Ross Barkley received further recognition for his fine start to the season by maintaining his place in the England squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers. It’s fair to say that Everton supporters have not been this excited about a youth team product since the emergence of Barkley’s national team colleague Wayne Rooney.
The hope now is that Barkley follows Rooney’s trajectory as a player – becoming one of the best and most feared in his position in the Premier League – but not his direction, out of Goodison Park at the earliest opportunity to fulfil his potential elsewhere. The club Rooney left in 2004 was greatly different to the one Barkley is so enthralling today, however, and there are enough encouraging signs to suggest Barkley will remain for the long haul.
Everton, nine years ago, were on the precipice of financial ruin – if it feels like that’s been the case of late then it shouldn’t, because that would be to confuse having a relatively small transfer budget with having a massive overdraft that was called in by the bank. Rooney was one of Everton’s main saleable assets and as such, when he pushed for a move late in the summer of 2004, there was only ever so much Everton could do to stop it; getting the best price was more important for the club’s long-term health.
Rooney was also on bad terms with the manager, David Moyes, which is rather ironic considering Moyes’ current problems at Manchester United as Rooney appears to be the only player performing at anywhere close to peak level for the Scot. Conversely, Moyes’ successor Roberto Martinez has put a great deal of faith in Barkley, regularly praising the 19-year-old in the most gushing terms. It would be little shock if the feeling was mutual since Martinez has started Barkley in every game this season; most players like managers when they’re picked.
Everton not only have a ruder financial health and a manager with whom the player in question is able to co-exist – they also have much better prospects on the field. When Rooney left Everton had just finished 17th, a false position in one regard as it suggests a relegation battle that was never really on; Everton were comfortable in mid-table but lost most of the games played in the last quarter of the season, unsurprisingly plummeting down the table as a consequence.
Barkley instead has come into a team that finished sixth last season. Rooney was the diamond among a rough old group of Everton players – the extent to which some of them were on differing wavelengths from the youngster was ridiculous – but Barkley is one of a number of creative, inventive players. Rooney carried Everton in games; Barkley shines thanks to his teammates, not in spite of them.
The final and, perhaps, ultimately, the most important difference between the pair is who they’re surrounded with. Rooney had no steady hand when he left Everton to join up with England, not in the way Barkley revealed he has. And it came from an unlikely source, Steven Gerrard, who told Barkley to stay at Everton. The Liverpool captain was part of the England squad with the young Rooney but almost a decade ago, perhaps lacked the maturity to speak about the youngster’s development – and given his flirtations with Chelsea that summer, lacked the credibility as well.
Gerrard has never been popular in the stands at Goodison but for his steady hand on Barkley while on international he should be thanked, as he may have ensured Everton get to enjoy Barkley for a long, long time.
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