Barley must keep his feet on the ground

Everton's Ross Barkley (centre) takes on Fulham's Giorgos Karagounis (left) and Steve Sidwell during the Barclays Premier League match at Goodison Park.
Everton's Ross Barkley (centre) takes on Fulham's Giorgos Karagounis (left) and Steve Sidwell during the Barclays Premier League match at Goodison Park.
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Roberto Martinez is hoping to control the hype growing around teenage star Ross Barkley this season - but even he is finding it increasingly difficult.

Barkley has demonstrated why Everton have had such high hopes for him for some years by grasping the opportunities given to him by new manager Martinez.

The 20-year-old has proved himself a dynamic midfielder with a lethal long-range shot, capable of thriving at the top level and earning comparisons with Paul Gascoigne and Steven Gerrard in the process.

A lightning start to the season brought England recognition and Barkley won further caps before Christmas to put himself firmly in the frame for a ticket to Brazil for the World Cup.

He still has much to do, however, hence why Martinez - who was successfully cautious with another up-and-coming young talent in Callum McManaman when at Wigan - has tried to keep his feet on the ground.

He has done this by looking for the right balance when praising Barkley’s performances - not missing an opportunity to speak highly of the teenager but not being over-effusive either.

“I do think the senior call-up is a reward, it promotes a very rare talent in a British footballer,” the Spaniard said after Barkley was named in the England squad for the first time in August.

“But he should still focus on the Under-21s. I think he has got a big role for the Under-21s for England before he can make the step up to the senior side.”

Martinez has exercised his restraint in other ways by occasionally withdrawing Barkley from the action.

After a run of games Barkley was rested for the visit of Tottenham in early November and then, after earning many plaudits for his display in a compelling 3-3 draw with Liverpool, he did not get off the bench the following week.

Yet as the star ratings come thick and fast, the tipping point is being regularly tested by Martinez.

“Ross is a really talented footballer,” he said. “As a British player he is as talented as anyone you see.

“The balance he has with both feet is brilliant, and technically he’s really gifted.

“You would see that technical ability with any Brazilian or Dutch player.”

At his current rate of progress, Barkley might not only get the chance to travel to the World Cup, but have a shot at getting in the England team itself.

Barkley has been at Everton since the age of 11 and was representing their under-18s at 15 years old.

He played for England at various youth levels and was on the Everton first-team bench as long ago as September 2010, when he was just 16.

He seemed to have a bright future but then suffered a horrific triple leg-break that severely hampered his progress.

Then manager David Moyes was reluctant to rush him back in the 2011-12 season, using him only occasionally and feeling he would be better served playing in the reserves.

Last season his rehabilitation was stepped up with loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds before he finished the campaign in the Toffees first team.

This term began spectacularly with a stunning goal against Norwich in August and his career has snowballed since, with his England debut coming in a World Cup qualifier against Moldova.

With caps also coming in November friendlies against Chile and Germany, Barkley knows where the path could lead.

“I’ve set my sights on the World Cup - it’s a goal to get myself in the squad,” he said.

“It will be hard but hopefully I can get on the flight.”

To achieve that much will obviously depend on his form for Everton in the second half of the season, and Martinez - ever the realist - wants him to remain grounded.

Martinez said: “In football a week is an eternity so for a few months it is going to be a waste of time thinking about what can happen in the future.

“In football you need to concentrate on the day-to-day work and that’s where Ross is.

“But all he needs to do now is concentrate on his club role and make sure he is ready to help the team and enjoy his season and develop, and grow.

“Sometimes you get confused as a player how you are going to affect what happens in the national team - but it is very easy. It is about what you do at club level.”