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 By Mike Whalley

Barkley mustn't be overhyped - Martinez

Everton midfielder Ross Barkley is mentally ready to play a role for England at the World Cup if called upon, says Roberto Martinez.

Ross Barkley celebrates his fine, match-winning free-kick in front of the Everton fans.
Barkley starred in the win over Swansea which sent Everton fourth.

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But the manager has warned against hyping up the young midfielder too much, too soon.

Barkley scored the winner with a free kick as Everton moved up to fourth in the Premier League by claiming a 2-1 victory at Swansea on Sunday.

He has also won his first three England caps this season, and is a contender to go to Brazil next summer as part of Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad.

But Martinez says that the 20-year-old’s main focus should be on maintaining his impressive club form, starting with the home game against Sunderland on Boxing Day.

"We always do this when we see an outstanding young player enjoying his football," the Everton manager said. "We start saying that he is now ready to win the World Cup.

"We need to be careful. Ross has shown that he is growing and developing. He keeps surprising everyone because he’s capable of doing anything on a football pitch.

"The England manager is the one who needs to see which players are needed in his squad.

"The World Cup is a long, long way away. As a player, all you need to do is work hard, keep developing, keep enjoying your football.

"Then at the end of the season, Ross will be ready for whatever his role is going to be with England.

"If it’s not this time, I’m sure it will be in the future. He’s got that potential to help the nation.

"But we need to be aware that he’s a young man and he’s still developing.

"If Ross is to have a massive, massive role with the national team, nothing would faze him.

"He’s got that mentality and he’s got an incredible football personality, so he can take anything that comes his way.

"But clearly his focus is just to be as good as he can be for our team. That’s the only way that he can prepare properly for an international career."

Barkley’s progress has been remarkable, considering that he struggled for regular games in the Championship when he was on loan at Leeds last season.

Neil Warnock, the Leeds manager at the time, cited Barkley’s lack of tactical discipline as the chief reason for not playing him.

But Martinez believes the midfielder has improved significantly in that department over the last six months.

He said: "I think what has changed is a real understanding of the game from his point of view.

"He hasn’t changed technically or physically. Ross had a really tough injury [breaking his leg in three places while playing for England Under-19s as a 16-year-old], and from that point on, it was a matter of getting his football knowledge up to speed, to make sure that he had a position on the pitch, and was effective in playing with a team.

"If you take Ross as an individual, technically, he’s as good as it gets, and I wouldn’t say that cheaply.

"Physically, not many technically gifted players can cope with the physicality of the Premier League, and he can.

"It was just a matter of understanding his role off the ball, being able to play in a certain system that he could understand and be effective in.

"That’s the only difference. Having confidence, belief and all the positive aspects that can help any player to show what you’re mastering and what skills you have, and that’s the difference."

Leighton Baines is set to return against Sunderland, having recovered from the fractured toe he suffered during the 3-3 draw with Liverpool on Nov. 23.

Striker Nikica Jelavic will be assessed after feeling a tightness in his hamstring during the warm-up at Swansea, but midfielder Steven Pienaar should recover from a minor knock, while centre-back Sylvain Distin is expected to be fit despite a minor muscle strain.

"Leighton Baines is getting really close," Martinez said. "It’s fair to say that depending how today and tomorrow go, he should be available for Thursday, which is terrific news."

Right-back Tony Hibbert, meanwhile, is back in training after suffering a setback in his recovery from a knee injury earlier this month.

Hibbert, 32, has played only twice in the last 12 months after a series of injury troubles, and Martinez is wary of rushing him back.

He said: "It’s fair to say that they haven’t been big injuries. I think it’s been the same one.

"He’s such an incredible character that he never wants to miss training. He wants to be available. That’s probably gone against him.

"We need to make sure we allow him to have a proper rehabilitation from the little niggle that he has in his knee. But he’s fine.

"I know the fans don’t see it, but Tony Hibbert has had a massive role this season so far, without being on the pitch.

"On a day-to-day basis, the way he has affected the youngsters, he’s been influential and very important.

"It would be ideal if he could be fully fit and helping the team on the pitch, but so far I’m delighted just with his presence at Finch Farm [training ground] on a daily basis."

Martinez, meanwhile, has laughed off reports putting him forward as a potential future manager of Barcelona.

Asked about the possibility of a move to the Nou Camp, the manager said: "Barcelona? To play? I don’t play anymore. I retired a few years ago. It’s a shame, because anyone can play with those players.

"I haven’t heard anything about that, so I don’t know if we’ve got the same sources or not. I’ve never heard those rumours."


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