Ross Barkley’s steady maturation shouldn’t be a concern for Evertonians

Ross Barkley's Everton career is back on track after a difficult second season in 2014-15 but he continues to attract criticism from some supporters who are frustrated with the Blues' lack of progress overall.

Matt Jones 05/01/2016 28comments  |  Jump to last

Those looking in from outside of our Everton bubble may expect Ross Barkley to be unanimously lauded at Goodison Park by his supporters.

A local lad with such quality played at the heart of his boyhood team are factors which rarely align in the modern game after all, with emotional ties now secondary to an immediate, insatiable need for results in the Premier League. But despite Barkley’s position, one which all those of a blue persuasion would love to occupy, he’s not overly popular.

That much was evident during and after Everton’s 1-1 draw against Tottenham Hotspur. There were howls of derision from the stands when Barkley chose simple options and more angst when his final ball was careless late on in the game. By contrast, his manager was delighted with the display turned in.

“In my eyes, Ross Barkley’s performance was his most mature in three years,” said Roberto Martinez afterwards. “In two-and-a-half years, he’s gone from a player that had to be fitted into a structure to one that can player in different roles and master them. The bravery that he has, he receives the ball in every single situation.”

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Indeed, while some itch for the raw, swashbuckling Barkley of 2013-14 or a midfield man who possesses more industry and the expense of ingenuity, what we are seeing in progress is a young footballer maturing. 

The improvements this season have been clear. After not signing a creative midfielder in the summer, the burden of contributing in the final third was shifted onto the 22-year-old, whose shy demeanour would have had many concerned about whether he’d cope with such pressures. So far, with seven goals and seven assists in all competitions, there’s no denying he’s delivered emphatically in that sense.

Yet if we delve beyond the statistics and into the minutiae of his showings as of late, we’re also seeing a diamond of a footballer that’s smoothed down some of his rough edges.

During 2014-15, when fans were once again critical of the Wavertree lad, the midfielder seemed inhibited by the mantle of being a local hope and his form suffered as a consequence. But there’s a swagger which has exuded from a bulked up Barkley this term and brief segments of play which show the strides he has made.

He always wants the ball for starters, whether in space, with men around him, in advanced positions or dropping deeper. Barkley is happy to be bold in demanding possession and with his blend of brawn and technical flair, he’s been a very difficult player to take the ball from in 2015-16.

It may seem insignificant, but it’s a quality which has defined the best midfielders of this generation. While Barkley is clearly not to their standard yet, players such as Paul Scholes, Xavi Hernandez and Zinedine Zidane were happy to command possession in frantic contests, which can be just as brave as throwing yourself in for a crunching tackle.

Additionally, his repertoire of instinctive touches and inventive flicks has helped Everton move the ball quicker than last season, when passing was slow and stagnant.

Of course there are areas of his game where Barkley can make more progress, with his defensive work and final pass still capricious. But his maturation this season, while it may mean we see less lung-busting surges from one end of the pitch to the other, should be a cause for encouragement, not concern.

After all, this time last year who would have expected Barkley to be so efficient in possession—he’s completed 88 per cent of his passes this season—, so willing to take on responsibility and so decisive in the final third? That he’s adding more attributes to his game will only serve to make him a more accomplished, adaptable midfielder.

It may mean Barkley doesn’t become the cavalier Paul Gascoigne-type player which many have tipped him for in the past, but maybe something more. When the game is stretched he can carry Everton through phases, when it’s anarchic he can settle the side down and when the opposition fall back into a defensive shape, he can make game-changing contributions.

The frustrations amongst some fans are understandable, with scrutiny ramped up when it comes to a local player representing their team. In addition, in Jack Rodwell and Dan Gosling, other talented midfielders tipped for stardom, the Goodison Park crowd have seen prodigious players not live up to the hype.

But Barkley has proven he’s a cut above. He’s overcome the dreaded second season slump with panache this term, his end product has vastly improved and in general play, he’s knitted Everton’s thrilling attacking forays together superbly.

For all the concerns which linger around Goodison Park at the moment, Evertonians should at least be contented that one of their own is making steady but hugely encouraging progress.

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Reader Comments (28)

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Ian Jones
1 Posted 05/01/2016 at 18:30:51
Matt. Enjoyed reading the above. Interesting to read he has completed 88% of his passes. While not wanting to dismiss that stat, assume that includes passes over a short distance. As you also point out it is his final pass that leaves fans frustrated.

We know he is capable of making these runs but if he could get this part of his game improved he will be so much better. I don’t care too much about his tackling and tracking back. We have plenty of players who should be able to do that effectively.
Darren Hind
3 Posted 05/01/2016 at 18:34:00
You can't please all of the people all of the time, but "not overly popular"???

He is is adored. Yes he does bring out the worst from certain sections of the fan base, but that stems from either jealousy or their desire to see him do well. He is living the dream and every mistake is greeted with hand wringing frustration.

The vast majority of Evertonians are very proud of him and will take every opportunity to burst into a few bars of "We've got a diamond..."

Pete North
4 Posted 05/01/2016 at 18:35:57
I agree, Ross is progressing and it's good to see him holding a regular place in the team but we can all see his game still has fundamental weaknesses.

The manager should stop telling us how phenomenal he is and work much harder on improving his defensive performance and awareness when moving with the ball. If RM won’t do that then sadly Ross needs to move to another club which has a manager who will.
Jay Harris
5 Posted 05/01/2016 at 18:44:42
Ross covers as much of the pitch as anyone with the possible exception of Barry and McCarthy when he plays.

He does chase back but in line with the rest of the team tends to stand off the opposition. This can only be an instruction from the manager as it is right through our team that we do not close the opposition down we allow them room to play.

Besic does not seem to but into this as he was right in their faces as soon as he came on and we could see the difference.

Other than the defensive side I think Ross has looked really good this season but I would like him to score more.

Andy Codling
6 Posted 05/01/2016 at 18:51:42
Jay, I agree, the first time we bothered to close down Spurs, we ended up scoring, funny that eh?
Jamie Barlow
7 Posted 05/01/2016 at 19:02:42
Ross hasn't got a defensive side.

I love watching him when we have the ball but I struggle to think of a player who pulls out of so many challenges. He will do himself some harm if he doesn't start to fully commit.

For me he needs to work on that side of his game.

Des Farren
8 Posted 05/01/2016 at 19:04:40
I saw him take three touches on the break before eventually passing to Deulofeu who, by this stage, was virtually standing still, having checked his run, waiting on the ball.

A small criticism but one which he needs to address. Big improvements this season no doubt.

Brent Stephens
9 Posted 05/01/2016 at 19:13:47
A huge talent (can drift pass a man with ease; surging runs into the opposition half; two footed; a great shot) and some weaker side to his game (challenging on the ground or in the air; sometimes decision-making).

I’ve come to accepting we won’t see him challenge for the ball, and just enjoy his positive attributes.

Ian Brandes
10 Posted 05/01/2016 at 19:43:43
He is a great talent, if not frustrating at times. But he has taken himself by the scruff of the neck this season, and his game has improved.

The best of Ross is yet come, but it will. Eventually!

Tony Hill
11 Posted 05/01/2016 at 20:09:17
He still tends to freeze when called upon to make the killer pass and he needs, in due course, to recover the freedom he showed a couple of seasons ago but he's a wonderful player and a great Evertonian.

This season he has started to develop a level of care and accuracy which was essential and which I think will give him the platform to become a truly great footballer. I think he is the most likely of our top players to remain with the club; I certainly hope so.

Chris Gould
12 Posted 05/01/2016 at 20:24:08
An absolutely fantastic talent. It’s just a shame he’s had to carry so much creative responsibility at such a young age. The criticism he receives from a section of so-called fans is disgusting. Some on here absolutely slate him. It is an absolute disgrace.

Every young player will lose form and confidence from time to time. This is when the fans should get behind the player. Too often some sections of the crowd have got on his back.

I applaud Martinez for sticking with him and allowing him to make mistakes. Ross is coming of age and will be a huge player for us in time.

Bill Gall
13 Posted 05/01/2016 at 20:46:17
I believe that a number of supporters that criticize him do not take into consideration the time he had to spend out with a serious injury that both physically and mentally set him back for practically 2 seasons, and now he is gradually getting his confidence back by not being asked to play in different positions every week.

He will become the excellent player that many people in the professional game believe he will turn out to be. Watch some of the plays he does that other players would never have the skill to do or try before just emphasizing his mistakes. There are very few players come through the Everton academy with the size and skill that Barkley posses.

Ian Bennett
14 Posted 05/01/2016 at 20:47:51
I am a massive critic of his, I wish he'd tackle, I wish he'd play the ball quicker, I wish he'd shoot more, and I wish he'd use his strength more.

But he's played a lot better this season, it's easy to forget he is still young and that inconsistency for attacking players is the norm - not everything will come off.

Play the ball quicker Ross, and give a rocket to those that don't make the run.

Joseph Terrence
15 Posted 05/01/2016 at 20:58:33
The only problem I see with Ross is that he lacks a true position on the pitch. He is at his best when the ball is at his feet with space to exploit, suggesting a deeper role, but he is undoubtedly a defensive liability. While playing him in the hole minimizes his defensive deficiencies, he isn’t quite technical enough to be a creator in the David Silva mold.

With that said, I don’t think there is any question that Everton are a much, much better team with Ross on the pitch than with Ross off the pitch.

Ultimately, If Bobby is serious about building a team around Ross, then the formation must be a 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 where he can play a little deeper but have the necessary cover. Of course, Ross could increase his work rate and learn to defend more soundly but Everton could still win the league this year.

Sid Logan
16 Posted 05/01/2016 at 21:30:43
Ross is a great talent with some annoying faults that at the moment occur to often to be dismissed lightly.

Sometimes in his haste he fails to make what is the most straightforward pass in his spell of possession by passing to the opposition when it was easier to pass to a team mate.

He also can't head a ball to save his life.

He never stick his foot in to make a tackle and I suspect this is an understandable legacy of his double leg break.

All that aside I thinks he's continuing to improve massively.
He's loyal and he's an Evertonian. He may well be the only one of our wonder stars who'll be with us next season.

For his considerable skill and loyalty he'll always be a huge asset for us and he'll always have my support.

Sid Logan
17 Posted 05/01/2016 at 21:37:54
I should also add that the best thing he could add to his game for us right now – which he once did regularly – is charge in to the box at every oportunity and either shoot or get brought down!
David Hallwood
18 Posted 05/01/2016 at 21:52:49
A truly great talent, and one of our own. Maturing nicely and rarely loses the ball or misplaces a pass, something he was guilty of when he first came on the scene.

He just needs to watch some Micheal Ballack CDs

Eddie Dunn
19 Posted 05/01/2016 at 23:10:40
We must keep this lad, as he will mature into a top player.
Laurie Hartley
20 Posted 06/01/2016 at 09:36:26
I criticised him last year because I expected him to tackle. That was because I though he was a midfielder. This year I have realised that I was mistaken - I don't know what his position is - I haven't got a clue.

What I do know is that his first touch is outstanding. He seems to be able to put it anywhere in a 360 degree radius of where he receives it. He can shoot and he can pass.

Seven goals and seven assist I think someone posted so far this season.

When he is on the pitch with Lukaku and Deulofeu anything can happen. Just give him the ball somewhere inside the attacking half and let him do whatever he wants. Don't fill his head with instructions - don't stereotype him - just let him be what he is - an extremely gifted and talented footballer. That is how we will get the best out of him.

Brent Stephens
21 Posted 06/01/2016 at 09:43:50
Laurie - quite. Let Ross do his own creative thing. Don't expect him to have any defensive side at all and you won't be disappointed, and the scales will fall from your eyes if you don't already rate him.
Harold Matthews
22 Posted 06/01/2016 at 10:39:28
Quite true lads. Give him the ball and let him get on with it but order him not to take corners and freekicks.
Kevin Gillen
23 Posted 06/01/2016 at 13:13:52
I am a big fan of Ross but he does do your head in at times. Harold (22) for example is right. We have had so many free kicks on the edge of the box this year and the vast majority of them end up in the stands. We have celebrated Ross reaching 100 games in the Premiership. Would he have had 100 games with a top four club? I think not, he’s been schooled in public but I do believe he hasn’t achieved even 20% of his potential yet and that is what I’m looking forward to.

He can improve his defending (get goal side once in a while and head the ball - you were a schoolboy centre half) and dead ball situations again he could do better. I have seen him criticized for pulling out of tackles but mostly I think this is because he doesn’t want to give away fouls or get booked or sent off a la Gerrard. Where I think he could make the most impact is in goalscoring, he made a great start but he needs to kick on and get another seven before the end of the season.

He plays the right way and his attitude is good. I want to see him keep improving and we will climb the table as he does. COYB.
Charles Barrow
24 Posted 06/01/2016 at 14:42:45
Glad to see most of the comments here are positive! I am a greater believer in Ross and can’t understand some of the ignorant knee jerk criticisms he has endured from fellow Evertonians. I couldn’t care less if he can’t tackle so long he does the far more important job of creating goals for others and scoring goals.

I think it would be a tragedy for Everton if he was treated as a ’luxury’ we couldn’t afford like so many fantastically gifted players in England over the years. WE should support him and encourage him to use his incredible gifts, not condemn him because he didn’t take someone out on the half way line!!
Jamie Barlow
25 Posted 06/01/2016 at 19:28:49
I can't remember anyone ever saying they wanted Barkley to "take players out on the half way line". A little bit of help tracking back and the odd tackle isn't a lot to ask of a professional footballer is it?

And it's not that he can't tackle, he won't tackle.

Michael McCarthy
26 Posted 07/01/2016 at 00:33:20
Neither Scholes nor Zidane could tackle! Ross is a diamond that is polishing up very nicely thank you very much.
Anthony Dwyer
27 Posted 07/01/2016 at 01:47:06
Ross Barkley is the most under appreciated player at the blues.

Playing in his role there are but few who are playing anywhere near as well as Ross , yet a lot of blues seem to grumble every time he's on the ball.

Look through the league , Liverpool have Courtinho (Brazil international) ,Lallana (£25m) and ferminho (£30m) , spurs have Erickson , lamela (£30m) and Deli Ali , utd have Mata (experienced Spanish international) , Depay (£25m) etc , Chelsea have Hazard (last season player of season) , Oscar and William (both Brazil internationals ) and I could go on further.

The fact is only Ozil , De Brunne , Silva ,and possibly Yaya Toure , have anything like the stats Ross has and all play for much better sides than Ross , yet for some reason Ross seems to be slammed.

Caragher and the sky sports pundits have recently said how Deli Ali has surpassed Ross , my question is how ?

Ross has better stats , more goals , assists and a higher pass completion than Ali so why is it that so many people jump all over Ross .

Ross is 22 , he is not anywhere near the finished article , he is not Zidane , he is not Messi and he is not Ronaldo , but he is a hugely talented player , and we are lucky to have him.

I wish Ross was given the same respect and support Del boy gets off the Everton faithful ,so as he could play without fear and really express himself.

Ciarán McGlone
28 Posted 07/01/2016 at 18:55:12
Very good article. Much improved this season. A lot of one touch stuff which is good to see, because he had a tendency to dwell on it too much..

Those having a go at him, are probably the same ones who thought Lukaku was a waste of money.

Anto Byrne
29 Posted 08/01/2016 at 03:14:46
We have a diamond called Ross Barkley...

There, enough said.

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