Does Pressure Even Make a Diamond?
Because if it did, bling bling- just what exactly would we have in that number 8 shirt, given the pressures of life in L4?
Does anyone even listen to you if you aren’t saying something edgy, or nailing your colours to the mast with absolute conviction? Would anyone even click your article if it wasn’t clickbait, bro?
Because I’ll paraphrase here, but some of our fans (and local media) are now happy to be heard saying ‘Barkley’s thick’ or ‘Barkley’s shite’. One ‘journalist’ even had the gall to say he possessed the footballing brain of a sixteen year old. In the interest of fairness, those who don’t like Barkley are equally as frustrated by what they perceive as a refusal by some to accept he can do anything wrong. The truth of the matter lays somewhere in between. Barkley is a huge talent, with some massive question marks next to his game. To write him off as ‘thick’ or ‘shite’ is arrogant, in the first instance, or- in my opinion- misguided, in the latter.
There’s a reason ex-players/managers/referees often talk about Goodison being one of the hardest places to go. We’re boss when Goodison is a snarling bear pit. But there’s a flip side to that- we’re fucking dreadful as a crowd at times, too. Remember those bellwhiffs who cheered the Tom Cleverley substitution after trying his heart out but being…. Well, just not good enough, in the game against United on December 4th? Everyone who went the game saw how badly he struggled, you don’t need to prove how much of a super bloo you are to the people sitting round you by kicking an already demoralised player while he’s down. At least that puts to bed the arl myth that Evertonians will ‘get behind’ a player who gives it their all. Perhaps David Unsworth might’ve been able to tell him better than I, at Finch Farm the next day.
Barkley has suffered from the same fate. Who can imagine what it must be like to be a young man, burdened with the pressures of trying to create in front of a tetchy Goodison crowd? Because it’s been tetchy for years now. ‘He isn’t mentally strong enough’ your mate might tell you- and that may well prove to be the case- wouldn’t bet against it… But what’s the point of holding that against him, if it is true? He may get help through the club, he may not- I don’t know… But he can’t exactly stay behind after training and work on his mental make-up, the way Phil Neville would stay behind with a bag of balls and practice his long throws and his pointing, can he? He is what he is. But can you imagine being tasked with creating something in that team he’s had to play in over the last few years? This isn’t to say everything is fine with Barkley, because it’s far from it: he can be indecisive and hold onto the ball for too long. He can be guilty of trying too much- and some of the stick he’s taken on that front has been completely understandable. But those who watched us in the first half at Leicester before Barkley came on will have seen the scale of the (all too familiar) task facing Barkley with the ball at his feet: this team is abject shite. This entire squad is stale, and it has been for several years now. Boris Johnson will take more responsibility for Brexit than any Everton player will take with the ball at their feet. At least one of our kits should be orange, because they’re all crabs. Sideways, no ambition, no desire, no drive, no invention: this is the size of the task faced by Barkley. Factor in the teams he’s played in, along with the fact Moyes didn’t have the patience to coach him (ask Kevin Sheedy if that’s unique to Barkley, or whether it says more about Moyes), and Martinez didn’t have the ability, and actually indulged Barkley in the most important years of his development. It’s been a perfect shitstorm. Back to the current day, and Lukaku is isolated, the wingers don’t run into space… Only Gueye has really earned his money this season in the middle third. So who can blame Barkley for trying to take some ownership, and trying to create something? Because who else will? But his confidence has all but gone, and we’re worse off for it. I honestly don’t know how I’d respond to the crowd getting on my back, and neither do any of you reading this. Wanting more from the players is one thing, being a dickhead about it is another. In 20 odd years of going to the game, there have probably only been a handful of times I’ve thought ‘Christ, I didn’t see that pass’, but I’ve lost count of the amount of times when playing football that I’ve told someone they should’ve passed to me, or been told by someone that I should’ve passed to them: the game is easy in the stands. You don’t miss a pass, your lungs are never burning, your heart is never beating out of your chest, your legs are never heavy, and you haven’t got any pressure on you. Barkley’s done the near-impossible: he’s the local lad who has made it to the top of his tree, and been more successful than 99.999% of us ever will be. It was just last season when across Europe’s top 5 leagues, only three midfielders 23 and under scored more goals than him, only three got more assists than him, and only five played more key passes than him, all while playing in a side that finished in the bottom half of the premier league: the kinds of company he’s keeping there? The likes of Pogba, Draxler, Sané, Alli, Jesé, Halilovic and Denis Suarez (amongst others). Barkley deserves your respect, even if he hasn’t earned your admiration. He frustrates at times, but he’s been sublime, too. There are different types of player: leaders, tacticians, technicians, drivers, athletic players, explosive players, and so on… Barkley plays beside almost none of those. He needs help, more support around him, and I’d argue he needs a change of position, too.
I honestly believe Barkley has been to Everton what Paul Scholes was to England around 1998. Scholes was one of England’s better players, and he was shunted wide left because there was nobody else who could play there, and he was deemed most capable by default. The same is true for Barkley. Barkley had to endure a year of being played wide left by Martinez, and his development suffered for it, regardless of what Martinez might’ve tried to bluster about giving him a greater understanding of a new position, and it helping his growth. Barkley is now asked to play off the striker, which is an improvement on him being played out wide, but it still, it doesn’t suit him…
With his back to goal, Barkley frequently has to receive the ball in tight spaces, but he isn’t really the kind of player who can spin his man and turn away from him… He isn’t explosive over half a yard to get past a man and create space for himself. He struggles to turn and pick a pass, but he’s suffered from the form of those around him, too. Who moves for him? Who runs between the lines? Who drags opposition players out of position with a bit of intelligent movement? Nobody. In a team in need of overhaul, Lukaku has been the only attacking constant, and even he has had his own struggles with form over prolonged periods, from time to time.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Everton player rely on their instincts quite the way Ross Barkley does. He can struggle when he’s got to think what’s coming next, but when the game is in front of him, and he can see it unfolding before him… It becomes instinctive. I honestly don’t know whether Barkley will make it at Everton long term, or whether ultimately the club’s ambitions will mean he will be left behind and become a ‘what if’. A story of untold potential, component bits of a footballer that never quite meshed into the one he threatened. But when Barkley has been played deep, he has done well… Which makes me think, who do I think his game is most similar to? He’s clearly nowhere near as good at the moment, and chances are he never will be, but Barkley reminds me most of Yaya Touré…
Firstly, physically: their body shapes are not too dissimilar. Last season, Barkley was considered by some to be overweight, but his BMI (21.3) is right in the middle of the appropriate range. Touré’s BMI is greater (25.5), and both are fairly unique. Stout and powerful, but both are athletic enough to carry the ball past others with ease when they have the ball at their feet. Neither are twitchy enough to be effective in tight spaces, but give them 30 yards to build up a head of steam and run into on the break, in broken play, and both are near impossible to stop. This kind of powerful running from deep could be the staple diet of Everton on the counter, were Barkley afforded the chance to play from closer to half way. Don’t think he’s got it in him because he’s carrying too much? Take a look at his goal away to Arsenal last season…
And just like my point earlier- if Barkley isn’t doing the driving, taking the responsibility- who is? Look at the state of the rest of them, still in their own half.
Barkley coming onto the ball from deep means not only can he pick a pass much easier (as he did away to Leicester), but he can find the space to unleash the rockets he has in both feet…
It’s just over five years since Barkley made his Everton debut, and at the time of writing this, he’s scored 18 league goals in 129 appearances. In the first 129 league games of Yaya Touré’s career, he scored 9. I resent the comparison being made by some to Steven Gerrard, because I don’t see the similarities in their game the way I do to Touré, but in Gerrard’s opening 129 league games, he managed 14. Barkley has done better than his recent form would have you remember. And Touré was playing in Belgium, Ukraine and Greece, in that time. Barkley has been in one of the most demanding leagues in the world. When Touré moved from Belgium to Ukraine, he went from playing in a stadium in front of 12,000 people to one that holds 5,000…
He made his mistakes in backwaters, away from the spotlight. He grew away from the physical and mental stresses and of the league we all take for granted.
Even the worst aspects of both of their games are similar: neither has a great desire to get their hands dirty and help out on the defensive side- and they both need a more disciplined, responsible midfielder to play alongside them. But given how often we’ve bemoaned playing two holding midfielders, why not have one who is there solely to break play up, with no need to support attacks beyond making themselves available for the occasional pass to keep play ticking?
There’s no avoiding that ultimately, it’s up to Barkley- he has to do better, he has to give the team more, but he deserves to be put in a position to succeed. Barkley should be played where his skills are best suited, and to me- that’s deeper. He needs better players around him, with better movement. He’s desperately in need of some proper coaching. The club have to put him in a position to fulfil his potential, because he’s old enough now- but he has to give them reason to believe that’s what they should do. Most of his current teammates won’t be at the club in three years, it’s time to sink or swim for Ross Barkley. But diamonds are surprisingly tough things.
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