What an odd journey it has been for the Ross Barkley over the last 12 months.
At the beginning of the season, there was a renewed sense of interest around Barkley as fans of Everton and the English national team alike wondered if Ronald Koeman could be the manager to get all of the young midfielder’s talents in order and unlock the seemingly boundless potential the young man may hold.
As this narrative spun, and the season approached, Barkley’s failure to sign a long-term contract in the summer (at this point he had two years left) was glossed over as a residual effect of the massive changeover in the club.
As the season wore on, while negotiations over a new contract failed to gain momentum off the field, Barkley’s performance on it was improving.
It seems crazy but I am still not sure how I feel about Ross previous season.
At times it felt as though he was moments away from ripping off his kit to reveal a large ‘S’ on his chest, revealing himself as Superman and rocketing to superstardom.
Other matches, I was actually PLEASED to see Ross on the bench after watching him struggle through stretches of frankly wretched play, compounded by his propensity to force the game when he is playing poorly, only making the problem worse.
That is not Koeman’s doing however.
The inability to relax and play confidently comes from a mixture of things, but mainly the way that the manager deals with you in the locker room and in the press.
In this aspect, Koeman has done more for Barkley in his first season than Bobby Martinez did in his three with the mercurial midfielder.
The biggest problem was that Martinez NEVER held Ross accountable.
Instead, Martinez would use his shallow bag of adjectives: phenomenal, amazing, etc... in some type of attempt to simply talk confidence into Ross using positive thinking.
Here’s the problem:
Ross was completely insulated and unsure of where he stood, leading to awkward situations like this one when his captain has to reassure him the fans weren’t booing him SPECIFICALLY:
And here he is in the locker room right after that trying to get himself back up for the second half:
Ok....but seriously...back on track
Koeman, opposite of Martinez, has left Barkley open to criticism, including the manager’s own!
Not pulling punches, Koeman put out clear markers for Barkley, and it seemed through the spring that Ross would surely re-up, as it appeared Koeman was becoming increasingly pleased with Barkley’s physical AND mental performance.
Then, all of the sudden, things turned sour:
THEN, going into the final match, Koeman laid down his marker.
Once the week had passed, the club said an announcement was imminent.
That was May.
It’s almost July.
We haven’t heard a word.
So based on that information, many people, myself included, wrote off Barkley’s future with the club, especially once Davy Klaassen was signed and Everton made clear their intent to acquire Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Now, getting back to my point to my original point about my inability to decide what type of season Ross had — when compared to Sigurdsson, Barkley didn’t do so terribly:
However, I can look at those numbers all day, and you will NEVER convince me that Ross Barkley had anywhere near the season Sigurdsson did.
That doesn’t mean I want to go down the SIGURDSSON OVER BARKLEY road, but I used the Swansea midfielder for comparison because after watching both play all season I wrote this article:
AND I STAND BY IT!!
Gylfi passes the eye AND numbers test. Playing for Swansea and producing those numbers the Welsh should have honored him with a Congressional Medal of Honor (I assume everyone has those things??)
The addition of Sigurdsson would immediately improve the Toffees in ways Ross is unable to, and in our situation he is an ideally suited player for our style and team goals.
(Want more on the Icelander? READ THE ARTICLE!!)
However, just like everyone else, I never thought we could see Klaassen, Sigurdsson AND Barkley in the same midfield, but as time wears on and the whispers about a move stay whispers, Barkley staying doesn’t all of the sudden seem so far-fetched.
So what would life be like for Ross if he stayed?
Well for starters he wouldn’t be a.......starter.
The addition of Klaassen and Sigurdsson would push him out of the 11 at the beginning of the season, but I’m not sure that would be such a bad thing.
Imagine Ross getting to play free of the burden of expectations. No one would consider him the savior that will drag us out of mid-table obscurity and into the top 4 sunlight.
Flying under-the-radar, I hypothesize we would see a reinvigorated Barkley.
With all of the focus on the impact of Koeman and his additions in year two, it will be the first time in a number of years where one of the biggest questions being asked isn’t:
Can finally Ross turn the corner to greatness?
With Sandro, Klaassen, Keane, Pickford and the bunch on the field, no one will ask about whether or not Ross can finally score in double digits or consistently create opportunities — if he should be a leader (he’s a local!), or ask if he can show more.
No, Ross will be battling for playing time and hoping to find starts where he can, and surely no one will expect much from someone who Koeman brought players in to replace.
No, no one will be asking questions about Ross Barkley.
Which means it just might be the year he provides some answers.