Football fans. We're an emotional bunch, aren't we? Full of rage and bile through the emotional turbulence of a match, yet precious and easily offended at the same time. Our lack of reason is never better encapsulated than when a player decides he wants to leave our beloved club. Terms like 'loyalty' and 'respect' are thrown around with abandon, and we can never quite believe that any footballer would have the temerity to ditch our club. Not our club. It's a mentality I've never quite understood. I always make the argument to friends labouring this point that if a better company offered them the opportunity to do their job for twice their current salary, in better facilities, with better career prospects, surrounded by more skilled and able colleagues, would they remain 'loyal' to their current employers? Would they fuck, but I'm told that it's somehow 'different' for footballers. They apparently should disregard the opportunity to make more money and achieve more in their profession. And, ultimately, that's what it is for them, a profession. It's how they make their (admittedly incredibly comfortable) living. Why shouldn't they maximise both their earning potential and their ability to achieve things? Obviously, being professionals, they should at least have the decency to continue to always do their job to the best of their abilities, even when they're determined to move to another club. Joleon Lescott is the perfect example of how not to behave in these circumstances. Declaring himself not mentally right to face Arsenal on the opening day of the season when we were resisting efforts from Manchester City to sign him, Lescott left us defensively shot. Forced to play Phil Neville at centre back, we inevitably got stuffed. John Stones on the other hand, although he had made it clear he wanted to leave, continued to perform well up until his transfer to the Etihad inevitably went through.
The feeling of betrayal when a player wants to depart your club is amplified many times over when the player in question came through the club's youth system and is a boyhood fan. It happened to us with Francis Jeffers, it happened with Wayne Rooney, and now it's happened with Ross Barkley. Creative midfield players aren't easy to come by in the modern game, unless you've got £100m to chuck around, so it's always exciting when one emerges through your own youth set-up. That he was 'a Toffee who comes from Wavertree' added an element of romanticism that I'm certainly guilty of indulging in. I've always idolised attacking midfielder players, and one that has come through the ranks will only receive greater adulation. Just to add to the sentimentality about him in my household, he was my eldest son's (now 8 years old) first favourite player. He has the 'Barkley 8' kit, and insisted on taking the same number when he joined a team himself.
Although for my son's sake if nothing else I hoped it wouldn't happen, there has been a creeping feeling that this departure would happen since the early days of Ronald Koeman's doomed tenure at the club. Seeming not to rate Barkley, he was publicly critical of the player, and dropped him to the bench, perhaps to make the point that, having been the main man for a few seasons, he was going to have to elevate his game now. Say what you will about Koeman and his pretty appalling way of treating some players, but, rather than spur him on, Koeman's methods seemed to reveal an emotional fragility in Barkley. Evertonians have a history of expecting the world from promising young players, and quickly turning on them if they fail to live up to expectations, and Ross, an exciting, talented and attack minded midfielder, was just the type of player we all like to see. Capable of scoring spectacular goals, and showing a decent understanding with Romalu Lukaku in the early days of Roberto Martinez, fans sang his name from the terraces, and England fans even wondered whether he might develop into the type of complete attacking central midfielder we've lacked since Paul Gascoigne. Even at his best, though, there were always niggling shortcomings in his overall game. His decision making wasn't good enough. He often took too many touches. He attempted the spectacular when a simple sideways pass was the better option. Under Martinez, Barkley was given free rein to make those occasional mistakes and develop his game, but over the course of a few seasons, those mistakes never really disappeared. The stricter, more pragmatic Koeman clearly wasn't going to be as patient, and given Ross' growing seniority within the squad, those mistakes became more and more glaring. Even his biggest fan couldn't deny that he wasn't developing at the rate we'd hoped, and many thought that, for all the natural ability he clearly had, he just didn't have the footballing brain required to be a top player, the kind who can control games for both club and country. Barkley would no doubt argue that he needs to move to a 'bigger' club to take his game to the next level, and maybe he'd be right. But couldn't he have just gone through with the deal that was agreed in the summer, rather than pulling out of the move at the last minute, a move that would cost us in the region of £20m? One also has to question whether this move is the right one for him. Is he just going to Chelsea to increase their English player quotient? Will he get into the first team ahead of the likes of Fabregas, Bakayoko, Kante and Drinkwater, or will have just be another squad player? Does Antonio Conte even rate him, and given the insecurity of any Chelsea manager's job, will he even be there long enough to develop him? Will his career ending up taking the Jack Rodwell trajectory, with him ending up at Sunderland or somewhere similar within a few season?
Do we care? Probably not. These questions about Barkley's long-term future are ones Evertonians needn't concern themselves with. Our concern is more about who will replace him. Ultimately, as he hasn't played for us all season, his departure now will make little difference to our current plight. Even my son gave a shrug worthy of Alan Partridge when I told him the news at school pick-up time today, and he even said he's going to take down his Barkley posters in the morning. He's moved on, and so should the rest of us.