It’s really easy to make fun of English prospects, so much so that it could simply be classified as low hanging fruit. The way the English media and fans hype their own talent way above their actual production level is borderline farcical.
Saido Berahino was thought so highly of that Tottenham dedicated nearly a month to try and get him from West Brom, even though his career outlook is potentially the next Jermain Defoe. Jack Wilshere can barely string 3 games together yet Arsenal fans for the longest time couldn’t let go his 2010-11 season. Jordan Ibe is a ball dominant winger who can’t pass the ball if his life depended on it, yet he’s gotten playing time over Lazar Markovic who’s now on loan in Turkey.
Of course, there are English prospects that are about as good as the hype machine that’s generated for them. Raheem Sterling has a chance to be as good as Franck Ribery was at his peak (RIP Franck), and he’s given Manchester City some much needed dynamism out wide. While the “English Verratti” tag for Jonjo Shelvey is somewhat hyperbolic, he is a genuinely good passer and dictator in a double pivot formation alongside a destroyer type. Jordan Henderson is a very good playmaker as a forward venturing central midfielder and Harry Kane could be the remix version of Alan Shearer. For every 3-4 overrated and overhyped English talents, there are 1-2 genuine quality players.
Sadly for Everton fans, Ross Barkley is not one of those quality prospects. In fact, he’s much more the opposite. Ross Barkley made the English media take notice in 2013-14 when he was part of Everton’s attacking team that threatened to overtake Arsenal for 4th place. The pace of Barkley and the attacking play from Romelu Lukaku made the Merseyside club somewhat of a neutral’s favorite. His goal versus Newcastle was magnificent and the hype machine gained full steam, earning him a trip to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. In many ways, Barkley was and still is the perfect “Match of the Day” player. All of this obscured the fact that Ross was really mediocre that season.
The following can’t be said strongly enough: Ross Barkley is talented, at least in the conventional way we judge talent with our eyes. Physically, he’s everything you want in a venturing attacking midfielder: he’s quick, fearless as a dribbler and on the counter attack, he can look like a real threat to do something beneficial. He is the type of player that managers give loads of time to, because the payoff could be enormous. He could be described as a very unfinished version of Kevin De Bruyne.
When you have a raw prospect that’s being allowed to make mistake after mistake on the ball, you get current Ross Barkley. If Mesut Ozil is on the suave and understated spectrum of #10’s (the part of the spectrum that we tend to underrate by a great degree), Barkley is the opposite. Ross Barkley is the football equivalent of mixing Mentos and Coke together then shaking it up and watching it explode. Paul Riley did an Everton preview and showed a graphic on the location of Barkley’s open play passes, and it’s not very flattering for a player Roberto Martinez has almost hitched his wagon to as Everton’s #10.
Ross Barkley can look like a selfish individualist at work. He’s very reminiscent of what Andros Townsend and Jordan Ibe are as players, but in a central role.
Take his performance versus Chelsea yesterday. Ross Barkley’s best trait as a player is he knows how to position himself so when he gets the ball, he can have some space to set up a forward action of his choosing. For a guy who quite frankly sucks when he has to do something with the ball, he’s actually really good at this.
It’s the decision making that makes people (including me) scratch their heads. Yes, he registered an assist on Naismith’s hat-trick goal and it was a delightfully weighted pass that was David Silva esque, but that was more or less an isolated successful event in a series of unsuccessful events. There were moments where he would try and go 1v3 versus Chelsea and it went nowhere. This is perhaps the best encapsulation of Barkley’s poor decision making:
Nearly every game that Barkley plays, it features a lot of these instances. Ross could’ve easily just shifted to his right and play a ball to Lukaku which could’ve ended up in a goal. Instead he was so smitten with getting it to Kone that it was 2-3 steps too late. Lukaku might go the entire prime of his career playing with a #10 who only passes when he either feels like it or it’s somewhat of a last resort. No wonder his goal scoring record went down last season (Roberto Martinez also played him a lot on the flanks which also didn’t help things).
The best thing to say about Ross Barkley is he’s still only 21 years old despite this being his third season in the EPL, he’s very young. Every once in a while, Barkley seduces everyone into thinking that he’s starting to figure things out. He was really good against Southampton and his pass for Naismith’s third yesterday was a genuine piece of class. He also has produced only 5 assists and created 65 chances in 4707 minutes of league play, a putrid return for a #10.
In five years, Ross Barkley could figure this all out and become a top notch #10, possibly in the mold of a Steven Gerrard. Ross Barkley could also turn out to be crap and not deviate from what he’s shown so far in his career. No one knows what Ross Barkley will turn out to be, but for now we can probably say that he’s not good at football.