Giggs: Ross Barkley is no longer a kid - his excellence needs to become the norm
When I analysed Everton last season in preparation for the three games Manchester United played against them, it was often the positioning and approach of Ross Barkley that caught my eye from the hours of match footage I went over.
Barkley was that rare thing in the modern game, a dribbler of the ball. Not just a dribbler but a player who would dribble from just about anywhere on the pitch, including, on occasions, his own half. Like most players who are prepared to take risks it did not always work in his favour but Barkley, on his day, had that quality every team needs but few players possess: he can beat his man.
Watching England try to break down a very deep-lying Lithuania team on Sunday I thought it was the occasion for a player like Barkley who has the ability to dribble through an opponent. Against those organised teams he is the one who can break the defensive line, collapse the shape of the opposition and give you a road through them.
Casting my eye over his statistics for this season, one in particular jumps out at me. In 36 league games last season Barkley attempted 199 dribbles with 116 completed. In 27 league games this season he has attempted just 70 with 42 completed. That is a significant fall and suggests a change in his game, perhaps dictated by his manager Ronald Koeman that he should not take so any risks.
Young players like Barkley are hard to coach – hard but not impossible. You have to insist on them fulfilling their place in the framework of the team, doing their share of the work and maintaining their position in the shape of the formation. But by the same token you have to allow them to do the things that make them special players. You have to grant them freedom within that structure and that can be very difficult for young players to grasp.
We have seen moments of magic in the past from Barkley and he has played well this year in an Everton team that has the best Premier League record since the turn of the year. No doubt it is for that reason he indicated his frustration at having no part in the two England games over the international break. But it goes deeper than that. As a young player you have to earn the trust of managers and to do that you need to perform consistently.
There were times in my early season during difficult games when Steve Bruce would call over to me, “Come on, we need that bit of magic to win us this.” I would be confronted with the reality of my new situation. I was no longer the kid of whom any meaningful contribution was to be applauded. There were expectations. I had set a standard. My team-mates had seen me win games and they wanted me to do so again.
The same is the case for Barkley now and at 23 he is no longer a kid. This footballer has done great things at times in his career. He can go past a player with the lightness of touch and the change of pace that reminds you of Paul Gascoigne. The key now, as he faces another big Merseyside derby on Saturday, is to do it over and again until that excellence becomes the norm.
"Young players like Barkley are hard to coach – hard but not impossible. You have to insist on them fulfilling their place in the framework of the team, doing their share of the work and maintaining their position in the shape of the formation"
That is no easy task but it is what we expect of our very best players. One of the interesting aspects of Barkley’s play when you look at him closely is that he can be very hard to track. He picks the ball up all over the pitch, deep in his own half and then in more orthodox No 10 positions closer to the opponents’ goal.
The game comes easy to players like Barkley and as a result his style can look extremely casual. It is not, I think, what he intends - it just happens to be the way it is. On the occasions when he gives the ball away the fans can get on his back because it looks like he does not care. That is not the case, it is just that he makes it look pretty effortless and when it goes wrong that style can count against him.
If there is an example for Barkley to look at, then it probably comes from a player younger than him who currently occupies the playmaker role for England. Dele Alli does many things better than Barkley – not all it should be said – but overall he has the more complete game. He scores goals, he can defend and keep the team shape. He drops into the pocket in front of the opposition defence. He runs in behind without the ball.
Physically both players are excellent. Barkley is probably the better dribbler. Alli more often makes the right decision – everything from when to dribble or when to lay it off. There will be days when he has a bad game because everyone does but generally he inspires confidence and trust in a coach.
There are others like Barkley who are adaptable to a number of different positions – and I would include Adam Lallana and Jesse Lingard among them. As for Barkley he just needs to make one of them his own. With England, where it seems his frustrations have been in recent times, there is a spot going in the centre of midfield alongside Eric Dier for a playmaker figure and Barkley has the potential.
England have some very talented attacking players in this generation but they will need someone to feed them the ball from deep positions. While that has not been Barkley’s role in the past it might just be one he could fulfil in the future, although first he would have to earn the trust of his manager, Gareth Southgate.
In the meantime he is a local boy in a local derby on Saturday which comes with its own extra bit of pressure. It is one of those days when your manager just wants his best players to deliver, and on that basis, a good day for Barkley to rise to the occasion.
More from Ryan Giggs:
- Where the Arsenal vs Man City FA Cup semi-final will be won and lost
- Where the Chelsea vs Spurs FA Cup semi-final will be won and lost
- Ryan Giggs's Premier League team of the season so far: Who makes the cut?
- Manchester United must turn fixture pile-up to their advantage - just like Ferguson did
- Money is making teenage players richer - not better
- Ross Barkley is no longer a kid - his excellence needs to become the norm
- Why referees must show the human touch
- Archery, the right suit and teamwork: how to win a cup final
- Arsenal can still thrive – even if Arsene Wenger departs
- I wish Manchester United had signed N'Golo Kante
- The secret to closing out a Premier League title race
- Danny Rose has all the qualities of my old Man Utd mate Patrice Evra
- Why Manchester City's struggles are no surprise
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic has the same aura as Eric Cantona - and is just as lethal
- The night Antonio Conte provoked me into confronting Sir Alex Ferguson - it didn't end well
- Why old-school defending is a dying art
- Mauricio Pochettino has given Spurs a steel they used to lack
- Marcus Rashford can be Manchester United's next No. 9
- The day Pep Guardiola almost forced me to quit football
- Why Man Utd vs Arsenal was my ultimate grudge match
- How going long can beat Jurgen Klopp's gegenpress
- Why I fear this could be Liverpool's year in the Premier League title race
- I have discovered that even Arsenal players can be great company!
- Sir Alex Ferguson left a huge void at Manchester United but decline was not inevitable