LONDON • Everton are to open contract talks with Ross Barkley at the end of this season, having decided to reward the midfielder for his progress by offering him a deal that they hope will ward off interest from rival English football clubs.
He has scored 11 goals and assisted in eight more this season, with his form prompting Roberto Martinez to describe the England international as a player he wants to build his team around. However, a by-product of the 22-year-old's development is that it has made him one of the hottest properties in English football.
The Englishman was again in inspirational form on Saturday as he guided Everton to a 3-0 win over Stoke City in the Premier League.
He ensured there was no late capitulation from Everton this time, after they contrived to turn a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 defeat in the dying minutes against the same team on the previous occasion. The win ensured they took Stoke's place in the top half of the table after winning consecutive league games for the first time this season.
The move that led to Everton's opening goal at the Britannia Stadium - a penalty which was converted by Romelu Lukaku in the 11th minute - was Barkley at his most incisive. Seemingly pinned to the touchline, he instigated the attack with a brilliant backheel.
It was a glittering reminder of his potential, the youngster creating danger out of nothing with an instant flick into space, and Bryan Oviedo cantered forward before releasing the impressive Tom Cleverley, who invited contact from goalkeeper Jack Butland.
The other goals came from Seamus Coleman (28th minute) and Aaron Lennon (42nd) as Everton won comfortably.
Asked if talks on Barkley's contract situation were imminent, Martinez said: "Not now but maybe in the summer. Especially, as I said before, Ross is not a young man any more. He's a player you can build a project on.
"When you want to build a project around a player at Everton, you need a player who wants to take that role. It's one thing as manager wanting that player, but if the player doesn't feel the same way, then you can't do it.
"What you are going to do in the final 12 games will allow you to have a real strong ending, and that's where the focus is. The FA Cup is another real strong focus for us, and the role of Ross Barkley will be vital to what we can achieve."
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN