In the absence of any new signings at Goodison Park, and in the face of growing unrest from an increasing section of support, optimism around Everton has been in worryingly short supply. Indeed, one of the few bright spots of the Toffees’ summer has been the inclusion of young midfielder Ross Barkley in Everton’s pre-season preparations.
The 17-year-old Barkley featured during Everton’s tour of the United States, playing half an hour in defeat against Philadelphia Union and the first-half of a victory over DC United. Since returning from the other side of the Atlantic, Barkley has kept up his involvement, playing an hour against Birmingham City and Werder Bremen each. That the midfielder was included in the side to play Birmingham – and not the mostly reserve squad that travelled to Oxford United 24 hours earlier – suggests David Moyes sees Barkley as a member of his first team squad, albeit most likely a junior member.
Barkley is unfortunate to be most comfortable in an area that Everton are already well equipped. A central midfielder by trade, Barkley joins a group that already boats Marouane Fellaini, Mikel Arteta, Jack Rodwell and Leon Osman as natural central midfielders, with Phil Neville and John Heitinga also options in that position and Tim Cahill having made the spot just off the striker his own. Barkley has played in a wider role for spells in pre-season, starting on the right against Werder and linking well with Tony Hibbert down the flank, playing the full-back in on the overlap more than once, as well as cutting inside to look for a shot on goal or a better option to pass. The half-speed of a pre-season friendly is rarely an accurate barometer of a player’s capability but even with that in mind Barkley has adapted to the first team squad well so far.
Moyes has rarely been hesitant to blood his most promising young players even before the club’s financial constraints began to force his hand, giving Wayne Rooney the opportunity his talent deserved, putting faith in Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman when they were on the periphery of the squad and drafting Victor Anichebe, James Vaughan and Jack Rodwell into the first team. With money even tighter than usual around Goodison, Moyes has had to devote more time to the youngsters at the club; both those signed from elsewhere and those brought up through the youth system. Barkley’s clear potential, however, and the wealth of options already available in the centre of midfield, suggest that even if Moyes had more money to spend, the Liverpool-born teenager would still be given his chance.
Another strong performance from Barkley on Friday against Villarreal in Everton’s last friendly of the summer could re-enforce his place in Moyes’ squad. Having been touted by Cahill as “the