Ross Barkley poised to leave Everton, but must avoid going on bad terms like Wayne Rooney
It has been a pretty miserable season for Everton fans, all things considered. After a seventh-place finish under Ronald Koeman last year, the club headed into the summer armed with a whacking great war chest, a new stadium on the horizon, and genuine hopes of trying to crack the top four and advance in the Europa League.
Six months on, they are mired in mid-table, having experienced the hardest of hard Brexits, and are being guided by a man who – if they are honest – neither their fans nor their board would have considered this time 12 months ago.
Sam Allardyce knows it, too. He even removed himself from the running for the post as Everton cast their eyes longingly in other directions, only to return to the table when the club's catastrophic league position rendered them so desperate they were happy to splash big cash on Big Sam. His arrival has had the intended effect, of course; an upturn in results and a vast improvement in the basics of defending. But it remains to be seen if he can take Everton forward the way their fans expect.
At present, he is presiding over a badly lopsided squad featuring half a dozen No 10s and no decent No 9, Everton’s failure to replace Romelu Lukaku in the summer a monumental balls-up on the part of the board.
It remains to be seen whether Besiktas’s Cenk Tosun is that man. In any case, the endgame of another monumental Everton balls-up fast approaches and promises to make the new year of all Evertonians more miserable still.
News that Chelsea are ready to rival Spurs for Ross Barkley’s signature in this transfer window is like winding the clock back six months. Only this time, Evertonians cannot look the other way and snootily say: Good riddance, we are better off with Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Everton are crying out for Barkley’s muscular brand of attacking play. Watching them labour to switch from defence to attack on Monday against Manchester United, it was noteworthy how Yannick Bolasie got the Goodison crowd on their feet when he actually took on a player and ran with the ball.
Bolasie’s return to fitness could certainly help Everton in the second half of the season, as could Seamus Coleman’s. But Barkley – with his ability to take the ball in midfield, turn and drive at defences, his strength in possession, his eye for a goal – would be the best signing Everton could make in this window, alongside a genuine goalscorer.
Instead, it looks like being a sad exit through the back door of Goodison. Barkley’s silence as Everton have struggled this season has been deafening. He has been injured, sure, but he has not been seen at games, or in the media supporting the club.
A photo of him on an exercise bike in the Finch Farm gym after David Unsworth took over as caretaker briefly reignited hopes among fans that their diamond from Wavertree might re-sign. Allardyce, though, has been far more circumspect since his arrival, admitting recently he had not so much as sat down with Everton’s most talented academy graduate since Wayne Rooney.
Perhaps they have by now. Perhaps Barkley will re-sign. It could well be his best option. Unlike Rooney, who was already England’s best player when he left, Barkley is not guaranteed a place at either Tottenham or Chelsea. But if he does not, he should at least try to leave on better terms than Rooney did. Barkley was in the Goodison stands when his boyhood hero quit for Old Trafford. He knows what that felt like. And, as Rooney has shown, you never know when you might want to come back.