Everton Must Play Ross Barkley in 2013: Merseyside Needs a New Local Hero

Najeeb RehmanContributor IDecember 30, 2012

DUNDEE, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 19:  Ross Barkley of Everton in action during the pre-season friendly match between Dundee United and Everton at Dens Park on July 19, 2012 in Dundee, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Nothing endures but change. This truism that Heraclitus applied to workings of the universe is also true of football clubs. No matter how powerful or successful a club becomes, its demise is inevitable.

Take the two Merseyside giants, Everton and Liverpool, who between them have won 27 league titles; more than any other region in the country. During the 70s and 80s, when Merseyside had a near monopoly on league titles, unemployment rates in Liverpool were the highest in the country.

The social and cultural role these clubs played in the community back then cannot be overemphasised. The docks were closing and manufacturing had gone into rapid decline but there was still football to restore pride and create a sense of identity; which makes the downfall so much more difficult to accept.

Those heady days are long gone and it will be a while before either team has any genuine claim be the finest in the land. What’s worse for Scousers is having to watch the battle for supremacy being fought by their neighbours in Manchester.

So, where do they find hope that things will change? By wishing for a wealthy benefactor? No, for fans who consider it a duty to invest emotionally in their team’s fortunes, the meaning of hope is much the same as how Vaclav Havel described hope; it is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something is worth working for, regardless of how it turns out.

Both sides see that the road to a brighter future begins with youth development. The amounts of time fans, especially Liverpool fans, spend talking about youth players can sometimes seem bizarre to an outsider. Whether it be the current crop or, go back ten years, the way they talked about Gerard Houllier’s two young French imports, Anthony Le Tallec and Florent Sinama Pongolle, it’s clear they see youth as the best and only way out.

At Everton, having produced arguably the finest English footballer since Bobby Charlton in Wayne Rooney, the academy is considered crucial to the future of the club. Rooney was the player who was going to carry Everton back to the top and the bitterness fans felt when he left for Manchester United remains to this day.

Jack Rodwell is another Everton product who’s now plying his trade in Manchester, but the player Everton fans have been talking about for the last few years is still there. Ross Barkley, often described as being like a young Bryan Robson, desperately needs to start gaining Premier League experience at Everton if he is ever to fulfil his huge potential.

David Moyes looked set to give Barkley a run in Everton’s first team when he was recalled early from his loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday. The midfielder, who turned 19 this month, spent nearly two months at Wednesday and was named the fans' player of the month for October. Moyes twice went to watch him play for Wednesday and sent backroom staff to report on his progress in every game he played. So far, even with Phil Neville having missed a number of games through injury and Marouane Fellaini serving a three-game ban, the best Barkley has got is a few appearances as a late substitute.

At Liverpool, they seem determined that player development will not be stunted for short-term gains. Their two outstanding young players, Jonjo Shelvey and Raheem Sterling (technically not products of Liverpool’s academy as they were developed by Charlton Athletic and QPR, respectively) have been regulars this term. Even though they might have cost Liverpool a few points this season, the club will surely reap rewards in the long term.

The hype that saw Barkley being praised by senior Everton players and that led Martin Keown to predict he would become "one of the best players we will ever see in this country" has faded. He’s still only a teenager, but the way he is managed in 2013 could determine whether he becomes another Wayne Rooney or, like Francis Jeffers and Jose Baxter, just another Everton youth product who fails to live up to his early promise.