Everton bank on Ross Barkley to hit the Wayne Rooney standard in push for top-four
The Toffees teenager has been thrust into action
There was a moment in the second half at the Emirates on Tuesday night when Everton's 19-year-old Ross Barkley made space for himself on the edge of the Arsenal area and struck a shot across Wojciech Szczesny's goal that was close enough to concern the home crowd.
It was not quite the introduction that Wayne Rooney made for himself against Arsenal at Highbury in 2003, that unforgettable dipping shot over David Seaman, but it was a reminder that Barkley is more than just the average teenager being given a place in the side for lack of other options.
It takes a confident manager to play a teenager who has been out on loan for most of the season when his side still have a slim chance of a Champions League place, but David Moyes evidently sees something beyond the ordinary in Barkley. After an FA Cup semi-final on Sunday in which only three of the 22 starting players were English, Barkley's performance against Arsenal was encouraging.
There is no doubt that the emergence of an academy-produced English teenager in a top-six side at this stage of the season is the exception rather than the norm. Roy Hodgson, who has again voiced his concerns about the diminishing number of English players, can thank the prolific Everton academy for Barkley's progress.
Moyes had other options but he chose to play Barkley behind Victor Anichebe, with the creative responsibility that position brings. "We're having to find the times and moments to play Ross, given where we are in the league and what games we have, and he's got a bit to do yet," Moyes said. "He's not quite ready to be a regular, playing all the time, but we gave him a role that might suit him. He's got a goal in him, as you saw from the shot."
Affording young players the opportunity has become the greatest barrier to their development, as has been the case most critically at Chelsea in recent years. Having returned from his second Championship loan spell of the season, at Leeds United, in February, Barkley has started against Tottenham and now Arsenal in the league. He made two appearances for Everton at the end of December, having previously been on loan at Sheffield Wednesday.
He suffered a bad injury in 2010, then aged 17, breaking his leg in three places during an England Under-19 match. He is making a case to be in Stuart Pearce's Under-21s squad for the European Championships in Israel this summer. He is 20 in December and next season could be his breakthrough campaign.
The Rooney standard is there for every young player at Goodison Park, but he is hardly the only one to emerge in recent years. Leon Osman, Anichebe, Jack Rodwell and Tony Hibbert are all academy boys, and the club had a stake in the development of Leighton Baines, who said on Tuesday night that Barkley had the potential to become an Everton regular. "He has an abundance of talent but the manager is trying to pick the moments when to play him," explained the full-back. "Nothing fazes him. He is such a good player."
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