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Football purist, realist and general sports fanatic. Interested in all aspects of the game, from all corners of the earth.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Ross Barkley: Leave him be

Steven Gerrard is broken. During his time he was so often the talisman; the catalyst behind Liverpool’s successful battle against total mediocrity. In the last twelve months Demba Ba, the World Cup and his own aching joints, Gerrard’s Unholy Trinity, amalgamated. The demolition ball they formed pounded into the Liverpool captain’s spirit and knocked him across the Atlantic. Watching Gerrard’s interview after accepting his fate no longer lay at Anfield the evidence was obvious; Steven Gerrard is a broken man.

Jamie Carragher approached the subject with a touch of realism. “Enough of Gerrard now, he's leaving”, he tweeted. Then he lodged his tongue firmly against his cheek. “Replacement has to be Ross Barkley, offer 10 million go to 12 tops job done”.

Barkley must have been insulted. Throughout his career he has constantly been lauded by influential people within English football. Nobody seems content to allow him become Ross Barkley; he’s been touted as ‘the next’ Wayne Rooney (Frank Lampard), Michael Ballack (Roberto Martinez) and Paul Gascoigne (Roy Hodgson). Twelve million pounds to a player swimming in a maelstrom of appreciation could only have been interpreted as an insult.

The irony of Carragher’s comment is that it wasn’t a preposterous valuation.

Ross Barkley is a gifted young footballer. At twenty-one he’s shown himself to be fearless player; constantly asking for the ball and attempting to force play regardless of whether his endevours have been coming up short on any particular day.

Roberto Marinez noticed this trait in Barkley just weeks into his time at Everton. “Football is a game of errors. What I look for from players is how you react to a mistake: does it stop you getting on the ball again? Do you become a bit more cagey? What I have seen from Ross is that it doesn’t matter whether he makes a mistake; he is ready to get on the ball again. He just carries on playing in the same manner.”

While an admirable trait, you can guarantee the Spaniard is growing slightly frustrated at the fact Barkley still hasn’t laced his raw, visceral style with patience and football acumen.

Yesterday he described the imposing midfielder as “a phenomenal talent” although he also questioned the midfielder’s consistency, calling him a young man who is still learning but one who “needs to get through certain periods where he can make decisions in a better way”.

Barkley’s individual talent ensures he will occasionally decorate games with stunning runs, or even goals, but Everton, particularly during their miserable season, require a more reliable attacking player at the moment.

Reliable is a word alien to Ross Barkley at this admittedly early stage of his career. He neither possesses a goal threat or the capability to create chances for his teammates.

Paul Riley (who has produced some excellent work on Barkley, Everton and Premiership teams in general) created this (https://twitter.com/footballfactman/status/499641258076569601) revealing shot chart displaying all of Ross Barkley’s shots last season. Not only does Barkley appear to find it difficult to hit the target from inside the box but there are also far too many shots from unfavourable positions (ie. outside the box).

Unfortunately for Barkley and Everton the youngster doesn’t compensate for this by contributing to his side’s attack in other ways. Despite his manager moving him between a position out wide and a more central role this year he continuously fails to carve open the opposition or even recognise when a teammate is in a better position than himself.

His sole assist during this Premiership campaign came in his first game against Aston Villa in October and since then he’s failed in playing teammates into dangerous positions. In fact the last time Barkley played a pass into the box that resulted in a shot was at White Hart Lane on November 30th.

These facts suggest to a number of things. Perhaps Barkley is still easing into the season after beginning it two months later than his teammates. Maybe Barkley is finding it more difficult than expected having being taken away from central areas to learn how to play out wide where there’s less space.

One thing that can’t be disputed however is Ross Barkley’s inexperience. Even at 21 he has endured a number of serious injuries. While he has fought back from each one honourably they have eroded into the amount of games he has played. In total the Wavertree-born prospect has only just played enough minutes to amount to a full Premier League season (reached over the holiday period).

So instead of prophesying that Barkley will become England’s greatest player ever maybe Roberto Martinez should focus on developing him as a player. Barkley has talent to spare; if Martinez can allow it to blossom he wont find himself in the bother his team are in now and it’ll have the added benefit of being a worthy addition to his cv.

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