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Hughes exclusive: Rooney, Barkley and why Everton must nurture the next generation

In fifty years grandfathers from the blue half of Merseyside will tell their grandchildren the story of Wayne Rooney.

It will sound like a fairytale. An Evertonian through and through, Rooney made his debut at 16 and the whole country watched in awe as he bossed fully grown men when he wasn't legally able to drink or drive. Then came the £25.6m move to Manchester United two years later, and eventually the countless titles and status as England and United's record goalscorer.

For some, like Mark Hughes, they will tell personal stories of Rooney at a time when he wasn't yet the household name he was always destined to become. Speaking to Tribalfootball, the former Everton U23 captain gave a startling insight into how Rooney dominated his youth teammates and even made him question his own footballing career.

"In my younger younger days, I was like 9 or 10," said Hughes, who is now with Accrington Stanley. "And we had these games at Savio (Salesian College), we didn't really have anywhere to play. And we used to have these showers, we'd all be in the same showers.

"I remember playing the year above myself so he (Rooney) was playing at the time. And I was this 9 or 10 year old and he was 11, and I remember I walked into the shower and he had a hairy chest, hairy b***s, hairy pits, and I remember thinking oh my god who is this lad!

"We used to train against them quite a bit and I was miles behind. And I was thinking if I'm going to be a footballer as a defender and he is the type of striker I'll be playing every week, I might as well pack it in now because I couldn't get near him.

"He was bigger than you, stronger than you, more powerful than you. You think you'd give him a yard and he'd shoot from 30 yards and put it in the top corner. He could do absolutely everything.

"A year is quite a lot when you're younger, and I remember when he was 12 or 13 he was playing U19s. We used to watch him score hat-tricks, he was playing five years ahead of himself and was the best player on the pitch. I remember when he broke into the first-team, we used to get tickets to go watch, and he was the best player at Everton at 16.

"I used to love the fact that he used to play as if he was playing with his mates in the streets or playing with his mates all the time, even when he made that step to the Premier League, he played with no fear."

Rooney's fearlessness at such a young age was miraculous. And when Ross Barkley broke into the Toffees first-team at 17, Everton fans thought they were getting the second coming of their former Wonder Boy.

The attacking midfielder electrified Goodison with his tenacity and technical ability, but never quite reached the heights expected of him. It all ended in flames when Barkley stalled on signing a new contract in the summer of 2017, and he was subsequently sold to Chelsea for £15m the following January.

His departure still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of some Evertonians, including Hughes, who thinks Barkley could have been the club's answer to Steven Gerrard.

"If he (Rooney) was playing at that age now, I'm not saying it would get taken out of him, but I look at someone like Ross Barkley when he was at Everton, and he came in a bit of a street footballer, but I think managers and even fans they sort of take that out of them.

"I love when a young lad comes through, and he was the one who I thought could be the next Steven Gerrard for Everton, you could have built a team around him. I thought he could've been the best midfielder England had since Steven Gerrard.

"But because the way he played, he used to run with the ball, and sometimes he'd get it taken off him, that's the hardest part of football taking people on. Then the fans would get on his back because he'd given it away, [then] he just started passing it.

"He just had that little street footballer taken out of him. I like to watch things as a neutral now, I do support Everton but now I watch the two teams tactically when I go to games now a little bit. And he was the one when I think to myself I felt sorry for him a little bit, even though he's earning £100k a week at Chelsea, but he could've been Everton's Rooney, that local lad coming through."

Hughes sees similarities in Barkley's demise at Everton to Tom Davies. Another product of Finch Farm, Davies burst onto the scene in 2017, scoring his first goal for the club in that famous 4-0 win over Manchester City.

After reaching 18 starts in his first two seasons, Davies managed just ten during the 2018/19 campaign. And Hughes thinks the 21-year-old has been a 'shadow' of his former self.

"(Davies) was a breath of fresh air. I remember going to Goodison and they were playing Man City. Man City were the best team and he was head and shoulders the best player, scored his first goal.

"I don't know if its just when you come onto the scene, you're playing on adrenaline or whatever, but he was ghosting past players and you look at him now and he just looks like a complete shadow of himself.

"I used to watch him and if he had one or two games not going for him, the fans would get on his back and then you think hang on a minute the hardest part of football is going past players and trying to create things, you don't realise how hard it is, and scoring goals, and he had that in his locker and then fans would get on his back and his confidence went down and he was a bit of a scapegoat and he'd get dropped.

"He's just been a shadow of the player he was when he first came on the scene. He's obviously a tremendous player, he was captain of the England U21's. So I just think they should be careful what they wish for."

Everton have undoubtedly changed as a football club in recent years. Fuelled by the billions of Farhad Moshiri and Alisher Usmanov, they have a net-spend of £275m over the past five seasons, third highest in the league behind the two Manchester clubs. They are now managed by the highly-esteemed Carlo Ancelotti, who has won major honours in England, Spain, Germany and Italy.

As a fan, Hughes wants to see Everton win trophies but hopes they can do so by nurturing the next Rooney, rather than relying on the transfer market.

"I think managers have changed. It's a results games business isn't it? It is very rare managers get those two, three or four year plans. They need instant success. They seem to think buying that foreign player is the answer, when sometimes the answer is in front of you as a young lad. Being an Everton fan, with Liverpool doing so well, maybe that's what has put the pressure on.

"All the fans are saying we need hundreds of millions of pounds to spend, but I hate that side of it because sometimes you lose your club a little bit. I used to love the Tony Hibbert's, Leon Osman's at Everton, them homegrown players that broke through the ranks and they know what the club is about. Even the likes of Timmy Cahill and Mikel Arteta, they got Everton.

"And I look at Everton now and those players don't get Everton as much. I think the fans feed off that and I think they've become a little bit more robotic. Don't get me wrong they are still Everton fans, so passionate. But they've lost that. I probably say that for every fan in the Premier League, not just at Everton. Every Premier League club has gone down that way now haven't they, it's a business now isn't it?"


To ready more about Mark Hughes and his time with Accrington Stanley, click here.

Follow Andrew Maclean on Twitter: @andrewmaclean30

Andrew Maclean
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Andrew Maclean

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