LONDON (Reuters) - Romelu Lukaku deservedly scooped the man of the match award after Everton’s 3-2 Premier League win over Newcastle on Monday but Toffees fans will have been even happier with another command performance by teenage midfielder Ross Barkley.
Lukaku scored two and set up Barkley for Everton’s other goal in a wonderful first-half team display that showed how quickly the new manager’s passing philosophy is taking hold.
The striker, on-loan from Chelsea, is just the sort of committed centre forward Evertonians love, but he is on board only for one season whereas Barkley, who has been at the club since he was 11, is Everton through and through.
That, of course, as Wayne Rooney showed, is no guarantee that he will see out his career at the club but for the moment, the fans can sit back and enjoy a player described by manager Roberto Martinez as a “diamond”.
Barkley, who won his first England cap last month, has long been the “next big thing” at Everton, having represented his country’s under-16 team as a 14-year-old and shone at every age level.
His progress was halted in horrific fashion, however, when he suffered a triple leg break when playing for England’s under-19s three years ago.
Initial fears that he would never be able to play again proved unfounded and he made his Everton first team debut at the start of the 2011-12 season.
Despite plaudits from all and sundry, Barkley was unable to establish himself in the first team but instead developed his game, and physique, during loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United.
By the time Martinez arrived to replace David Moyes this summer, Barkley was ready to go again and proved it with a superb long-range goal in Everton’s opening 2-2 draw at Norwich.
A regular in the Spaniard’s slick-passing midfield since, Barkley is improving by the week in Everton’s unbeaten start to the season.
Comparisons with former Germany captain Michael Ballack look entirely justified as he sashays past Premier League opponents seemingly with the merest swivel of the hips or dip of the shoulder.
Genuinely two-footed, he has a great eye for a pass and his regular selection for the first team has brought a growing confidence.
He seems, however, to be picking the right course between confidence and arrogance, grounded by his injury setback and the influence of his family.
“You had other players my age who were getting loads of money,” he said recently of his days as a 16-year-old playing for the under-18s.
”One used to turn up in his mum and dad’s Bentley. I’d be waiting at the bus stop and they would ask me if I wanted a lift home but I’d always say no because I was too embarrassed.
”David Moyes told me he’d heard about me when I was 12 and had been waiting to work with me. I was hoping to make my debut at 16 like Rooney. I went away with England under-19s and the manager said he’d give me my game when I got back.
“Then I broke my leg against Belgium.”
Barkley said that Moyes visited him at home and encouraged him to be positive in his recovery and while he was frustrated not to be able to crack the first team, he now recognises that the months he spent in the Championship were crucial for his development.
On Monday, he commanded the middle of the pitch, demanding the ball and sweeping passes short and long, brushing off the admittedly feeble attentions of his Newcastle opponents at will.
There is still some work to do with his decision-making around the box - the explosive shot or picked pass - but that will come quickly enough, with plenty of encouragement from the home fans to concentrate on the former.
Martinez could not hide his enthusiasm for the teenager when analysing Everton’s win, which became unnecessarily nervy after they allowed Newcastle back into contention in the second half.
“Barkley is the sort of player who controls things in midfield, and that is unusual in a player his age,” he said.
”It is almost a question of keeping him away from the training ground because he is so eager to improve himself.
“Ross is a diamond of English football, but he still has a long way to go.”
Editing by John O'Brien