Ross Barkley was linked with a move away from Everton this week, and the club had even agreed a deal with Chelsea worth £35m, but the young England international turned down a move to the Champions, despite having apparently told Ronald Koeman he wants to leave the club.
If that is true – that he had told Koeman he was ready for a new challenge – then turning down the opportunity to play for Chelsea seems even more bizarre, although his statement on social media explaining that he wanted to wait out his current injury is plausible enough.
Whoever signed off on allowing Ross – a player who wanted away from the club – to undergo elective surgery right in the middle of a transfer window might want to have a look at their policies in future.
Barkley is one of us though, of that there is no doubt. When he was injured a couple of years ago he posted an image to his Instagram page (which has now been deleted) which showed him watching the Blues on what was clearly a dodgy internet stream.
So what could turn him from a passionate Evertonian playing for his boyhood team to the disconsolate young man we see at Everton these days?
Early last season he was hauled off at Sunderland during the half-time break, which was then followed by a public dressing down by Ronald Koeman – days after being dropped by his national coach. Rather than protect his player, Koeman offered Barkley the chance to prove Gareth Southgate wrong, but only 45 minutes. Koeman could have protected Barkley and made up a mystery injury that forced a half time substitution in the 3-0 win. Instead he criticised him.
There’s no saying that Ross is entirely innocent in all of this. When compared with one of his team-mates by a high-ranking official at the club, it was claimed that, “You could talk to Leighton Baines about anything, he’s a really intelligent lad. Ross….Ross is a good boy.”
Perhaps that lack of the same intelligence that earned Baines high praise was what contributed to the late-night flooring Barkley endured last Spring amid rumours of his dalliances with other men’s girlfriends.
But Barkley hasn’t cut a happy figure in some time.
Previous managers have hyped his abilities, perhaps a little too much, but there is no doubt that he has a gift that, if it were nurtured properly, could have seen him propelled into Everton legend status.
Barkley is still only 23, too. He will feel – and will likely be advised by his agents – that he has plenty of time to start again if he leaves Everton. Even if he misses next year’s World Cup, he will be told, there’s no reason he couldn’t play at another four major tournaments before he turns 32. But he would need to knuckle down in a way that he hasn’t shown he is capable of at Everton.
Would he thrive away from the invasive shouts from people he sees as his peers? Evertonians haven’t been the most patient of supporters with any young star, and Barkley has been no different.
At half time in the FA Cup semi final against Manchester United in 2016, Phil Jagielka was heard on the tunnel camera telling Barkley that the fans weren’t booing him. It’s obvious he has felt that he’s been the target of unfair criticism even before Koeman came in. And that’s where Koeman showed his lack of insight. Barkley is clearly sensitive to criticism. Do that in public and it magnifies it’s significance. Do it in private and maybe he could have given his head a wobble and carried on.
But it was played out in public and the fans chose the new manager over the boyhood blue. Barkley improved, slightly, but he was at nowhere near the levels of his first season in the Premier League which showed so much promise.
It would be nice to think that it’ll all come out in the wash, that Barkley and Koeman will sit down and have a chat over whatever is in the manager’s top drawer at Finch Farm, and Ross will sign a new deal.
It won’t though. Not after Farhad Moshiri’s late night deadline day booty call to Jim White, live on Sky Sports, where he declared that Barkley was “technically” an Everton player before claiming that he had walked out mid-medical at Chelsea, only for that to be denied the next day by those much closer to the deal.
In everyone’s minds – including Ross’s – Barkley has already been sold. In January he will most likely leave for a sizeable fee – if not the £35m Chelsea had apparently agreed on – and I hope he does well wherever he goes. You never know, one day he might return as a 31 year old drunk-driver and be cheered every time he blinks….