Few could blame Roberto Martinez for watching the latest in a seemingly never-ending run of international breaks from behind the couch. With the number chosen for their country (at full and Under-21 level) reaching double figures, and Liverpool next on the fixture list, Martinez will pray for the safe return of his players.
Ross Barkley is one of those selected, with the midfielder hoping for a full England debut at Wembley (Friday vs. Chile or next Tuesday against Germany), and his upward trajectory is one of the standout points from the early stages of this new era at Goodison.
-Martinez: Vellios needs loan spell
Spending almost a decade at Everton, Barkley is another string in the bow for the renowned club academy. The club is equally astute at developing talent from an early age or a prospect acquired later. John Stones is a prominent example of the latter, with the defender impressing in preseason and becoming a regular for the England U-21 team.
Though the two differ greatly on time spent at Goodison, there is no doubt that they are the better for their time on Merseyside. Their progress is obvious, yet their improvement, especially that of Barkley, inevitably turns attentions toward the stalling career of a player once on a similar path.
Arriving from Iraklis in January 2011, having scored his first Iraklis goal against Greek giants Olympiakos, Apostolos Vellios looked set to flourish. Adjusting well to his new surroundings, there was a first-team debut within three months and two other substitute appearances followed before the end of the season.
The promising signs continued into 2011-12; Vellios scored his first goal for the club in his second game. Four days later, with Vellios again appearing from the bench, the young forward grabbed an assist in the League Cup. League goals against Chelsea and Bolton led to starts in the subsequent matches -- the fixtures against Fulham and Stoke remain the only starts of his Everton career.
Soon after, however, whether it was David Moyes erring on his customary cautious side or not, the first problematic sign reared its head. The former Toffees manager raised training-related concerns: “I see him in training and there are times I think he is slacking and he needs to work a bit harder, do better and protect the ball a bit better”.
Despite the productive start, the limited game-time thereafter hinted at the continuation of these training issues. Following Moyes' comments, Vellios registered just four substitute appearances totalling 23 minutes in the final six months, which snowballed into a failure to make a single squad in the final three months.
The downward trend continued last season, as any progress halted entirely -- Vellios had only six brief outings in all competitions. An assist in a 10-minute cameo against Tottenham provided the most recent glimpse of his fading potential.
Beginning the current campaign as fourth-choice centre forward, Vellios scored in the opening match of preseason. Another brief remainder of the promise buried under a chronic lack of football. But the chance of match-action remains thin, nonetheless, with Romelu Lukaku heading the list, and Vellios has not made a single squad this season.
Needing minutes to prevent his career from nose-diving into the abyss of squandered opportunity, the obvious answer is a loan move. However, as reported Wednesday by the Liverpool Echo, the player appears set against the idea.
In this regard, Vellios can learn from the career path of Barkley. Much like Vellios, with Barkley making his debut just four months after his teammate, his initial flying start hit the buffers. Herein lies the difference, though -- as Barkley went out on loan he improved and has returned ready for the first team.
The apparent refusal of Vellios to agree to a loan move suggests another pampered prospect letting their ego rule their common sense. The player may feel there is a valid claim for increased involvement, with Arouna Kone absent for the foreseeable future and Nikica Jelavic misfiring, but this is an argument carrying little weight.
After all, the statistics paint an increasingly grim picture. The last time Vellios made a competitive 18-man squad was February; he has not played a minute of first-team football in 10 months and the last of his three goals came in November 2011.
Young players need to match their talent with the necessary attitude and work rate. Unless the penny drops in the near future, which would consist of Vellios taking the loan route of Barkley, the most likely outcome is a player adding his name to the list of those who squandered their chance at Everton.