Just moments after Everton’s 3-0 win at home to lowly Newcastle United on Wednesday, Roberto Martinez was waxing lyrical about his star player Ross Barkley.
The 36,000 fans who’d turned up at Goodison Park on a tired midweek evening will tell you that this wasn’t Barkley’s best performance in an Everton shirt, but despite this he still managed to be the outstanding player on the pitch in a match low on quality.
He was often hesitant when it came to making decisions in the final third, dribbling when he should release the ball, but his charging runs from midfield posed a constant threat to the Newcastle back-line.
Martinez said that the local boy is no longer a “potential” star. He’s one who’s now fulfilling this promise.
“Probably last year, and the season before he was a young man with enormous potential. I think today he shows you that he’s not a young man anymore. He’s still a young man in terms of age, but in footballing terms he’s a player that is ready to lead a project, ready to lead a team. I don’t think he’s a ‘potential’ player anymore. He’s an important player.”
The phrase “ready to lead a project” stood out among the Spaniard’s words of praise for the 22-year-old, and his player showed these leadership qualities when he stepped up to take two penalties for Everton late in this game.
Barkley had previously enjoyed the freedom of Goodison Park as Newcastle struggled to find a balance in midfield.
Theoretically, their trio of Shelvey, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Henri Saivet should compliment each other well, but neither were on their game. Wijnaldum and right-sided midfielder Moussa Sissoko ran well, but lacked quality when it mattered, and the pair were positionally poor throughout.
Shelvey tried a couple of shots from distance, but overall he was fairly ineffective in the centre of the park despite being heavily involved. He dropped back into a deep playmaking role in the second half, as his manager Steve McClaren replaced holding midfielder Saivet with striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, but he had little space in which to operate – thanks in no small part to Barkley’s defensive work from the front.
This defensive harrying combined with great technical ability and the aforementioned leadership skills will have alarm bells ringing further east down the M62.
With Pep Guardiola due to arrive at Manchester City for the start of the 2016/17 season, there’s a strong possibility that Barkley could swap royal blue for sky blue.
It’s likely that City will be after a fresh core of central players to help Guardiola instil his philosophy at the club, and they’re always after British players to bolster their home-grown number for European competition.
If these homegrown talents are also amongst the best players in the league, as was the case with Raheem Sterling and now with Barkley, then the signing is a no-brainer.
However, for the rest of this season Barkley will be playing his football in front of the Goodison faithful, who’ve had every right to expect more than they’ve seen from their team so far this season.
Everton had failed to win their last five league games, but Martinez believed that this victory was the best of the season so far in terms of game management.
However, if it weren’t for Barkley’s late penalties enhancing the final score, then this might have gone down as a side stumbling rather than leaping to three points.
The midfielder’s confidence and technical ability was evident in both of his spot-kicks, as he sent Rob Elliot the wrong way for the first, before coolly dispatching a Panenka style penalty for his second.
His manager said that he’d never taken one of these in training, and that he wouldn’t be allowed anyway (which suggests he’s taking these kicks when Martinez isn’t looking), but went on to add that he can do it in a game – as long as he scores.
This flamboyant final kick of the game from the Scouse showman raised the roof at Goodison Park, with the only previous noise in the stadium coming when former Liverpool man Shelvey was on the ball.
But the fans ended the night celebrating one of their own. How long he is theirs, remains to be seen.