Everton manager Roberto Martinez claimed in November that his talented young midfielder Ross Barkley would become the finest footballer this nation has produced. Six months later and that prediction is looking more and more like it was one rooted in hyperbole.
As The Toffee’s disappointing and underwhelming season limps towards its conclusion, their enigmatic youngster has arguably fared as badly as any of his counterparts.
After being on the shortlist for the young player of the year last term, this campaign was supposed to be the one where the 21 year old really announced himself as a genuine world class talent. However, 12 months on from his nomination he is no further forward now than he was last year. In fact it could be argued he has gone backwards during Everton’s turbulent campaign.
On several occasions last season, Ross Barkley gave performances that belied his young age, he grabbed countless games by the scruff of the neck and his impact almost led his side to Champions League football. He was a perfect mix of a scorer of spectacular goals and the heartbeat of a gung-ho, cavalier Everton side.
In Barkley’s defence, injuries have hampered his progression, when he was first injured his manager claimed he may be out for five months; instead he was back in the squad within eight weeks. Whether his injury was ever given the time it needed to fully heal is unknown but he has scarcely shown the type of performances that he so consistently offered in his breakthrough season.
Some would agree with the Everton manager, however some would give a harsher indictment on the midfielder’s fortunes. Just a flash in the pan, suffering from the well-known second season syndrome, will Barkley ever reach the dizzying heights he did in his debut season?
Martinez has claimed his midfielder needs a rest, but unfortunately for team and player alike, Everton have become reliant on the 21 year old. His form this year has been questionable, but the coach has been behind his man all the way; the fan’s support hasn’t been quite so unwavering. In January, the player who has been touted as the future of their club, their rival to Steven Gerrard, was booed roundly by his own fans, many venting their frustrations at his below-par performances.
With Manchester City rumoured to be preparing a bid for Barkley, the comparisons with Jack Rodwell become more pertinent with the passing of time. Like Barkley, Rodwell was pinned with the hopes of English football upon his shoulders; Rodwell’s shoulders buckled under the strain and he has struggled to ever find the form he showed when he exploded onto the scene.
Martinez may be right, Ross Barkley may need a break, he may come back next year and be the player that every football fan in England so wishes him to be. But his inevitable rise to football stardom has hit its first speed bump, whether he can drive through is yet to be seen.
For the sake of Everton and for the sake of the national team it is hoped that in years to come when people look back at the career of the world class Barkley, this season is just a minor blip.