flight English football. Granted, he will make mistakes, but he has the footballing brain to learn from them. He also has a midfield unit behind him to cover them mistakes, give him the ball and let him try again. He has a similar swagger and demena as Rooney. Very relaxed and composed on the ball, fearless, and bags of ability. He also has the vision to pick out a pass and, as a recent goal for the reserves against Newcastle proved, he has an eye for goal.
Let's look at some comparisons. Michael Branch was the next big thing. A very quick, local striker who could get a few goals. Joe Royle introduced him to the team and Branchie started well. However, without a consistent run in the side his development stalled and he eventually disappeared into the lower leagues. Francis Jeffers was the same - a quick striker who was scoring goals for fun. He DID have a consistent run in the side and made his England debut at a young age. His rise and talent attracted the interests of Arsenal and he moved down south. He was used so sporadically that he didn't even qualify for a league winners medal when they secured the title at Old Trafford and he was eventually moved on by Arsene Wenger. No more England caps and lower league football followed.
Jack Rodwell came through the ranks and was the next big talent. Again, Moyes had him hokey kokeying around the first team. He was given an extended run in the team due to injuries, most notably to Marouane Fellaini, and the Birkdale youngster began to show signs of the potential which had Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid and the likes sending scouts to watch him. However, at the first opportunity given Rodwell was taken out of the firing line and I don't think anyone will argue with me if I said he has become the player that we could get most money for but wouldn't miss.
By contrast, there is the Academy's most successful product - Wayne Rooney. We all know about Rooney's rise to fame. That goal against Arsenal at the age of 16. The subsequent game winning goals against Aston Villa and the like. When Rooney started, Everton stepped up a gear. The world's media focused on Everton and this young, local lad who truly had the world at his feet. Moyes, though, wanted to "protect" him. on the few occasions I met Wayne, he came across as a laidback, shy lad who loved his football. On one occasion I went into Bellefield to observe a first team training session (perk of the job at the time!). Wayne walked out and said hello. He had Nigel Martyn's goalkeeper gloves on. I asked him what he was doing with them on and he invited me to watch.
I looked on as Thomas Gravesen, David Unsworth, Steve Watson and Kevin Kilbane all hit very good free kicks at the goalkeeper and not one of them scored. Some of the saves were world class. The keeper was Rooney!
Moyes had Rooney starting, on the bench, starting, on the bench.... inconsistent. He was sold to Manchester United for a record fee at the time, but now a snip considering what our neighbours paid for Andy Carroll. Did Alex Ferguson "protect" him? Not one bit; and if anyone knows about bringing youngsters into the Premier League its Ferguson. I watched him steal the show against Fenerbahce in the Champions League and for the rest of the season Rooney and Alex Ferguson had me wondering what might have been. We all know what Rooney has achieved since leaving Everton. I don't hold the move away from Goodison against him, but I always wonder "what if?"
So, by comparison, the key to Ross Barkley benefitting Everton, and Everton benefitting Ross Barkley is consistent football. He is a raw talent, and a rare talent too. Learn the lessons of players gone by. Take the things we did right and apply them to Ross. Eradicate the things we did wrong and we have a serious talent on our hands.
I can't wait to see it on a very regular basis.
(P.S. As I type, Ross has set up Harry Kane for the only goal of the game in the Under 19's fixture vs Czech Republic and by all accounts is having a great game.)
As always, your comments are welcome below
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