Bet you can guess what the most requested haircut will be in Merseyside this festive period: “Just shave it all off, lad.”
This stems, of course, from Everton’s skin-headed assassin Ross Barkley and his marvelous showing that helped fire Everton to within two points of the Premier League summit. The Wavertree-born midfielder grabbed a toiling game by the scruff of the neck and hauled the Toffees over the line at the Liberty Stadium. His stunning free-kick was the odd goal in a 2-1 win and the hype surrounding this young player shows no sign of faltering.
His rapid growth this season will have surprised many, but those who have witnessed snippets of him in royal blue prior to this campaign will attest to the talent he has at his disposal. Talent that was obviously ready to be tapped into.
In his short Everton career, he has impressed in glimpses, showcasing spells of untamed, raw ability. But within the pragmatic ethos instilled by David Moyes, you felt the youngster was always one stray pass or a defensive mishap away from being out of the reckoning in favour of more experienced, studious campaigners.
The hope was that a new manager, with a philosophy more akin to the talents of Barkley, might be better for his development. Enter Roberto Martinez, who has encouraged Barkley to be expansive, take risks and learn from the inevitable mistakes that puncture the game of any young player. It’s something Barkley himself is level-headed enough to appreciate (courtesy of The Express):
The only way you learn is from mistakes and Roberto is allowing me to make them so I can learn from them. He’s giving me information about where not to make mistakes and where I can afford to take risks so I’m taking all of that on board.
Having been given this license to express himself, the results have been staggering.
Barkley is growing into a mature, responsible, hungry and downright brilliant footballer. And for all the widespread adulation and illustrious comparisons, he is a truly unique talent.
He has kept grounded (he quipped post-match how his mum cut his hair for him!) and is focused on developing into a top-class midfielder. Martinez often speaks of the importance of ‘human relationships’ and Barkley looks to be embracing that facet of the Catalan’s leadership along with the rest of the football club. Despite their premier performances and lofty league position, feet are firmly much on the ground for this young talent.
Despite the feel-good factor emanating from every pore of Goodison Park at the moment, there are still some expecting Barkley to be cherry picked by a bigger – or in some cases ‘richer’ – club somewhere down the line. This despite a new deal reportedly being in the pipeline for the England midfielder.
But there is no better place for Barkley to blossom than in the blue of his beloved Toffees. Martinez has facilitated an environment in which he can play and grow. An environment within which he is the crown jewel of a rejuvenated, fearless side. One set-up to enhance Barkley’s buccaneering, all-action playing style.
Ex-professionals have suggested his previous manager should swoop and take him to Manchester United. But could you see Barkley joining up with Moyes again? After he was drafted in and out of the team on a regular basis? Martinez has unlocked his potential, and after just four months of the campaign, we have been witness to so much more of what this player is all about. Just imagine the work the two could do in a few years working together. It’s a mouth-watering prospect for Evertonians everywhere.
Anyway, why would he want to go anywhere else? Barkley, after all, is Everton through-and-through. He has a tattoo commemorating his debut for the club and has dreamt of scoring goals for the Toffees since he first kicked a ball. For an Everton fan, it doesn’t get much better than donning the royal blue strip and scoring late winners away from home with the travelling support going bonkers behind the goal. Barkley is living the dream.
And back in September, the Toffees man spoke of how Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard advised him there is nothing better than playing for your team (courtesy of The Express):
He told me that I’m a local lad playing for the team I support and there’s nothing better
He said that the big-hitters are going to be looking at me and linked with me, but going to another team and not playing is no good for my development. That the main thing is I stay with the club I’m at, the team I support and the team I love, which is Everton.
I love Everton and all I think about is playing for Everton.
After their previous prodigious talent fell into the grasp of Manchester United a decade ago, Everton will be hoping they have their very own Gerrard-like figure within their ranks; a supremely talented local player who can raise the ambitions of the football club to match his own. If early indications are anything to go by under this new regime, then they are certainly going the right way about things.
Nonetheless, regardless of how many times Barkley professes his love for the blues, regardless of how many times he kisses the Everton badge and regardless of whatever contract he signs, transfer rumours will persist.
But Barkley needs to keep going. Keep grounded and keep progressing. After his winner against Swansea, Martinez referred to how the very best players go off their instincts on the pitch and that Barkley falls into that category. If he adheres to that Evertonian instinct, the one that he has showcased in abundance this season, we may yet see plenty more shaven heads on Merseyside for many years to come.
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