The topsy-turvy relationship between Everton manager Ronald Koeman and star midfielder Ross Barkley looks set to continue after the latest events in the ongoing saga of why the player isn’t signing a contract extension.
Striker Romelu Lukaku, who is leading the Premier League’s Golden Boot race by four goals, has been grabbing all the recent headlines with his apparent decision to not continue with Everton beyond this season, despite his agent’s assurances to the contrary. However, it appears the Toffees might have another critical component of their future lineup in jeopardy with the Wavertree-born Barkley not signing a new deal with his current contract expiring at the end of the 2017-18 season.
In the 4-2 comeback win yesterday over Leicester City, Barkley sparkled, laying on a peach of a cross for Lukaku to head home the equalizer. Indeed, the midfielder seems to have been rejuvenated ever since he was pushed forward into a wide right position in Koeman’s 4-3-3 formation in recent weeks.
Of his performance yesterday, here’s what Koeman had to say -
“[Barkley and Lukaku] can be the difference between us and our opponents, like they were today. I thought they played really well.
“We know Rom is a great finisher and I think Ross played really good football between the lines, with a great view of the game and a nice assist. Maybe he had to score one but he played very well. That is what you like - your best players performing the way they did this afternoon, they played outstandingly but the whole team performance was outstanding as well.
“You need those kind of players on the top level because they make differences.”
However, with everything good that Barkley has done especially since the beginning of 2017, there have still been negatives to note. Like more than half the team, he wavered between disappearing for long stretches and then getting stuck in with rash challenges during the Merseyside Derby a week ago.
There are still issues he needs to work out with getting the ball out from under him and distributed quicker, especially against the press. Koeman has been pretty harsh on him too, saying that he’s not really a youngster any more and that the excuses are wearing thin. And then there was the whole situation last night with him getting attacked a Liverpool nightspot.
There is no doubt that Everton really need both Barkley and Lukaku if they are looking to continue their renewal under Koeman, and the pair appear to have really bought into the manager’s vision for what he’s looking for. A local talent like Barkley would always face a peculiar set of circumstances, almost like a love-hate relationship with the fans, and his performances are very polarizing to the Everton fanbase.
He could move to another club in England and not have to deal with that level of scrutiny, but then in all likelihood he would not be guaranteed a starting spot should he choose a top six club, and neither would he be adored as much as he could be if he stayed a Toffee. Barkley’s value to a top club is also quite uncertain with his reinvention as a right-sided winger that combines well with Seamus Coleman.
There is of course also the possibility that he is waiting to see what Lukaku is choosing to do before he puts pen to the paper with the Blues, in which case if he then stayed he would etch his name in Everton lore as the star that didn’t jump ship and stood by the club during the teething pains.
What is clear though is that Everton will not hesitate to cash in on the player in the coming summer transfer window if he does decide that his future lies elsewhere and the Bramley-Moore dock is not where he wants to ply his trade.
Koeman reiterated in his post-match comments that the Blues will look to reap maximum benefits from his sale -
"We offer him a new contract, and then (there are) two possibilities.
"One, he signs that contract, if he doesn't sign that contract then we need to sell the player. It's simple - it's not so difficult in my opinion."
What happened with the unprovoked punch thrown at him last night is unfortunate, and hopefully does not swing him towards not wanting to stay at Everton. This is a symptom of today’s social media culture with people looking to get a rise out of a superstar, especially off the pitch, and Barkley will likely learn from this bad experience and not necessarily associate this with being a Toffee.