When Everton announced the much-awaited capture of Davy Klaassen from Ajax this past week, Toffees fans were left rejoicing at the prospect of watching a quality player don the famed Blue jersey. Everton’s interest in the Dutchman wasn’t made to look like a secret by reports, which had linked Klaassen to the Merseyside club weeks before the €27 million switch. But as the Blue half of the city celebrated, one individual at Merseyside would have been reeking with uncertainty. And if there’s anything that Ross Barkley hasn’t dealt with yet, then it’s a possible Everton exit.
With rumors swirling around about a possible exit from the Goodison Park, it’s something Barkley would have had nightmares of as a teenager. Born and brought up in the great city of Liverpool itself, Barkley joined Everton when he was just 11 and it’s been a 12-year long journey that he probably would have dreamt of, on joining the Toffees youth ranks back in 2005. The recent seasons haven’t really gone according to plan, but Ross Barkley may well have lived his dream already as his Everton career looks to peter out with every passing day.
Klaassen, who captained the Ajax side for two consecutive seasons and kept the armband after the departure of Frank de Boer too, is the kind of player that the Toffees really did need this summer. They had drawn links to Swansea’s former Tottenham star Gylfi Sigurdsson, but Klaassen’s capture suggests that a move for the Iceland international could be off and Barkley may finally be departing the territory that he graced more than a decade ago.
The fall from grace can well be down to how fans and experts alike don’t stop using the phrase ‘a quality young player’ to describe the attacking midfielder. Barkley is now 23 and he maybe young, but not as young as people expect him to be. Gone are the times when he was a 20 or 21-year-old starlet, who had to strive hard to get regular time on the pitch for club and country. Harry Kane is 23 as well, but few refer to him as a young striker anymore. In fact, Barkley’s own team-mate: Romelu Lukaku is just an year older, but he’s never referred to as a youngster anymore. And the big Belgian has been one of the most consistent goalscorers in the Premier League in recent seasons.
During the 2016-17 campaign, if there was anything that Barkley oozed, then it was inconsistency. He would do well in a single game and will falter in the next two. If not that, he’ll disappoint in the first half of the game and do well in the second-half. He scored five times and racked up a tally of eight assists, which isn’t something which would gratify Toffees fans, who expect a lot from him. He was only 22 when Everton finished 11th in the 2015-16 campaign, assisting eight times and scoring just as many times. That tally was deemed good enough, especially considering the kind of season Everton had, but it has gone downhill ever since.
There are glimpses of sheer brilliance, instances that prove that he’s a wonderfully gifted talent; capable of winning games at will. But they won’t lead to anything substantial or something too tangible. Unlike what was the case two seasons ago, Barkley doesn’t seem to carry that swagger of nonchalance about him. He seems a wee bowed down by something and hardly looks confident enough. There are times when games seem to breeze past him, with him failing to take control of things. Even if he tries, things don’t seem to go his way.
He hardly brimmed with confidence, giving the impression of a man tormented by the amount of slate he gets after a poor performance. It’s obvious and evident that fans in England are usually very quick to jump at a player back after he stops playing well. And the amount of criticism that Barkley is getting may well be deserved of it, but he needs to stand up and face all that he’s being forced to deal with.
With age, the responsibility on him has increased and since he’s Everton through and through, people are expecting a lot from him. He has represented the national side on 22 occasions, making him a player who happens to be the most experienced international at the mere age of 23. That isn’t too old for a man who sometimes takes up the responsibility of the whole team, but young enough for a club like Everton to rely on him.
He has entered that bottleneck age where English players arrive at a stagnation point, in terms of development. The aforementioned factors do play a vital role, but a lot depends on the player himself to work hard and prove critics wrong. Barkley is still a very talented player and that’s very evident from the way he plays. He shows glimpses of brilliance, but can’t carry on from there. Once he gets to do that and gets the confidence and swagger back, he will be the player that many expected him to be when he was 19 or 20 some years ago.
He has drawn links to Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham already, but it will be an upgrade that he doesn’t deserve, as things stand. Pochettino likes his players to work their socks off and Barkley has not done that over the past few seasons. And the fact that he flickers in and out of games suggests that he isn’t really the kind of player that the former Southampton boss demands. He needs to work harder on and off the ball to play for a club like Tottenham.
The pre-season break will be an important time for Barkley to take a step away from the firing line. And when the new campaign will start off, he may not even be at the club, but he’ll get a massive opportunity to make a new start at the new club. A big fee can well be crippling, but Barkley needs to be brave and confident and be more like the player he once was.