As the England U20’s became the latest crop to put in a lackluster showing for the Three Lions, watching Everton supporters could forgive themselves for feeling rather positive.
Toffees youngsters Ross Barkley and John Lundstram both started the game for Peter Taylor’s side and both put in promising showings. Lundstram, usually a dynamic central midfielder, showed his versatility with an all-action display on the right flank. But it was the former that really caught the eye. Barkley, playing just behind the striker, caused the opposition a host of problems with his incisive passing and acute movement. His new club manager, like many Evertonians, will have been looking on with a smile.
The upcoming season could well be the making of Barkley, with Everton supporters keen for him to go on and realize the enormous potential he evidently has. Martinez has already alluded to the considerable emphasis he will be looking to place on developing his new club’s academy. An admirable strategy, and one that has become almost extinct within the English game. But for clubs like Everton, who lack the clout of the games financial super powers, a prosperous youth set-up can help level the playing field. Instilling that type of infrastructure is clearly high on Martinez’s list of priorities.
“I will be working very closely with the Academy. It is important. I do feel that the talent we have got at this football club is phenomenal and we need to make sure we help that talent develop and to reach the levels the modern game needs. That is something we are going to be putting a lot of attention, effort, time and finances in to.”
For a manager who stringently abides by his principals, don’t expect these to be hollow promises. In amongst this pool of “phenomenal” young talent, Barkley is the crown jewel. If Martinez is to start his reign by integrating young players into his set-up, then expect Barkley to be the first of many.
It is an commendable philosophy the Spaniard is looking to introduce, but ultimately the aspiring players need to be capable of making the step from youth to senior level. And despite his talent, there are still question marks surrounding Barkley, just as there are with any nineteen-year-old footballer.
The publicity surrounding the club’s most recent academy starlet has been greeted with continued and understandable apprehension by Everton supporters. After all, for every Wayne Rooney that has come through, there has been a James Vaughan, Francis Jeffers or Jose Baxter. All players who at one point seemed to have big futures ahead of them.
Former manager David Moyes also looked to cool any emerging hype regarding the youngster. Speaking after Barkley put in an impressive performance at Arsenal in April, Moyes was quick to note that the young prodigy still has a lot to learn.
“He has a lot of maturing to do and needs to make sure he does not lose the ball in the wrong areas of the pitch. If you’re dropping your shoulder and losing it at the edge of their box it is not a problem but if you’re doing it at the edge of your box then it is a problem. They are the sort of things he has to come to terms with.”
It is these naive traits that seemingly held Barkley back under the previous regime. The Scotsman was always a safety-first manager in his time on Merseyside and you can see why basic errors made by young players like Barkley would rile him.
Resultantly there are some who worry, especially with another academy graduate Jack Rodwell regularly on the bench for Manchester City, that Barkley will go the same way. He has after all only featured sparingly for the Everton first team and had mixed experiences out on loan at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United.
But there are many at Everton who still harbor the belief he will live up to the billing that saw former Toffees defender Martin Keown describe Barkley as “one of the best players we’ll ever see in this country.” And under the new man, the aforementioned deficiencies should not prove to be as significant a hindrance. Barkley certainly looks to be more of a Martinez-type player than a Moyes-type player.
The style of play looks likely to undergo a seismic shift under Martinez. Players will be expected to be confident and composed on the ball in all areas of the pitch. Some of the Everton playing staff may initially struggle to adapt; Barkley should shine.
Despite his inferior years, Barkley’s ambidexterity, vision and technique sets him apart from a lot of the players in the current squad. And with these traits likely to be much higher up on the list of imperative criteria under Martinez, Barkley ticks all the boxes when it comes to fulfilling the Spaniards long-term vision for the club.
There is still room for improvement for the Wavertree-born midfielder, and enhancements in his game will only come about as a result of continued competitive action. But with the development of young players an obvious priority for Martinez, you have to say Barkley’s chances should emerge on a much more frequent basis. After all, the best way to assess a young player’s temperament is to see how they perform in the high pressure situations.
Barkley will be keen to avoid becoming another nearly-man to emerge from the Everton youth set-up and it will be intriguing to see what the new boss has in store for him. At nineteen years of age, you would expect a top quality young player to be making some kind of impression on Premier League games. Barkley has done that sparingly; when he gets into the team he will be expected to do it consistently.
Martinez has already won many admirers on Merseyside with his charisma, engaging dialect and attention to detail. But blooding a young, local lad into a winning team would send his popularity into overdrive amongst the Everton faithful. The positive development of one England’s top young talents could prove to be the first step towards a bright future for the Merseyside club.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball