“We’ve got a diamond called Ross Barkley” can be regularly heard being belted out on the terrace by Everton fans, and they’ve every right to sing it; the young star, heralded as the next Gazza by many, has already become one of the most valuable players in English football.
Shoot takes a look at the 21-year-old’s progression as he transformed himself from promising youth prospect to arguably his club and country’s most exciting player.
Where did it all start for the Everton midfield maestro?
Born in Wavertree, Liverpool, Barkley began his career at boyhood club Everton. He joined The Toffees at the age of 11 and played for the club’s youth teams. He has also played at every England schoolboys level, from Under-16s all the way to the senior national side. He was named as a substitute in 2010/11 for the home Premier League game against Newcastle but didn’t manage to get on. With rumours of Barkley being the next big thing around Everton’s Finch Farm training ground, his first appearance would have to wait for another season, as he suffered a horrific triple leg break after a collision with Andre Wisdom whilst on England Under-19 duty. The midfielder finally made his long anticipated debut in the 1-0 defeat to QPR at Goodison Park in August 2011, and despite the result, the 17-year-old was named Everton’s Man of the Match.
What happened next?
After more great performances, he signed a new long-term deal keeping him with the Blues until at least 2016, a contract he has since renewed until 2018. Despite his stellar first half of the season though, his game time was limited to substitute appearances in the second half of the 2011/12 season, and in the September of that year, he was loaned out to Sheffield Wednesday, where his impressive spell saw him score four goals in 13 games for the Hillsborough team. After being recalled by Everton due to squad depletion, he was then allowed back out on loan in January 2013, this time to another Yorkshire club, in the form of Leeds United, but the Liverpool-born starlet managed to play just four games.
When did he start to shine for Everton?
Despite being only 21, Barkley has been a first team regular since the 2013/14 season when he was just 18 years of age. That season he scored six goals in 34 Premier League games for the Toffees, as pundits and fans alike saw a real talent emerge. He was without doubt the most exciting Englishman to burst onto the scene since Wayne Rooney and Paul Gascoigne, playing in a very similar style to the two England greats. Former Liverpool and Scotland defender Alan Hansen described Barkley as “having absolutely everything”, and Gary Lineker claimed the Scouser is a prodigious talent and already a star in the making. That season he scored Everton’s goal of the season with a long range strike against Manchester City, and a brilliant solo goal where he ran the length of St James’ Park to open the scoring against Newcastle. His performances led to him being shortlisted for the PFA Young Player of the Year Award, but was pipped to the prize by the unstoppable Eden Hazard. The following season was much quieter for Barkley, as he managed just two goals in the Premier League all season, and people started to question whether the 21-year-old lacked consistency despite evident talent. That didn’t stop arch-rivals Liverpool plotting a reported £38 million bid for the attacking midfielder though, only to be told by Roberto Martinez that they’d already rejected an even larger £50 million bid from Manchester United, and that they had no intention to sell their star man.
What about his displays on the international front?
Barkley was eligible to play for England or Nigeria due to a Nigerian grandfather, but chose his native country, and has yet to disappoint. Playing for the Three Lions at Under-16, 17, 19, 20, 21 and senior level, he has impressed every manager he’s played under. Aged just 15 he captained the Under-16s to triumph in the 2009 Montaigu tournament, beating Germany of all teams on penalties – yes you read that correctly. He was also an integral part in helping England win the 2010 UEFA European Under-17 Championship, scoring two goals along the way. His first senior cap came in the 4-0 World Cup qualifying win against Moldova at Wembley in September 2013, coming on as a substitute, replacing Jack Wilshere. The Wavertree lad then represented his country at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, although the team could only manage one point from their three group games, and went out at the first hurdle. His first senior goal came in the 6-0 thrashing of San Marino last month, and the Everton man currently has 17 England caps and two goals to his name.
Why is he so dangerous?
If Barkley can add consistency to his game, he has the potential to be one of the best in the world without doubt. When’s he on form he’s unstoppable, and their isn’t a downside to his game. He’s built like an ox for such a young lad, reminiscent of fellow Everton youth system graduate and current Manchester United and England captain Rooney, and his talents don’t just stop with strength. He’s arguably one of the best dribblers in the league, alongside Hazard and Philippe Coutinho, which is rather refreshing to see from an English player. Comfortable with the ball at his feet, he also has one of the best shots in the league, scoring many an audacious strike. His ability to use both feet and clever footballing brain, alongside his controlled aggression, makes Barkley England’s hottest prospects.