As a player with 150 Premier League appearances and 22 England caps to his name, Ross Barkley might seem like a known quantity. It certainly feels like he’s been around forever, especially after getting the usual young-England-player hype treatment ahead of the 2014 World Cup thanks to his breakout season at Everton over the course of the preceding nine months. England failed spectacularly in Brazil that summer, and it’s probably fair to say that Barkley hasn’t really lived up to that hype either.
Having now stepped out of his comfort zone at Everton, where he’s been since he was a little boy, and into the pressure-cooker of Chelsea, we just might find out what he’s made of.
We’ll surely get to know Barkley very well and beyond just his basic Wikipedia facts over the next 5.5 years — or however many he ends up completing at Chelsea — but to help us get a head start in that journey, I asked a few questions from our friends at Royal Blue Mersey, SB Nation’s Everton blog. Thank you, ‘evertonchris’, for indulging us.
WAGNH: Let’s talk numbers first: £15m — fair, foul, or simply outrageous? We know where the Mayor of Liverpool sits on this issue...
RBM: I think it’s an outstanding price for Chelsea, and a fair one - albeit regrettable - for Everton. The injury and contract situation necessitated the discount from the rumored summer price, and it’s hard to find any player at that price these days, much less one who comes with the coveted “Premier League proven” label and is only 24.
WAGNH: Speaking of the Mayor’s conspiracy theories, what do you make of the apparent way this whole thing went down? In the summer, Barkley seemed to change his mind because he preferred Spurs (though he said something about injury), and everybody just laughed at Chelsea for getting stood up at the altar. But now Chelsea got their main just the same, and at a £20m discount.
RBM: Meh. Frankly, nothing about Ross Barkley’s personality leads me to believe he would be inclined to connive such a situation. It’s more likely that he was genuinely conflicted between leaving his boyhood club, joining Spurs, and joining Chelsea. It’s a sore spot with Evertonians that Ross ended up shorting the club on the transfer fee, but it’s a business. Sure, he took a paycheck in the interim and used the club’s medical facilities, but he also scored nearly 30 goals as Blue.
WAGNH: Barkley may seem like a known quantity, but we’re just casual observers at best. What are his greatest weaknesses, beyond unfulfilled (as yet) potential?
RBM: Decision making. Ross possesses nearly all the tools, but he’s not real bright. Perhaps no Everton player killed more counter attacks over the last few years. He’ll hold onto the ball far too long, and then end the move with the wrong pass. He’s so much better when making a rapid-fire decision in the open field.
Elsewhere, Barkley is too inclined to have a silly go at goal from distance, and he’s a terrible tackler. These, thankfully, are traits that can be coached out of a player, but we’ve not seen it happen yet.
WAGNH: Any obvious strengths? He says he can play anywhere in midfield, but he doesn’t immediately come across as a wide-man, for example.
RBM: The idea that Barkley can play anywhere in midfield is...optimistic. He’s not good enough on defense to play in a midfield two, and it isn’t particularly close. He can definitely put in a shift in a creative role, but even then, the final ball can be lacking.
Anyway, to the question - Ross is a good finisher for a player of his ilk and will undoubtedly get you goals from midfield. His best spell at Everton was actually out on the right wing, when he spent most of matches cutting inside to link with Lukaku while Seamus Coleman overlapped.
He’s not awful from set pieces, and for better or worse is, well, fine at nearly every trait you’d want in an attacking midfielder. It’s decidedly useful!
WAGNH: How do you think he’ll fit in at Chelsea? Does he strike you as a “Conte-type” player, especially in terms of fitness, commitment, and tactical understanding?
RBM: I’m skeptical. Ross will run himself into the ground for the crest but often doesn’t do so in intelligent ways, and can often be found pouting after a mistake or floating in and out of matches mentally. If he’s healthy, his fitness levels won’t be an issue. Ross Barkley is perhaps the most physically gifted player to pass through the doors at Finch Farm in some time.
The good news is that Antonio Conte is an excellent coach, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he develops him in ways that Roberto Martinez and Ronald Koeman could not.
WAGNH: Will the change of scenery for the first time in his career be the key to unlocking his full potential? Is this move long overdue or far too soon still?
RBM: I think it’s too soon. He’ll be better managed at Chelsea, but Barkley has spent a fair amount of time injured during his young career. He needs a lot of match time, and between Drinkwater, Bakayoko, Kante, Fabregas, and others, I’m just not sure he’ll get it. Maybe Everton was the wrong place for him to continue, and that’s fine, but it feels like a strange fit, particularly since Antonio Conte doesn’t use a system that seems to fit Ross’ best position.
WAGNH: How was this move received on an emotional level by the fans? Did the last six months help you make peace with his inevitable exit, or did it just end up stinging even more?
RBM: Back in the summer, fans were accepting of the idea that Barkley wanted to move on from Ronald Koeman’s awful man-management and public tongue lashings. It’s tough to lose one of your own, particularly for such a localized club, but it was at least understood. After management changed and Barkley didn’t give the new coaches a chance, and then the transfer fee was discovered, things turned sour. The move is now viewed as something of a betrayal.
WAGNH: Anything else we should know?
RBM: Ross Barkley is a lovable guy. On the whole, he was probably Everton’s most popular player of the last four or five years. Partially due to his penchant for the occasionally incredible play, and partially due to the boyhood Blue angle, he was supposed to be our Wayne Rooney who stayed home. Instead, Ross left and Wayne came back. Weird how things work out. He doesn’t handle criticism well, though, and ... uh, he’s not bright. Handle with care.