There have been false dawns. On the first day of the season a quarter-century ago, Tony Cottee brought his 20+ goals per season game to Goodison and had a hat-trick within an hour of accepting a hero’s welcome, but he never quite delivered for Everton as he did for West Ham. Danny Cadamarteri’s wonder goal in the Autumn derby of 1998 raised the prospect of us having our own Michael Owen, but the Yorkshire lad faded in his early twenties, not his late twenties. Throw in Francis Jeffers and the tragic case of Billy Kenny and there’s plenty cause for caution.
But, as I hoped for writing before the season began, it looks like we will be seeing much more of Ross Barkley, after his all-round excellent performance at Norwich, capped by a fine goal. But is it another false dawn, or is the teenager the real deal?
At 19, the kid has already had to deal with a major injury that, like all things at that age that do not kill, will have made him stronger, mentally and physically. There’s nothing like the fleeting thought of a dream possibly dashed, followed by the grim slog of injury rehab to put a young man’s feet on the ground. There will be periods out of the team, early substitutions and a few kicks from the Premier League’s old guard to come (as he’s now a marked man), but it’ll never be as bad as the aftermath of 2010’s triple leg fracture.
But what really matters is that most nebulous, some say deceitful, quality called talent. Some players grow into their talent – think of Tim Cahill’s long apprenticeship at Millwall that led to his compensating for a lack of pace with positioning and timing. Some are one-trick ponies – Stuart Barlow had pace to burn, but it never seemed to take him to the right place. Barkley, however, has talent’s most clear marker, the one that never lies – preternatural balance. It is this balance that separated Wayne Rooney from the pack; that captivated Goodison when Peter Beardsley wore the blue shirt and, (the name is already being mentioned re Barkley) propelled Gazza into The Pantheon. And, as I wrote here, balance isn’t just important in football.
Watch Barkley receive the ball on the half turn and move into space; watch opponents buzz around him, but not quite get close enough to land a blow; watch the shift of the ball from under the nose into exactly the right place to strike it for his goal at Carrow Road – from whence comes the power in the “wrong foot” – and believe.
Whisper it, but the player of which he reminds me in these early days, is not Paul Gascoigne, but another who played in an advanced midfield role before we really knew what that was – Kenny Dalglish. The bar is that high. Mr Martinez: please protect and polish our diamond in the diamond.