Ross Barkley Will Light Up Everton During the 2013-14 Premier League Campaign
For the seventh consecutive year, Everton's first Premier League selection of the season didn't contain a single debutant.
Not since 2006, when Tim Howard and Andy Johnson made their first appearances for the club, have Everton carried any intrigue or mystery around their opening-day personnel, as limited resources continue to restrict them.
To put that into context, all but three other Premier League sides handed first starts to a new signing during the first set of 2013-14 fixtures. Of the trio that didn't, all three did so the year before.
However, while Everton's side once again had a familiar feel to it, one player that did offer something fresh was Ross Barkley.
His impressive individual display, capped by a first goal for the club, suggests this may finally be the season he begins to realise his considerable potential—although whisper it softly.
Whisper it softly because Evertonians have been poised for a break-out from their latest young star for a couple of seasons now. Despite still being just 19 years of age, Barkley is unfortunate to not be considered a household name already.
Those connected with the Toffees will be familiar with his career-to-date, but for those not yet in the know, here's a brief recap of his early years.
As an academy prospect, Barkley stormed through England youth teams, regularly playing for sides well above his age. He represented England Under-16s at just 14, and continued the trend, making his Under-19s debut at 16—also first appearing on Everton's bench at the same age.
That was the first time he appeared ready to be unleashed, before a horrific leg break in 2010—suffered while playing for an England side three years above him—sidelined Barkley for a year.
Despite a promising debut the following season against QPR, which was the second time fans began proclaiming his talent, he played a peripheral role for the rest of the year, struggling with his recovery and form.
Last season, to spare him a similar ordeal, he was farmed out on loan, first—and most successfully—at Sheffield Wednesday—where he scored four goals and earned a player-of-the-month award. He then also appeared at Leeds before returning to the Toffees a rejuvenated figure.
David Moyes played him in a few crunch games towards the end of last season, and while he impressed—particularly in a televised match against Arsenal—he curiously failed to retain his place in Everton's lineup.
While he often receives praise for blooding young talent, many Evertonians feel Moyes was generally overly cautious with Barkley's development, perhaps bitten by the rapid rise of Wayne Rooney or the arguably premature inclusion of Jack Rodwell.
Moyes would often turn to veterans over his latest young talent and rarely introduced him as a substitute, regardless of the situation. Occasionally playing Thomas Hitzlsperger, who had been out of the game for almost a year, seemed a particularly odd call last season.
For all the excitement Barkley can bring in the final third, he's still a little suspect off the ball, perhaps a trait that worried Moyes. However, that was then.
Fast forward to a summer of playing a prominent role under a far more attacking manager and Barkley's arrival was, again, seemingly imminent.
After collecting a pass from Seamus Coleman, shuffling the ball over to his supposed weaker side and rifling a shot past Norwich's John Ruddy, Barkley well and truly returned to the spotlight, finally rewarding the numerous Evertonians lauding his talent over the past few years.
Roberto Martinez has already stated his willingness to play the 19-year-old and has said he will accept the odd lapse as his young prospect develops—a bold approach that he's already reaping the rewards for.
The Spaniard described Barkley as "something special" during the summer, adding "he's an incredible football diamond", while his contribution against Norwich drew similar lofty praise from the manager.
He clearly appreciates the supreme talent he's picked up in his new position and these early quotes augur well for Barkley's future.
His statistics against the Canaries reveal the kind of impact he's set to make this season, not just as an attacking threat, but as a key influence for the Toffees.
Aside from his goal, his 96 percent passing accuracy was the best of Premier League players with 50 passes that weekend, while he also created a chance, reeled off four shots and completed three tackles.
How involved will Ross Barkley be this season?
He was also almost flawless with his passing in the final third and was his side's most frequent dribbler, beating a man on four occasions. There was some debate among fans about Everton's lineup if Darron Gibson had been fit, yet—if he wasn't before the Norwich game—a fully fit roster leaves Leon Osman seeming the most vulnerable starter.
The lack of young English talent tends to leave the few genuine domestic prospects suffocated under the weight of public expectation. A gifted technician, Barkley clearly has the potential to become a national treasure, but will have to be managed well by Martinez to keep him expressing his talent.
If he does retain his role, which he surely must, expect his game to rapidly progress as additional levels of confidence seep into his game. His performance against Norwich was a mere taste of his repertoire, which should at last be fully unleashed throughout the coming season.
Given his attacking role just behind the striker, he's destined to become increasingly focal in Everton's attack over the coming months, taking on added creative responsibility as the campaign rolls on.
Again, whisper it softly, but there's no telling how far Barkley's potential can carry him. A full year in the Premier League and a summer trip to Brazil may well become a possibility.
Statistics via WhoScored?
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