The arrival of Ajax midfielder Davy Klaassen to Goodison Park has been widely viewed as another nail in the coffin of Ross Barkley’s Everton future but in truth the last rites on that were administered a good while back. A protracted contract dispute first stalled then became a divisive issue separating player from club and with Barkley – capable of the brilliant, incapable of performing the ordinary on a regular basis – repeatedly exasperating boss Ronald Koeman on the pitch his fate off it was sealed.
So where now for a player who was once lauded as an international superstar in the making, a cross between Gazza and Michael Ballack according to former charge and head cheerleader Roberto Martinez back in 2013. Tottenham keep popping up in the gossip columns but a significant caveat to a potential move down south is that the links seem to originate from the player’s camp and nowhere else. Manchester United have also been mentioned as too have figures north of £40m. Neither of these will come to pass. A wage-doubling switch to the London Stadium has additionally been mooted.
Given the 23-year-old’s estimation of potential and talent in recent seasons, that contrasts so sharply with his present predicament, it is fair to say that he is at a career crossroads this summer but it is not only his choice of destination that will determine the nature of his legacy in years to come. Barkley must somehow unlock the player that he once promised to be, to revive his swagger but more importantly meld that with thought and effectiveness. To prove to everyone that regression is temporary but class is permanent. As early as 2015/16 the signs were there that this was a one-man show minus a second act; a midfielder with a tendency to take an unnecessary extra touch at the expense of straightforward through-balls to Lukaku; a schemer without the decision-making tools to execute a plan. So dramatic was his plateauing that people began to talk, with former team-mate – and long-time champion of the Liverpudlian – Kevin Kilbane saying late last year: “You know from speaking to Martinez he let him go out and express himself, but I think that maybe took away from his development.”
Barkley’s stalled progress seems to lie at the heart of his problems that has seen him badly fade from the England reckoning and considered dispensable at Goodison. Two months ago Leon Osman said this: “He’s been playing in the first team since he was 17-18. It’s worrying that he’s still being talked about as a young player.”
That same month Graeme Souness went in two-footed: “If I was playing with him I’d be falling out with him. Not every game; every five minutes. He runs with it when he should pass it, he passes it when he should run with it. His decision making is poor in the extreme.”
These are pointed criticisms so rarely dished out from pro to pro and if they seem a touch harsh they also highlight a fundamental difference in how the player’s summer is being portrayed and the colder realities. Spurs or Man U? Forty million plus? Not a chance. Not now. It very much feels like Ross Barkley will need to take a step back before any subsequent movement onwards and upwards.
Despite a mixed campaign the player provided eight assists last season, an impressive tally that does him great credit during a difficult time. Yet this is counterweighted by numerous occasions when an assist was on, it was right there at his feet, and he over-hit, under-played, or sometimes just plain kept possession defying all logic. It is this inconsistency that I believe will cost Barkley a move to a top six outfit: the likes of Spurs and United simply cannot afford to tolerate the woeful with the wonderful.
The Hammers however, well perhaps, and it would serve the player well to accept his current situation and standing and take whatever offer comes his way that will furnish him with the opportunity to play regular Premier League and rehabilitate his fallen reputation.
To my mind Barkley is far too talented to be written off, now or anytime soon. But the warning signs are there, with a graveyard full of English midfielders who were once considered the bright future of club and country until patience ran thin and we all, as one, became enamoured by others.
Ironically two, in Jack Rodwell and Tom Cleverley, have connections to Everton. Now each are forgotten men. Barkley would do well to remember that.