Belfast Telegraph

Martinez: Barkley is unique

Everton boss Roberto Martinez is all for Roy Hodgson paying Ross Barkley the "phenomenal compliment" of comparing him to Paul Gascoigne and is confident England will handle the 20-year-old Toffees midfielder correctly.

Barkley, back in action for the first time this season over the last few weeks after recovering from a knee injury, had his return to the international scene confirmed on Thursday when Hodgson announced he was part of his Three Lions squad for the forthcoming games against Slovenia and Scotland.

The England boss then likened the player to Gascoigne, a comparison many have been making as Barkley's rapid rise to prominence has continued.

Martinez has done so himself and is certainly comfortable with such talk from Hodgson - although he has also stressed that Barkley is in many ways a "unique" footballer who he can see going on to "mark an era in English football".

Asked on Friday, at his press conference for Sunday's Barclays Premier League trip to Sunderland, how he felt about Hodgson's comments about Barkley, Martinez said: "Ross is going to draw those sorts of comparisons.

"The way he is as a footballer, he can bring about memories of many different players.

"I think it is a phenomenal compliment (for someone) to see aspects of Ross' play comparable to Gascoigne, and I also mentioned before Michael Ballack's attributes when he was a young player - there are many (similar) things I see in him too.

"But the reality is that the longer you see Ross having a big role at our club, you are starting to see a quite unique footballer.

"Ross Barkley is himself and someone I think is going to mark an era in English football."

Questions have been raised of late about Hodgson's relationship with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers following apparent disputes between them over Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling.

But Martinez has emphasised that Everton's relationship with England is "great" and that he is sure Toffees players going on international duty will be "very positive for all parties."

He said: "We have a great relationship with England and Roy Hodgson.

"I think it is important we have that understanding of where the players are and what they need.

"All our players are just so proud to represent their country. We have some young players who need help and support, and the understanding of what they require at this stage of their career.

"You look at (20-year-old Everton and England defender) John Stones and Ross Barkley and I always said they have the potential to be the best in their positions, but they are still very young and they need guidance and support.

"I'm sure our relationship with England will be very positive for all parties."

Everton midfielder Gareth Barry and full-back Seamus Coleman will undergo fitness tests ahead of Sunday's game at the Stadium of Light.

Barry has an ankle problem which he suffered in Thursday's 3-0 Europa League win over Lille, while Coleman was absent from the squad for that match after suffering a cut to his Achilles tendon in last Saturday's 0-0 league draw with Swansea.

Kevin Mirallas (hamstring), Bryan Oviedo, Arouna Kone (both match fitness), Antolin Alcaraz (shoulder) and Stones (ankle) remain unavailable for first-team selection.

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