August 20th 2011. Everton continue their traditional slow start to a season under David Moyes with a dismal one nil defeat at home to newly promoted QPR (beaten 4-0 by Owen Coyle's Bolton the week before). There is, however, one positive to come from the game.
A sparkling performance from a Premier League debutant lifts hopes. At just 17 years old this boy seems to have it all. He is strong, he can run with the ball at great speed, he is inventive and he has two good feet.
Five years on though, and the jury is still out on Ross Barkley.
Injuries, loan spells and an unsurprising lack of trust from David Moyes in a young player sees Barkley's development stall. Loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds do little to persuade Moyes to select Barkley.
In comes Roberto Martinez as Everton manager - the young attacking midfielder thrives. They come devastatingly close to Champions League qualification but in the year of a world cup there is surely a chance for Barkley to announce himself on the world stage?
|Barkley makes his debut against Neil Warnock's QPR|
Except Roy Hodgson is England manager. After an exciting performance against Ecuador, Hodgson is critical of Barkley, making his first England start. Despite clearly being the best player on the pitch, Hodgson bemoans his decision making asking journalists why they don't obsess on someone else. In Brazil, Barkley is limited to cameo appearances from the bench until England's fate is sealed and they are knocked out. This is fairly typical of Hodgson, but it also sums up people's opinions on Ross Barkley in his career so far.
There just seems to be a reluctance to accept and trust him as a top quality footballer.
Take last season as an example: In 48 games, Barkley scored 12 goals and assisted a further 11. Not only was that his most effective season to date, one in which he was nevertheless widely criticised by fans and pundits alike, but the 23 goals he contributed to in 2015-16 was bettered by only Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy of those selected for Roy Hodgson's England squad for the European Championships.
How many minutes did he get in the tournament? Zero. As England toiled and struggled against Iceland, in a performance desperately lacking someone willing to take a risk, who would run at defenders, Ross remained sat firmly on the bench.
|Maybe it's an Everton thing?|
As Everton struggled under Roberto Martinez last season, so did he. In the second half of the season he lacked confidence but when he raised his game he raised his team. In the FA Cup semi final against Manchester United him and fellow England international John Stones were at the heart of everything good as Everton pushed them all the way. In the game Barkley created several chances (particularly for Romelu Lukaku) that went begging. Had one or two gone in, would he have been hailed as the star man?
For a player who is as close to the complete package as England are going to get, why are people so cautious of him? Turning 23, he clearly has his best years ahead of him and what he badly needs at this point is an England manager who will invest in him.
This brings us on to the new England manager, Sam Allardyce, who has left Barkley out of his first England squad in charge. While Allardyce brings a different approach, you have to be puzzled that he did not select Barkley in a squad that contains Theo Walcott, Michail Antonio, Jordan Henderson and names Wayne Rooney as a midfielder.
Having stumbled across watching his debut against QPR that day I was sure Ross Barkley was set to become an England star for years to come. He still can, but I now have a nagging feeling that we could be about to waste one of the most talented players in a generation.