Many have used ‘Barnsley to Brazil stand-by in 18 months’ to describe John Stones but Ross Barkley perhaps topped that feat going from Leeds United loanee to England World Cup squad member in the same amount of time.
When Roberto Martinez showed faith to start Barkley in the first game of the season at Norwich, all Evertonians were filled with anticipation to see what the youngster could do after encouraging cameos in the past. Little did we all know how influential the then 19-year-old would go on to be throughout the 2013/14 season. That was the case before the game but as soon as the first whistle was blown it was clear this would be Barkley’s long-awaited breakthrough season.
The powerful youngster grabbed his first senior Everton goal and the first Premier League goal under Martinez in spectacular fashion with a blockbusting left-foot drive to level the game. Barkley only had to wait five more Premier League games to get his second of the season and the more forgettable of his two goals against Newcastle. After striking up an early partnership with new loan recruit Romelu Lukaku; the Belgian put Barkley through who finished with fine composure to the keeper’s right corner. Next came one of his more outstanding goals; this time a last minute free-kick away at Swansea to win the Sunday evening clash. The Englishman opened the scoring in the 3rd round FA Cup win at home to QPR with the Blues winning 4-0. His 5th goal of the season was to complete a double over Swansea City after bundling home a corner.
Then in the final third of the season, came two potential ‘goal of the season’ winners, never mind contenders. The first came from what must have been a 70-yard run, counter attacking from a Newcastle corner, beating two defenders on the edge of the opposition box and then showing the composure to rifle a controlled left-foot finish to round off one for the highlight reel. Finally, in what was a strange fixture when some of the Goodison faithful were backing sky blue rather than royal, it was clear who Ross Barkley wanted to win when he was teed up by Steven Naismith to release a 25-yard curling effort that gave off flashbacks of a goal against Arsenal that put Wayne Rooney on the centre stage, some eleven and a half years before.
However it wasn’t his goals that have excited Toffees most of all which after examining the type of goals sounds strange. It is the way the youngster can produce a moment of brilliance without any warning. Whether it be a pass no one else has spotted or a bursting run past two or three resulting in a free-kick, it excites the crowd, raises the atmosphere which transcends into momentum for the team to find a way of getting the right result.
His influence in the team already is remarkable and making him the focal point of the attack was something that only gave positive results. Similar to a few of the new faces this season, Barkley’s youth provided the squad with an upsurge in energy. Barkley is raw which only enhances his risk taking – something which a lot of young English players are missing in a conservative football upbringing.
The only aspect the 20-year-old can improve on looking back at the 2013/14 season is decision making. It is only that he is raw that perhaps hinders his final product, but with time and more experience (which will come fast if his international involvement continues) Barkley’s decision making will be finally tuned helping him become a complete player.
The playmaker earned his first senior England cap in September against Moldova coming on as a substitute in a 4-0 win after only representing Peter Taylor’s side in the U-20 World Cup four months prior. He has since earned eight more caps for the Three Lions, most recently at the World Cup in a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica.
In a breakthrough season that resulted in seven goals, nine England senior caps and his inclusion in the World Cup squad as well as the winning the ‘Young Player of the Season’ and ‘Goal of the Season’ at the Everton awards, hopefully means the youngster’s second season may even be better.
In terms of what the future holds for this bright young talent, in the near I’d say the Everton team should be built around him and nurture Barkley into the global superstar his potential is showing. In the distant future, speaking personally and rather selfishly I would love him to take Steven Gerrard’s advice and stay with Everton. Barkley has the potential to become a player capable of taking the Toffees to the next level; challenging for trophies. In the same breath this exciting prospect also looks to have the potential to become a talent that moves on to any of the top European clubs to challenge and play at the very highest level.