“You’re fucking shite you are, lad” screamed one of the Goodison faithful at Ross Barkley when it was all square in Everton’s match against Southampton.
20 minutes later, he received a standing ovation as he left the pitch.
That sums up Barkley’s Everton career to date: the first player to be singled out when the whole team underperforms. As soon as he’s playing well, however, he’s back to being the diamond from Wavertree.
He’s been targeted as a scapegoat for Everton’s many missteps in the last couple of years. It’s an embarrassing trend that needs to come to an end.
Nobody’s going to argue that Barkley is the complete footballer. He has a tendency to go missing, sometimes waylaying easy passes and slowing down attacks when they need impetus. When he’s on his game, though, he’s almost unplayable.
So why is he being used as a martyr for all that’s wrong with the club?
It’s because he’s symptomatic of where Everton are at right now, a team destined for great things who just keep hitting bumps in the road. Barkley’s struggles to reach the next level are similar to that of the team. In some ways, you can’t blame the fans for being impatient. “Only the the best is good enough” hasn’t rang true in quite some time.
Barkley’s passion for the club and its supporters is plain to see and he’s clearly an emotional player – he feels like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. With the support of the people behind him, Ross is twice the player. Without it, he lacks confidence and can be out of sorts. It’s no surprise, then, that he’s known for deleting social media posts when the backlash gets too much.
Over the last three years, they had the constant positivity of Roberto Martinez to inflate their egos, myself included. He would consistently build the team up, but once they fell down, he had no idea how to get them back up again. With plenty of hyperbole, he made the fans and the players believe they were world beaters.
That just isn’t the case. A new year signals time for optimism, but a dose of reality is needed where Everton are concerned. Don’t let the flattering scoreline against an utterly exhausted Southampton team belie the truth; we’re very much a mid-table team.
Everton are in a transitional phase, meaning that they don’t have the caliber of players suited to help take the club, and Barkley, to the upper echelons.
Although things aren’t as dramatically bad as they were back then, Barkley’s current plight brings up memories of a young Wayne Rooney. Playing in a team featuring the likes of Lie Tie, Francis Jeffers, and Alex Nyarko, Rooney’s potential was being stifled, leading to his move to Manchester United. But not before criticism from the fans began. Bryan Oviedo isn’t quite as unimpressive as Alessandro Pistone, but the fact remains the same: Barkley needs better players around him or he will be gone.
It has often been said that a team should be built around him. With the emergence of Tom Davies, who is doubtlessly going to receive the same kind of treatment at some point, Everton could have the nucleus for brilliance in the years to come.
But that’s unlikely if things stay the same.
For Barkley to become the player we all hope him to be, he needs songs to be sung about him, not to be on the receiving end of humiliating tweets whenever something goes wrong. If Evertonians continue this love/hate relationship with our most promising Academy graduate in a decade, don’t be surprised to see him become another team’s diamond instead.