The 20-year-old Evertonian has well and truly come to the attention of football fans throughout English football. He has been a key player for Everton in many a game, but the unbelievable moments which left fans in awe earlier in the season have become rarer of late. Whether Roberto Martinez has been protecting the youngster from burn-out, or if he was losing match sharpness, it cannot be denied that he has not experienced as many first team minutes in the New Year. Therefore, has he done enough to secure a spot on the plane alongside Gerrard and Hodgson?
To start off, I would like to draw some likenesses to Everton’s last home-grown superstar; Wayne Rooney. He was also arguably the last player for England who could put you on the edge of your seat game after game. Ross Barkley broke through the ranks at Goodison Park and made his much acclaimed full debut at the tender age of 17, just one year older than Rooney. During his rapid progression through the youth team and academy set-up, he was attracting praise from all angles within the club. Manager at the time David Moyes and experienced fellow pros such as fan favourite Tim Cahill were quick to predict big things from the youngster.
His play style also bears a great resemblance to that of the current Manchester United forward. Neither have blistering pace in their locker but both are tremendously strong runners. What would often define Rooney’s performances in his early years was his willingness to take on defenders and pass them at ease with the ball. Once their man was beaten, only a foul or a terrific tackle could bring them to a halt. Barkley’s natural exuberance and enthusiasm to chase every ball has further endeared him to the Everton faithful. It has become a regular occurrence to see him pick up the ball on the edge of his own box, only to power through the gears and be looking to create a goal moments later. A classic example of this took place at Newcastle recently when a typically surging run was followed by an emphatic finish.
In addition, Barkley’s build is very much that of an older man, much like Rooney at the same point in his career. This impressive physique assists him in holding off defenders, relatively good aerial prowess, winning crucial 50-50s, and attaining real power in his trademark pile-drivers.
Throughout the season, he has demonstrated outstanding quality on the ball; a trait which certainly not every England international can boast. Capable of keeping the ball ticking over and maintaining possession, as well as pinging the Hollywood pass when required, he is a fantastic option to draw on in the middle of the park. He also provides a goal threat from his midfield berth, recording 92 shots and registering 7 goals. While this is not a particularly good conversion rate, the nature of his play dictates that many of his attempts come from distance. A goalkeeper is rarely left unruffled when he takes a pop at goal. Meanwhile, he exhibits these qualities on both feet equally well, and with so few genuinely two-footed players remaining in the game, he stands out above the rest. In fact, arguably his best 2 goals this season have come from his ‘weaker’ left foot. The magnificent solo effort against Newcastle mentioned above, and an incredibly clean strike from outside the box against Nowrich back in mid-August.
The last consideration; and arguably the most important one for England in high pressure tournament football, is that he has looked completely at ease on the international stage. This is much more than can be said for many of the recently capped Three Lions. Other central midfielders such as the much maligned Tom Cleverley and even Jordan Henderson to a certain extent have looked lost at international level. Barkley has grasped his somewhat limited opportunities in an England shirt and has looked at home, along with other youngsters Jack Wilshire and Adam Lallana.
For England to even progress from the group in the summer, they will need to be able to maintain possession for extended periods of time. Players such as Barkley and others who are not over-awed or afraid to take the ball in tight areas could well prove invaluable. He may well still hold a surprise factor for some foreign defenders, which was most memorably seen at Euro 2004 when Rooney announced himself on the world stage. Barkley has done nothing other than increase his stock this season and despite a slightly less effective latter half of the campaign, he gives something different to any team; that much sought-after X-factor. I therefore believe that he is worth his place in the final 23 for sure, if not necessarily a starting berth.