With the brand new Premier League calendar already launched and in motion, instead of experiencing typical preseason excitement, many Everton supporters are in fact harbouring traits of anger and trepidation heading into this new campaign.
The exact same squad as last year, minus Steven Pienaar, looks set to embark on the pending season, with the club unable to supplement the squad with any new faces.
It has been two years since Everton have been able to pay for a fresh acquisition, and that was only due to substantial money received from Joleon Lescott’s departure. The irritation and rife among so many Evertonians is not aided by the eerie silence emanating from the club this summer, who have yet to provide supporters with the slightest hint regarding transfer pursuits.
Just under £300 million has been spent by Premier League adversaries already, and it seems Everton will again begin a season fighting against opponents heavily bolstered during the off season.
A way to quell that familiar angst, as Everton kicks off this term, is to glance at the quality frequently fashioned out of Everton’s youth academy. The latest product to emerge is Ross Barkley, a player sure to grab many headlines this coming season and is certain to enthuse some uninspired Evertonians.
Barkley was on the cusp of breaking into the Everton first team a year ago, at just 16. He had spent last summer playing for the England Under-17s and was an integral part of the side that won the European Championships in Liechtenstein.
Barkley came back to Everton and began the season in the reserves, where he flaunted his array of skills impressively during a goal scoring display against Chelsea. His performance catapulted him up onto the Everton bench for the first time against Newcastle in the Premier League, chosen ahead of several more experienced teammates.
His summer success on the international stage also saw him ascend to the England Under-19’s, despite technically still being eligible for the England Under-16s. Yet with his burgeoning career on the verge of soaring, it was suddenly very abruptly interrupted.
While on international duty, Barkley suffered a horrific double leg break, resulting in his glistening potential and budding prospects becoming temporarily shelved.
The injury caused Barkley to remain sidelined for the entire 2011 season, although, regardless of his predicament, David Moyes handed him a professional contract as soon as he was eligible, with a leg still wrapped in plaster. Moyes has since gone on record saying he expected Barkley to have made an impact last season, had he stayed healthy.
Fast forward to this summer, and Barkley is once again fit and desperate to figure. He has slowly been integrated into the Everton first team fold, drafted in for several preseason outings. As his fitness has returned he has once again begun showcasing glimpses of his potential, with some lavish touches and plush passing.
A central midfielder by trade, Barkley possesses many facets enabling him to perform in several roles. He has also played up front and in defence in his youth team days, emphasising his versatility and well-rounded game. As well as his passing range and creative credentials, Barkley has ability in the air, a robust tackle, and obvious goal scoring potential.
As he begins to compete for a first team slot this season, at times expect him to feature as a wide midfielder early on, in the same manner Jordan Henderson and James Milner were employed at the start of their careers. This tactic was implemented to slowly introduce them to the rigorous pace of the Premier League and may well be replicated with Barkley.
Not only would a wide role allow him extended time on the ball, but while Everton’s central midfield options are numerous, with Marouane Fellaini, Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, Leon Osman and Jack Rodwell all available, the flanks look almost barren.
Seamus Coleman recently suffered a serious injury preseason against Villarreal, and apart from Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, and at a push, Victor Anichebe, Everton have few viable alternatives. This may well be where Everton supporters first get a peek of Ross Barkley in the Premier League, before he surely establishes himself as a box-to-box central midfielder.
While David Moyes is unsurpassed in his delicate harnessing of youth team protegees, he does have a tendency of occasionally being overly cautious. With Barkley still recovering from his double leg break, initially, he may only be used sparingly.
However, once he gets a taste for the action, it may become harder and harder for Moyes to leave the youngster on the sidelines. If Barkley stays fit, it would not come as the greatest surprise if he were to feature in the majority of Everton’s games this season.
With the opportunities that may well present themselves due to the depleted nature of Everton’s squad, a fit Ross Barkley could even feasibly nudge his way into the Young Player of the Year reckoning. A feat predicted on Twitter a few weeks ago by well respected journalist, Henry Winter.
While many aspects surrounding Everton have caused fans to become agitated and restless with their club, the emergence and progress of Ross Barkley over the course of this season should prove a handy sweetener.
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