During his pre-match press conference yesterday, Everton manager Ronald Koeman said that forward Ross Barkley had mentioned wanting to play in the Champions League. The manager went on to say that the most prestigious club tournament in the world should be the ambition of every manager, player and fan of the game.
Koeman has already given Barkley an ultimatum that he needs to sign a new contract before the end of the season, because the club will have no choice but to sell him over the summer with just one year left on his existing deal.
While it’s still speculative that Barkley will not sign a new deal, to suggest that the player is holding out because he wants a transfer to a club playing in the Champions League sounds even more preposterous for a multitude of reasons.
The Wavertree-born forward has finally hit a consistent vein of form after Koeman has carefully and sometimes harshly nurtured him all season long. If Barkley has indeed developed such arrogance that he thinks he can walk into any side in Europe that is playing in the Champions League, then the player is in for a rude awakening.
Let’s take a look at the top six in England to start with.
The league leaders are, of course, blessed with an abundance of attacking talent, but perhaps the biggest roadblock in signing Barkley would be the system of Antonio Conte.
Chelsea essentially play with three forwards - Eden Hazard at LF, Diego Costa at CF, and one of Pedro or Willian at RF. Barkley is neither as good a finisher as this trio or mobile enough to fit a truly forward role.
Additionally, Chelsea’s central midfielders, usually N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic, are required to play deeper than Barkley is accustomed to as well as cover an immense amount of ground every match.
Spurs, on the other hand, make more sense tactically for Barkley than Chelsea. However, while they do use multiple attacking midfielders, it’s perhaps the position where their roster is deepest.
Frankly, Ross Barkley isn’t as talented or accomplished as Christian Eriksen or Dele Alli, and would be competing with the likes of Erik Lamela and Heung Min Son to even find time off the bench. Spurs also have Moussa Sissoko and Josh Onomah capable of playing attacking midfield. In short, they’re loaded.
This is where things start to get a little more interesting. City have made a big money purchase for a young English star from Everton once before, and Pep Guardiola has been using Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva in free-roaming number 8 roles this season.
That role could be a fit for Barkley. Silva is getting older, and City’s midfield depth is tenuous at best - Fabian Delph simply isn’t very good, Yaya Toure is ancient, and Fernandinho is a red card waiting to happen.
Ilkay Gundogan will be back from injury next season, though, and if City do look to buy a midfielder, they may want to make a bigger splash than Ross Barkley.
The current iteration of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United team utilizes pacy wingers and a variation of the box to box midfielder theme, neither of which describes Ross Barkley.
Ross has had success operating on the wing this season, but lacks the speed of Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Jesse Lingard, as well as the defensive work rate of Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera.
Arsenal. Where to begin. They are now, more than ever, in a state of complete disarray. The futures of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, and Arsene Wenger are all up in the air, not to mention their likelihood of qualifying for the Champions League to begin with.
Tactically, if Wenger stays, Barkley might work well for the Gunners. They often play with an attacking band of three midfielders behind Alexis, and one could envision Barkley performing capably on the right side or in the middle of that group.
However, as things stand, he’d still have Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Alex Iwobi to deal with, and Arsenal may have some trouble finding new recruits for such an unstable club environment.
What about other Champions League caliber clubs around Europe?
The list of teams that can afford the transfer fee and wages for Barkley while simultaneously offering Champions League football is very short, not to mention the fact that they simply don’t need the player.
Barkley isn’t good enough for Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, or Barcelona, and doesn’t possess the defensive work rate for squads as well-drilled and disciplined as Atletico Madrid or Borussia Dortmund.
His playing style does not suit the Italian game. Besides, he would not be able to break into the starting XI at Juventus, Napoli or even AS Roma. Who else is worth moving to? AC Milan to join Gerard Deulofeu?
Whether he likes it or not, unlike his teammate Romelu Lukaku who has been proving himself day in and day out that he is world class, Barkley is yet to earn his stripes and is best suited to staying at Everton until he does, like Koeman said yesterday.
“We’ll offer him the contract what is good, what is normal, what the player is. And I think how he’s improving this season, Everton is the best place for him to continue.”
It’s time young Barkley realized that playing excellently in a dozen odd Premier League games does not qualify him to play in a regular Champions League team. However, we have no doubt that he does have the talent to make it to that level, but he needs to show it first, and there’s no better club for him to prove it at than his hometown Toffees.