“It began for Ross Barkley on the Mystery, the playing fields near his home in Wavertree where he was spotted aged eight.”
This is the opening sentence of Andy Hunter’s piece on Ross in 2013, and it’s perfect. Perfect to describe the career of a player that none of us can quite understand. “The Mystery” could easily be Ross Barkley’s nickname.
While Koeman has been happy to talk about Ross Barkley and the dwindling duration of his current contract, Barkley and his camp have stayed quiet.
It seems like all Evertonians love to talk about Barkley. Dip your toe into Twitter and some are “gutted” at the idea of him staying. Some think he’s “bang average”. Others want him to stay. When the Martinez era turned sour Barkley was cursed more than iPhone’s autocorrect, and he still frustrates – making the wrong decisions as often as the right ones, and using his flair in all the wrong places.
No one knows what The Mystery is going to do, how he’s going to play or even if he’s going to stay with us… But Koeman’s targets – most notably Klaassen and Sigurdsson – as well as his claim that if he didn’t sign by the end of the season he’d be sold, suggest that he’s headed to the exit door. Everton simply can’t take the risk of losing Barkley for free next year and Koeman is beginning a summer where business will need to be done early. We already appear to be moving decisively for players, if Barkley drags his heels he’s liable to be sold. Of course, selling a player requires a buyer, and this is where we could be facing a soft Barxit, a summer spent wondering if he’ll leave. As much as it’s great to see us actively chasing a slew of players, as exciting as it is to see Steve Walsh and his Reservoir Dogs style retinue bounding around Milan, the Barkley exit could be long and tortuous.
Barkley’s unpredictability is a fantastic weapon against the opposition, and while Roberto Martinez revelled in this, more conservative managers (Moyes and Koeman) want to rein him in. And it’s understandable. The goals stick in the memory, but the mistakes stick in the throat. He’s capable of that galloping goal against Newcastle and that beautiful arcing shot against Man City (both a few years ago now) but he’s also capable of standing with the ball in our penalty area and nonchalantly flicking it to one of our defenders who is currently lying prone on the floor. He didn’t do this a few years ago, he did it in our last competitive game, against Arsenal.
The Roberto Martinez school of defending. pic.twitter.com/dZYfdTDeCH
— Ed (@dixiessixty) May 21, 2017
The Barkley argument has never been black and white. Yes, he’s our second highest goalscorer this season, but you have to scroll down a long way from Lukaku’s skyscraping total of 25, to get to Barkley’s modest bungalow of 5. Yes, his assist tally has been solid, he finished on 8, close behind the likes of Ozil and Sanchez, but you can’t help being disappointed with these numbers. This season he’s been like a footballing mullet, business up front, party at the back – losing the ball with risky manoevres deep in his own half while not being as spectacular as we know he can be in attack – he should be the exact opposite.
Barkley’s survived a triple leg break, being told his career was over by a cretinous Belgian doctor, being consoled by Moyes who flew him and his family to Tenerife, but later farmed him out on loan. He’s had his ego inflated to near bursting point by Martinez, and now he’s facing some blunt truths from Koeman. We sing about him, we tell him he’s a diamond, but we also groan just as often. Has he even progressed? Is he better than he was three years ago?
Could he still stay? Of course… Pass through the fog of mystery, and you do come to something rock solid. His declarations of love for Everton. Almost every video Everton release has a quote from Ross about how much he loves this club. From ball boy to fan to player, leaping into the Gwladys when he scored against Burnley and pounding his chest. In that Andy Hunter interview, Ross talks about advice he got from Steven Gerrard:
“He said there is nothing better than being a local lad from Liverpool and playing for the team I support, as he’s done throughout his career. He told me that playing is the main thing, that going to another team and not playing is no good for my development. He said the big-hitters will be looking at me and be linked with me but that the main thing is I stay with the club I’m at, the team I support and the team I love, which is Everton. I love Everton and all I think about is playing for Everton.”
The more time that passes without him signing that new contract, the more chance that he’ll leave. In this summer of potential and optimism, of decisive transfer swoops, of multiple Jim White transfergasms and Steve Walsh jetting in to Milan, we still have one mystery: Ross Barkley…
Premier League: Saturday 12 Aug (TBC); Stoke City at Goodison
Saturday 19 Aug (TBC); Manchester City at Etihad Stadium