Everton’s Ross Barkley may be Manchester City’s next big thing
Ross Barkley travels east on Saturday, from Merseyside to Manchester.
It is simply part of the fixture list for the English Premier League this weekend, but it may also prove a career move.
A range of factors increase his appeal. City are short of English players and struggle to fill their homegrown quota. Unless their current clubs actively want to sell, locals at Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United may be beyond City’s grasp.
An Evertonian might not be.
While Barkley turned 21 this week, he could point to the future in an ageing City side. Their oldest automatic choice is Yaya Toure, 31, the man whose attacking midfield position Barkley could challenge, and the alternative is Frank Lampard, a revelation, but a player whose spell in England could end in January and certainly will not extend into next season.
Yet the prime reason for Barkley’s allure his simple: his talent.
His manager, Roberto Martinez, spent much of last season describing him as “unique”.
Last month, the Spaniard, no stranger to hyperbole, paid his most glowing tribute yet.
“There is no doubt in my mind he will be the best player England has ever had,” he said, prompting questions about whether Barkley will eventually rank above the World Cup-winning luminaries Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton. “Ross has everything. Normally, a player has the pace and power to get around the pitch, or they have the vision to pick a pass. Ross can do both of those things. He is two-footed, he’s intelligent and he is also in love with the game. All he wants to do is play football.”
Barkley’s particular playing style has drawn comparisons with Michael Ballack from Martinez, and Paul Gascoigne from Roy Hodgson, among others. Direct-dribbling central midfielders are not a common sight. It renders Barkley a rarity.
His greatest impression against City came not from his skill but his shot. His last goal was a brilliant opener for Everton against them in May.
But for the subsequent comeback by Pellegrini’s team, it could have cost them the title.
Besides showing a gift for the spectacular, he is less prolific than the clinical pair of Toure and Lampard, even if Barkley’s drought can be explained in part by his delayed start to the season because of a knee injury. The reality is that absences have pockmarked a brief career, with a triple leg break in 2010 the worst.
That he only started four league games before Martinez replaced David Moyes underscores the swiftness of his ascent: within a year, he was coming off the bench for England against Italy in the World Cup.
Besides inexperience, one potential drawback is productivity.
Remarkably, and despite often operating as a No 10, Barkley’s Everton career includes a solitary league assist. He ought to provide the final pass more often.
His situation at the moment is complicated by the reality that two of Everton’s best players this season, Steven Naismith and Samuel Eto’o, have been at their most influential when playing just behind a striker.
Yet a grounding on the flanks could come in handy for City, given the range of talents they possess and the requirement for flexible players.
Where Everton and City are concerned, there is a cautionary tale.
Jack Rodwell was another teenage prodigy, a midfielder with abundant gifts but fitness problems.
His two, injury-hit years at the Etihad Stadium brought just seven league starts, the status as a fringe player and an exit, via the back door, to Sunderland.
Rodwell, too, was hyped on his emergence.
One difference is that while he cost City £15 million (Dh86.4m), Barkley’s price tag would be substantially bigger, meaning any potential buyer ought to give him a pivotal part in their plans.
Another lies in the scale of his ability.
It is why some wonder if he could succeed Toure. It is why there are such expectations.
Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE
Published: December 5, 2014 04:00 AM