Blues youngster's amazing story
THE date is September 14, 2012. The venue is Brighton and Hove Albion’s Amex Stadium. The competition is the Championship.
Three days earlier, England’s World Cup qualifying campaign had hit an early snag with a home draw against Ukraine.
Ross Barkley, though, has other things on his mind as he prepares to emerge from the bench for Sheffield Wednesday having only hours before started a loan spell at the South Yorkshire club.
Barkley was unable to prevent Wednesday slipping to a 3-0 defeat.
Less than 12 months later, though, and England manager Roy Hodgson has turned to the Everton youngster to help guide his country a step nearer securing a berth in Brazil next summer.
Instead of turning out in English football’s second tier, Barkley could now begin September by representing the Three Lions at the elite level.
It is a remarkable ascent for the 19-year-old, whose midfield displays since Roberto Martinez’s arrival have elevated him out of mere Merseyside football spheres into national consciousness.
Given Barkley missed so much of his formative years through injury – a triple leg break suffered while colliding with Liverpool’s Andre Wisdom while on duty with England’s U19s in October 2010 – perhaps there is a justified sense of the teenager making up for lost time.
That seems the case this season.
Having burst on to the scene back on his first-team breakthrough back in August 2011, Barkley had to wait 20 months between making his second and third starts for Everton.
But his appearance at Tottenham Hotspur towards the end of the last campaign, improved in a subsequent outing at Arsenal, hinted his potential may start being realised.
And with Martinez replacing David Moyes as manager, so Barkley’s opportunities have increased, the midfielder announcing himself at the start of the season with a blistering goal and man-of-the-match performance at Norwich City a fortnight ago.
But it was during his three months working under Owls manager Dave Jones that he kickstarted a career that, not for the first time, had appeared to be in danger of stalling.
“Ross has got better and better since he came here,” said Jones after another sparkling Barkley performance. “The lad has a very bright future and playing games in the Championship will certainly help his development.”
Wavertree-born Barkley, of course, has been on England’s radar for some time. He has represented his country at under-16, U17, U19, U20 and U21 level, helping them win the UEFA U17 European Championship in 2010 and one of few players to emerge with any credit from the recent U20 World Cup.
Barkley netted for the U21s earlier this month in their 6-0 romp over Scotland, a match which Hodgson took temporary charge with new coach Gareth Southgate not yet in situ.
And it lodged with the former Liverpool manager. “Ross impressed me when I worked with him at St George’s Park and in the England U21s match,” he said.
“We are giving ourselves a chance to look at players who have a bright future and are capable of making a difference to a game.
“Players like Barkley can make a difference and in a team they can be players who make a big impact and help you win.
“They are there on merit and it’s nice that they are younger and have a future in front of them.”
England captain and fellow homegrown Merseyside talent Steven Gerrard is also a fan of the Everton man.
“It’s no surprise to me that Ross has been given a call-up,” he says. “He has started the season on fire. I watched one of the under-21 training sessions at the last international break and I like what I see of him.
“I like his physique, I like his touch and if he keeps his feet on the ground, keeps learning and keeps improving, I’m sure he is going to be a big talent for club and country for a long time.
“Plus he’s a local lad, so it’s great for him.”
Speaking earlier this week, Barkley’s club boss Martinez was similarly effusive with his praise.
“I look at Ross and you tell me what weakness he has? He hasn’t got one,” said the Spaniard.
“He takes in information, which for a young lad is incredible. He can use both feet, he can switch the play, he has a range of passing and can receive the ball in any area.
“He has a great shot and has incredible energy. He reminds me of Michael Ballack.
“When Ballack was younger, nobody knew what his best position was; could he be a sitting midfielder, an attacking midfielder or play up front? Ross is that impressive.”
With Darron Gibson continuing to regain full fitness after suffering a knee complaint earlier this month, Martinez is likely to keep faith in Barkley at promoted Cardiff City on Saturday.
The Spaniard remains braced for a further bid from Manchester United for Marouane Fellaini with reports suggesting the Old Trafford side are now concentrating their efforts on the Belgian after previously also pursuing Leighton Baines.
Martinez, with two opening draws after last week’s stalemate at home to West Bromwich Albion, will aim to avoid matching an unwanted landmark given Walter Smith is the only new Everton manager in the last 50 years to fail to win any of his first three league matches.