Everton manager Roberto Martinez believes midfielder Ross Barkley’s performances are showing signs of a young Paul Gascoigne.
Barkley, who celebrated his 20th birthday last Thursday, turned in a starring performance in Sunday’s 1-1 Premier League draw at Arsenal, watched by England manager Roy Hodgson.
The youngster has established himself as a regular in the Everton side since Martinez replaced David Moyes as manager in the summer, and has also broken into the Three Lions senior setup.
Barkley has won his first three England caps this season, and has emerged as a contender to win a place in Hodgson’s squad for next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil.
Gascoigne, who spent two years with Everton towards the end of his career, was the brightest talent to emerge in English football in the late 1980s, making his name with Newcastle and Tottenham.
Martinez is reluctant to draw comparisons between the two, describing Barkley as “unique”, but he feels that Gascoigne and former Germany captain Michael Ballack are talents that the Liverpool-born player should be aspiring to match.
Martinez told the Guardian: "When I see Barkley, I see bits of Ballack and bits of Gazza, although I can guarantee you that he is quite unique.
“He has incredible balance with both feet, he is really strong and really powerful. He is developing an incredible awareness. He is someone that you can compare to any other nation… I mean the young Brazilians, Dutch and Spanish players. He has a gift and all that talent.
"Ross is an incredible person, so mature and he has a real love for the game. I've never seen an English player with that sort of mentality and I have had the privilege to work with many youngsters who have been successful.
“We needed to find a role for him, specifically off the ball and then he needs to be able to express himself. We need to give him time. We have to recognise a real English diamond. He isn't ready yet but he has everything to mark a real era in our football.”
Barkley’s progress as a youngster was held up when he suffered a triple fracture of his leg at the age of 16 while on England under-19s duty.
Moyes often appeared reluctant to play him during his time in charge of the Toffees, instead sending him out on loan to Championship sides Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds last season.
And even though the midfielder has progressed this season, Martinez is also wary about demanding too much, too soon.
He added: "The England manager has to decide what role, if any, he wants for Ross.
“What we need to do is make sure we give Ross another 50 starts to see his evolution. Any player needs to develop an understanding.
“In this country, we need to be more protective over our youngsters because, in Ross, we have someone who, if we look after him properly, can give us something unique."